Bill to block higher education cuts rejected

A Louisiana Senate panel shot down legislation Thursday that sought to make it harder to cut funding for higher education in the state budget.

State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, had proposed in House Bill 222 that the state set a floor for funding colleges and universities at the fiscal 2013 rate.

Any dips below that level would require approval from two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature.

HB222 would require a statewide vote to amend the constitution.

Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said he worried that carving out another area of the budget would limit the state during difficult budget times.

His committee shot down the bill in an 8-1 vote.

“It would seem that the Legislature, at this time, does not have the appetite to protect these things,” Donahue said. “I don’t have a warm fuzzy feeling about it.”

Donahue said that such an exemption — or near exemption — from cuts would leave the state to cut from services for those with developmental disabilities.

“I wonder what that would say about the state of Louisiana?” he said.

Leger had argued that of the 48 states to cut higher education in the past six years, 42 have since made movement toward increased funding.

“We are not one of those states,” Leger said. “We continue to reduce our investment in higher education.”

The Louisiana Budget Project testified against the proposal, on the grounds that exemptions constrain lawmakers when cuts are necessary.

“It’s just going to leave you with less discretion,” said policy analyst Steve Spires.

State Sen. Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport, said he disagreed with the idea of limiting the budget through a constitutional amendment, but would support raising taxes to better fund higher education.

“We don’t have enough money for everything,” he said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politics blog .