20/20 Hindsight: Dedicating State Funding Streams

May 19, 2014

 “I don’t have a warm fuzzy feeling about this,” Senate Finance Committee chairman Jack Donahue said, regarding a proposed constitutional amendment to help Higher Ed.

The House-approved measure that would have dedicated state funding for colleges and universities was shot down in Donahue’s committee late last week. Donahue, who also serves on the Senate Education Committee, said he supported the concept but was reluctant to lock up any more state dollars.

“It would seem that the Legislature--at this time--does not have the appetite to go through and protect all those things,” Donahue stated. “That’s because—in the years when we have difficult budget times, which truth of the matter is, that’s all we know—we don’t have the ability to do what needs to be done with the budget.”

In the 40 years of Louisiana’s current Constitution, 175 amendments have been added. The majority of them require certain levels of state spending on certain programs. Only funding for health care and higher education have remained unprotected. That situation led to Houma Senator Norby Chaubert and House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger discussing that bigger problem.

“It seems that the way that the posture of the constitution currently exists—since we’re not going to raise any revenue—we may need to look down the line, see what we can do, possibly a constitutional convention,” Chaubert ventured.

“What keeps resonating with me,” Leger replied, “Is the concept that either we should undedicate everything, or we should look to dedicate more things.”

Bills calling for a new constitutional convention were filed this session, but were considered early on and immediately rejected. Now the reality of continuing budget deficits, as well as 2016’s projected $1-billion spending cliff is sinking in for lawmakers. And clearly, some of them are wishing they could reconsider dismissing the idea of a new constitution.