Do the current state legislators really believe that Louisiana should have quality state universities?

They say that they do, but their actions belie their words.

Over the last six years, when there have been state budget deficits, legislators have claimed that higher education and health care were the only two items in the state budget that were not protected from budget cuts by the state constitution. Consequently, according to the state Legislative Fiscal Office, during the six-year period, the Legislature, in order to balance the budget, has reduced by a whopping $1 billion the amount of state money spent on higher education.

The fault for the relentless attack on the universities lies not in the state constitution but with the legislators who are too willing to please powerful special-interest groups by dedicating in the constitution items favored by special interest.

Recently, lawmakers — urged on by the health care special-interest lobby — made a bad situation for the universities even worse by first passing and then playing a role in the voters’ passage last November of two constitutional amendments that gave constitutional rather than statutory protection to the lion’s share of the health care funds.

Prior to last November’s election, legislators mailed to their constituents a pamphlet describing the good that would result from a “yes” vote on the health care amendments but failed in their duty to inform the voters of the great harm that would befall the universities if the amendments passed.

Passage of the health care constitutional amendments/dedications means that lawmakers have now left higher education virtually alone, “twisting in the wind” to bear the brunt of future state budget cuts.

It is disingenuous for lawmakers to use the “our hands are tied by the constitution” as an excuse for not properly funding higher education when, through their own fault, they are the ones who keep tying their own hands by continuing to dedicate state money funds in the constitution.

Current lawmakers with a “first let’s cut all the state universities” mindset are unlikely to change. They know that they could solve higher education’s money problem by slightly trimming the billions tied up in dedicated funds and corporate tax exemptions, but that would anger the special interest, and current lawmakers dare not do that. Don’t they realize that they are forfeiting Louisiana’s future?

When will it change? It will take new, more enlightened lawmakers who will reprioritize state spending making quality higher education a state priority rather than an afterthought.

Let’s face it, with friends like the current state legislators, our state universities don’t need any enemies.

Howard Franques, Jr.

retired lawyer