Our Views: A bundle of contrasts

The state budget proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal is a bundle of contradictions.

It is the first in a while in which major cuts in state programs are not being made. And it is buoyed a bit by rising revenues as the recession is gradually loosening its grip on the national economy and thus on Louisiana’s industries.

So the good news is that the chronic budget crises of the Jindal years appear to be easing, but at the same time, it’s clear enough to the experts that the underlying problems continue.

The fiscal 2015 budget is still a mess.

Some of the governor’s promises of relief from past budget cuts are sometimes illusory.

Announced with great fanfare, there appears to be less than meets the eye in the “enhancements” of higher education funding. The governor called the budget an increase of more than $100 million in college funding, but about $88 million of that is purely tuition increases.

As the Louisiana Budget Project pointed out, there is little in the way of serious new money for colleges. Some of the “enhancements” in one section of the Jindal budget are funded by cutting other sections of the budget that would have provided funding for colleges.

At the same time, there are some real benefits to long-term state interests, including a bit more money for public schools and some other adjustments that we think are positive steps for the less fortunate. We hope, despite a sharp cutback in public hearings in the House on the new budget, that the budget will be explored closely by lawmakers, to avoid surprises and maybe even find new money for improvements.

But there is another and larger contradiction in Jindal’s proposal: The strategies for balancing the budget that made such a mess of state finances in the last five years haven’t gone away.

Every reckless shortcut of Jindal’s is still there. The tangle of cuts and budgetary shifts among various funds, tapping of what were supposed to be long-term investments, one-time money flowing into the operating budget in defiance of every conservative budget principle — this budget continues to “contain some techniques for short-term revenue enhancements that are not in the state’s best interest in the long term,” in the words of the Public Affairs Research Council.

The budget includes “a continued effort to limit the number of state employees and initiatives to consolidate back-office functions,” PAR reported. “On the other hand, the executive budget provides the means of turning one-time revenue into substantial sums of spending for ongoing operations, an aspect of the governor’s plan that deserves close scrutiny by the Legislature and the public.”

We urge legislators to put in time on this budget. If it’s an improvement, it’s still far from the finished product that the state needs and deserves.