Civic engagement key to sustaining budget

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Louisianians are now more aware of state and local government budgeting than ever. It’s spring, which means budgeting is in full swing for governmental organizations at every level. The Louisiana budget crisis has been at the forefront of people’s minds since it was made public in February. But now an awareness of these budgeting procedures is necessary. Rather than simply insulting Louisiana politicians and bemoaning tax hikes and funding cuts, those affected must do what they can to understand why it is happening.

Already, several state taxes have been increased. It began with a 1 cent increase to the statewide sales tax. More specifically, taxes on tobacco and alcohol products were increased. Other motions, including fewer tax exemptions and breaks at the corporate level have been introduced to try to keep up with the deficit. Still, even with this flexibility, cuts have to be made to make up for the remaining shortfall.

This translates to $183.2 million cut to TOPS funding. The ACT requirement for the scholarship was increased to a 26, which is estimated to reduce the number of students receiving funding from 51,000 to 17,400. Other lawmakers are trying to push for the same number of students to receive the scholarship, but for a smaller amount. Either way, students will be receiving less money. In this, Louisiana has ruled that education is less important.

Funding will likely be cut to several non-profit hospitals providing care to uninsured, low-income populations in Alexandria and Lake Charles among other Louisiananian cities. The hard truth is that these cuts are currently unavoidable, but could have been preempted with more participation from the greater Louisiana population.

Much of the blame for this current budget situation can be placed on a tax structure that has favored certain economic actors. When Gov. Bobby Jindal entered office in 2008, one of his first acts was to sign off on a series of tax cuts. After the influx of funding post-Katrina, this was an easy way to garner favor within the state government. The Stelly Plan, a tax measure approved statewide by voters in 2002, was decimated during the beginning of Jindal’s term. This plan aimed to raise income taxes on wealthier Louisianians while reducing sales taxes that disproportionately affected low-income consumers. A closer public eye on these proceedings may have saved the Stelly Plan and kept an additional $800 million in the state budget each year.

More resources are becoming available to draw attention to and simplify observation of state and local budgeting. An online tool named the Big Easy Budget Game allows users to plan a mock budget for the city of New Orleans. Each department receives the minimum amount of funding needed to continue running and is given a brief description and links to learn more information. The allocation from the year before is also available, to help guide allocations within the game. This tool allows New Orleans citizens to more clearly understand the budgeting process and the importance of funding certain areas over others.

Making resources like this one available to those with less opportunities or education in politics is essential. These large statewide and city-wide decisions affect everyone, even those without a college degree. By having all stakeholders participating in the political system, huge issues like this budget crisis don’t have to occur. Cutting scholarships for higher education should not even be discussed. The same goes for basic health care in areas where it is less available to certain populations. In promoting civic participation at every socioeconomic level, we are promoting a more cohesive budgeting process.

Kathryne is a junior at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]