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Friday, May 26, 2017
Southwest Louisiana ,


We got troubles in 'River City'

Last Modified: Thursday, April 20, 2017 7:16 AM

By Jim Beam/American Press

BATON ROUGE — Why would anyone seek a seat in the Louisiana Legislature, which is a deliberative body, if they already had their minds made up about the most critical issues facing the state? Is there really no room for compromise?

The answer to the first question is one that hardliners will have to answer for themselves. However, the answer to the second is an emphatic yes for those who believe in fair play and give-and-take.

Legislators are facing four alternatives at their current fiscal session. They can raise taxes, cut spending, eliminate many of the nearly $7 billion in tax breaks they give away every year or a combination of any of those three choices.

Why are there no other alternatives? Here is just a hint.

The TOPS scholarship program isn’t fully funded for the second year in its proud history. Higher education institutions will lose another $17 million in the next fiscal year on top of the over $700 million they have been cut over the last decade.

Failure to reform the budget and tax systems, which seems likely at this point, would mean more of the same.

Faculty members are leaving in droves and many are taking their research dollars with them. College and university officials can’t recruit new faculty members because of the state’s dismal financial support for higher education. There is no money for maintenance of buildings and purchase of new equipment.

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said there are 18,000 available annual jobs out there, but the necessary funding to train and educate students to fill those jobs isn’t there.

The Advocate in an editorial summed up the fallacy of failing to support higher education, calling constant budget cuts “a foolish consistency.” It said the good paying jobs in the 21st Century are heavily dependent on intellectual capacity that the state is failing to generate.

K-12 education hasn’t had its funding formula increased in years, even though health care and retirement costs have continued to climb. Many teachers have deserted the ranks for better paying jobs elsewhere. State workers can’t remember the last time they had a pay increase.

The state has a crumbling infrastructure with highways, bridges, airports and ports trying to deal with a $13 billion maintenance backlog and $16 billion in mega project construction that should have been started years ago. Desperately needed new Interstate 10 bridges at Baton Rouge and Lake Charles top that list.

Traffic is becoming a nightmare in major metropolitan areas of the state.

Four cents of the state’s 20-cent gasoline tax and more is dedicated to paying for major construction projects approved in 1989 that still aren’t completed. The remaining 16-cent tax is worth only 7 cents in today’s dollars.

Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., calls Louisiana’s sales tax system the worst in the country with too many exemptions. The state has had 16 mid-term budget deficits over the past nine years.

Louisiana’s troubles make me think about that song, “Ya Got Trouble” that actor Robert Preston sang about a place called River City. Legislators do their work in Baton Rouge, and that qualifies it to be called one of this state's famous river cities. Here is a sample from the song:

“Friend, either you’re closing your eyes

“To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge

“Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated

“By the presence of a pool table in your community. Well, ya

“got trouble, my friend, right here

“I say, trouble right here in River City.”

For some reason, those words take me back to the no-tax crowd at the Legislature that has a closed mind on the subject, whether it has to do with increasing taxes or doing away with tax breaks.

Ask them where they would cut the budget, and most of the time you get blank stares. And try to eliminate an exemption and see how quick many of them are to defend their favorite tax breaks. They equate ending tax breaks with tax increases.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, could be the poster person for the anti-tax faction.

“I didn’t vote for any taxes last year, and I don’t intend to vote for any taxes this year,” Seabaugh told a reporter for The Times-Picayune.

When asked if he was an anti-tax legislator, he said, “I think that’s an understatement.”

Seabaugh said he can remember voting for only one tax bill in his life. It was a hotel-motel tax that mostly visitors to the state would pay.

Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, says he won’t be supporting any taxes this year either.

Despite their history and their anti-tax stands, Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, put them on the House Ways and Means Committee that gets first crack at all taxes at the Legislature. Barras said he did it because they asked to be on the committee last year and he couldn’t do it at the time.

That excuse isn’t reasonable or acceptable.Why in the world would you ever put two dedicated anti-tax lawmakers on a tax committee where the future of taxes is always debated first?

Talk about taxes being DOA!

All of this takes us back to our first question: Why would anyone seek a seat in the Louisiana Legislature, which is a deliberative body, if they already had their minds made up about critical issues facing the state?

Maybe that’s what that song is trying to tell our legislators.

“We’ve surely got trouble!

“Right here in River City.”

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