Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has only been in office for a month, but he certainly knows how to get the attention of his constituents.
In a speech televised statewide on Thursday, Edwards said that the Louisiana state budget crisis, which has now reached $940 million, is so bad that public universities could run out of money and shut down as soon as April.
“That means you can say farewell to college football next fall,” he clarified. “These are not scare tactics. This is reality — an unstable state budget will not only hurt children and working families in our state, it will devastate communities, businesses and local government as well.”
The Democrat, who inherited this deficit from Bobby Jindal, plead in the speech for state lawmakers to approve the tax increases that he has proposed.
On Sunday, a three-week long special legislative session will convene. If the budget crisis is not solved in that time-frame, many programs across Louisiana will be threatened — particularly health care, where the stoppage of late-stage kidney dialysis and hospice would be “catastrophic.”
“The health care services that are in jeopardy literally mean the difference between life and death,” Edwards said.
However, Edwards generated the most headlines when he mentioned that the future of LSU football could be in jeopardy — not because the program in particular would be shut down, but because right now, LSU only has enough money to pay its bills through April 30th. So if the state cannot come up with more revenue for this fiscal year, classes would shut down and students would be forced to take an “incomplete.” That means that even if the budget crisis was repaired in time for the fall semester, football players would be in trouble because the NCAA does not allow students with an “incomplete” on their transcripts to compete in athletics.
“Student athletes across the state would be ineligible to play next semester,” Edwards said. “I don’t say this to scare you. But I am going to be honest with you.”
LSU’s financials have been under scrutiny for some time, particularly when the school decided to build an $84 million lazy river last year when it was facing academic bankruptcy. But their football program is extremely popular, and actually generated $57 million in profit last year.
In this case, football isn’t the cause of the problem, but it could be a casualty of it.
The Times-Picayune points out that the state’s current deficit “is larger than the annual spending of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus and all of New Orleans public higher education institutions combined.” And this is not a short-term problem. Even if the budget gap can be closed by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the state will be facing a $2 billion deficit on July 1.
Thing got this bad because throughout his tenure, Jindal refused to raise taxes, even as the state’s budget situation worsened. He also gave massive tax breaks to corporations.
“For seven years in a row, the state has had growing budget deficits. Year after year, the previous administration made temporary fixes using one-time funds to patch recurring expenses, knowing that eventually the well would run dry. And it has,” Edwards said.
Still, Republicans in the state are wary of Edwards’ proposal for tax increases, and think that the focus should be on cutting expenses instead.
“Gov. Edwards is proposing to implement the largest tax increase in the history of Louisiana,” Treasurer John Kennedy, who gave the GOP’s rebuttal to Edwards’ statement, said. “It will wreck our economy, already fragile.”
If a solution can’t be reached in the next few weeks, many Louisianans could lose the health services that are keeping them alive. And football could end too.