In a world in which economic success is increasingly tied to intellectual capital, Louisiana seems on the wrong side of history in cutting funds for education and libraries.
Many state and local governments across the country are doing the same thing in the wake of a global recession. But in Louisiana, which has typically lagged behind much of the country in the literacy and educational attainment of its residents, those cuts are even more tragic. The dilemma was illustrated by a recent front page of The Advocate that included two grim stories — one about more cuts to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, and another article about statewide cuts in financial assistance to public libraries.
The cuts to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system were prompted by flat state funding for education, cost-shifting to local school systems of costs such as pensions and private school transportation, and slow growth in local tax revenues.
Meanwhile, the recently approved state budget eliminates funding that helps local libraries across Louisiana buy new books, secure Internet service and purchase new computers. Paul Rainwater, the state’s commissioner of administration, suggested that in tough budget times, operations such as local libraries can be supported with local, not state dollars. We agree that local services should, ideally, be supported by local tax dollars. The state’s current tax structure, in which the homestead exemption hampers the ability of local governments to raise tax revenue, has encouraged towns, cities and parishes to rely excessively on state money for basic services, a relationship strained in tough state budget times. Even under the best tax policy, though, poor communities with limited local tax bases are going to be challenged in funding schools and libraries — two institutions that can help communities prosper.