Several Republican lawmakers from the Baton Rouge area agreed during a lunch Tuesday that the state’s budget crisis is real, but the Louisiana Legislature has yet to come up with a solution.
“We’ve made a lot of cuts,” state Rep. Barry Ivey, of Baton Rouge, told the crowd gathered for the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish. “Is there more we could do? Yes, but not $1.6 billion worth.”
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, agreed that lawmakers have one major task ahead of them. “The biggest issue, no doubt, is the budget,” he said.
White said much of the state’s budget issues can be traced back to spending that ballooned as federal dollars flowed into Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. But he also attributed part of the problem to the repeal of half of the Stelly Plan, which scaled back the income taxes that were supposed to make up for the elimination of some sales taxes.
“We hoped we’d grow into it,” he said. “We haven’t.”
Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, said the final budget for July 1 is unlikely to be a carbon-copy of the proposal that has been put forth by Gov. Bobby Jindal, but didn’t elaborate on what it might look like.
White said people are fearful of the potentially devastating cuts to higher education funding — an estimated 82 percent hit in the worst-case scenario. But the state is unlikely to take drastic measures like closing campuses because of the impact on local communities. He said higher education is moving toward being more collaborative.
“They’re starting to realize that they will have to share services,” he said. “Everyone can’t have a teaching program. Everyone can’t have an engineering program. Everyone can’t have a nursing program.”
The local legislators defended the state spending nearly $5 million on security upgrades at the State Capitol in the run-up to the session’s Monday start.
White said that the new security features, which include guard booths and electronic barricades that have already damaged at least one legislator’s car and caused injury to him, were necessary in the wake of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the Legislature has only now been able to complete them.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the world we live in,” White said.
The crowd also wanted to know about Common Core education standards. A group of vocal opponents have pushed for the state to move away from Common Core.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get out of it,” said Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs.