Education cuts not correct solution to budget defecit

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

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

The Louisiana budget deficit has been on the forefront of many people’s mind. Earlier this year, the deficit amounted to roughly $940 million to be closed by June 30 (part of a $2 billion annual deficit for 2016). It’s a threat to healthcare and education in the state of Louisiana, as neither of the two is protected by the state constitution. Education has already been affected, with budgeting reductions to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students Scholarships. There are, however, other ways to save and generate money. With education already ranked 44th in the nation, Louisiana should avoid further altering education while trying to close this deficit.

As of Wednesday, the deficit had been reduced to $70 million, following approval for a $1.5 billion increase in various taxes, including cigarette sale, business utility and phone taxes. Governor John Bel Edwards has worked over this plan since January and its passage with support from state Republicans indicates the situation’s severity.

At this point, more budget cuts are unavoidable, but it is unlikely that the remaining $750 million gap for the year can be covered with cuts without hurting higher education. This hints at further tax increases starting in June to prepare for the beginning of the second budget cycle in July. Taxes, unfortunately, can only go so far without actively harming lower-income residents who are more affected by taxes determined per cost like sales taxes.

There are several other options that could help alleviate the immediate issue of the budget. John Neely Kennedy, the Republican State Treasurer for the past 16 years, offered options for plugging holes. These options include a structural revision of Louisiana higher education system, developing state land to generate income and streamlining the juvenile justice system, among others. Kennedy’s suggestions would save the state an estimated $281 million, which he claims reduces the need to raise taxes.

Another option is to begin a large-scale revision of the criminal justice system. Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the nation, with 1,420 people in prison per 100,000 adults in 2013. This results in a high cost, only partially covered by taxpayer money, amounting to roughly $700 million annually. An increase in taxes will likely funnel into this money trap, benefiting no one. By revising the system, a number of inmates charged with minor possession or other nonviolent crimes could be released. Streamlining the prison budget could also bring that cost down significantly.

Louisiana has always had money problems. Economic recession and a revenue drop from the oil and gas industries have only increased the severity of Louisiana’s budget issues. Cutting education, however, will only hurt the state more. From public elementary schools to Louisiana State University, public educational institutions need more money, not less. State legislatures need to consider alternative options before even entertaining the idea of hurting schools.

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