Gov. Bobby Jindal has unveiled three bills he plans to introduce during the upcoming legislative session to abate budget reductions to the constitutionally unprotected areas of health care and higher education. "Something that has frustrated me year after year, both when I was at those positions and ever since I was elected as your governor, has been the fact that as we do our budget process year after year the two parts of the budget left unprotected disproportionately year after year are higher education and health care, and that's not right," Jindal says. "These should be our state's priorities."
Jindal made his remarks during an address at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) on Feb. 21.
Jindal says he has made the argument time and time again that Louisiana should put every dollar on the table as the state has had to tighten its belt over the years. "It's not fair that when you look at higher education, for example, 95 percent of their state general fund dollars are not constitutionally protected," the governor says. "If you look at other agencies and other spending, the vast majority of their dollars are protected, meaning that we as a state can't do what every business and everything a family has to do when they set priorities, which is to look at every dollar, every spending, and say, 'What are our real priorities?'"
Jindal says his proposed legislation will free up a total of $4.75 billion in dedicated funds this fiscal year by providing more options for accessing these funds to help protect critical services. The first, sponsored by state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Natchitoches, would increase the annual 5 percent cap placed on cuts to dedicated funds to 10 percent and potentially free up $43.6 million in previously inaccessible funds to help protect higher education and health care. The second bill, also sponsored by Long, will offer access to the interest generated by statutory dedications.
The final piece of legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, would require the "sunset" of all dedicated funds, with few exceptions. "We've got literally hundreds of dedicated funds — dollars that are locked in and sometimes these dedications were put in years ago," Jindal says.
"From a reform standpoint, I think it's a great idea," says Pearson Cross, head of the political science department at ULL, who attended the speech. "The governor's trying to walk a fine line between an innate distrust of government, which prompts the development of dedicated funds, and the need to have budgetary flexibility in times of crisis." — Wynce Nolley