It’s ironic when the president of our flagship university is battling at both the state and national levels to protect higher education funding in the same week that a workforce report showed area employment levels have reached an all-time high. LSU’s F. King Alexander took time away from appealing to the state Legislature to preserve funding for LSU to implore national lawmakers to preserve affordability of higher education, which is a requirement in today’s knowledge economy.

What’s at stake during the final days of the legislative session is $608 million for public colleges and universities. In no other progressive communities around the country are key drivers of the economy pitted against each other as they are in Louisiana. Lawmakers owe it to the citizenry, and students of today and tomorrow, to identify pragmatic means to fund education without harming business competitiveness.

Given the great strides in economic development our region has experienced in recent years, higher education is even more critical. As the Legislature considers potential revenue sources, they must also be mindful of Louisiana’s business competitiveness. In doing so, I urge legislators to continue to advance long-term structural reforms to the tax code, revenue and spending dedications — and support competitive economic incentives. We need to jettison negative business taxes — rather than reinstating old taxes — and prioritize the necessary funding for higher education.

As businesses invest in the Baton Rouge area, their foremost consideration is the quality and availability of a skilled workforce. Undeniably, our ability to continue to produce skilled graduates — the workforce of tomorrow — directly impacts our ability to compete for new jobs. Most of the high-wage positions coming online require some level of postsecondary education, and our community colleges and universities provide the most affordable access to such education.

Let’s fund higher education and continue to advance our state economy so we can provide opportunities for our children, our grandchildren, and generations to come.

Van R. Mayhall Jr.

chairman of the board, Baton Rouge Area Chamber

Baton Rouge