By Robert Mann
After waiting weeks to learn how they would eliminate the state’s $950 million budget shortfall, Louisiana House Republicans made their first move on Wednesday. It turns out a large part of our fiscal problem is that we spend entirely too much to educate public school students.
How else to explain the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee’s egregious decision to slash funding to elementary, middle and high schools by $44 million? Before public opinion and common sense forced a slight change of heart on Thursday, the committee’s Republican majority didn’t hesitate to cut funding for teachers and classroom instruction.
“None of these cuts are pleasant,” Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, chair of the Appropriations Committee, said. “We don’t enjoy cutting human services.”
Isn’t that what he and his colleagues have done over the past eight years – slash spending for human services like education and health care while giving away the store to corporations and the wealthy?
Perhaps Henry wasn’t aware of a recent damning report by the state Legislative Auditor that detailed how legislators granted 464 exemptions from state taxes amounting to $7.9 billion this fiscal year. Incredibly, we award $400 million more in tax exemptions than the $7.5 billion we collect in tax revenue. The report further noted that the $400 million gap is probably larger because Revenue Department officials have no data on 28 exemptions, “due to a lack of reporting requirements.”
Even more disturbing, the auditor reported that the state collected $624 million in corporate income and franchise taxes in 2014 while paying out almost $1.7 billion in corporate tax exemptions.
Never mind the cruel inequities of Louisiana’s corporate welfare program, Henry and other Republicans – spurred on by Republican Treasurer John Kennedy – want you to know that Louisiana, in Kennedy’s words, doesn’t “have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”
To his credit, Kennedy doesn’t yet propose slashing education funding. Nonetheless, Kennedy’s demagoguery has given cover to House Republicans who argue the budget is overflowing with fat and fraud. Kennedy – who is running for the U.S. Senate – made that case earlier this month with an alleged proposal for 400 cuts. There was no list. Kennedy merely produced a pathetic, one-page letter with hyperlinks to some dusty efficiency reports. One was 21 years old.
It turns out that Kennedy and Henry have a budget-cutting plan in the same way that Donald Trump has a foreign policy.
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