Northshore legislator wants to consider bringing Stelly back

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by Doug Mouton / Northshore Bureau Chief

wwltv.com

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 7:06 PM

COVINGTON, La. – With the continued threat of massive cuts to higher education, a Northshore State Senator is now floating the idea of bringing back the controversial Stelly Plan.

"The future of Louisiana is very dim if we dismantle education here in the state," Bogalusa Senator Ben Nevers said Tuesday.

In an effort to fight that off, Senator Nevers said, the state should reconsider the Stelly Plan.

The Stelly Plan drew criticism in the past for disproportionately taxing the middle class.  Simply put, in the plan, taxes remain unchanged for those in Louisiana's highest and lowest tax brackets, while those in the middle bracket see an increase.

 "I'm not saying that's the only option,” said Nevers. “That seems to be one that would raise a little over $300 million a year here in the state. We've already cut post-secondary education already around $280 million, and that number continues to climb."

Other Northshore legislators disagree.
     
"I think this would be the exact wrong time to increase taxes in the State of Louisiana," Covington Senator Jack Donahue said Tuesday.  "I think it would have a detrimental effect."

Donahue spent much of the past year studying ways to cut the state budget as the Chairman of the state's Streamlining Commission.

Donahue wants to balance the state's budget by cutting the size of government.  He wants to cut five percent of all state employees each year for three years.  "That's almost a billion dollars over three years" Donahue said.  "I think it needs to be done today."

Donahue would also like the state to sell hundreds of state buildings, many of which he says sit empty.

He also believes Louisiana cannot afford its current system of higher education.
     
"The system that we have is too large for the state," Senator Donahue added.  "If you look at other states, we have 14 universities, that's probably too many.  Some need to be closed or consolidated with others."

Senators Donahue and Nevers agree, it's time for the dialogue about what the future of higher education in Louisiana will look like, to begin.

"It's time that all of us come together, put all the cards on the table, and begin to discuss what the future of post-secondary education is in this state," Senator Nevers said.

He knows floating the Stelly Plan will draw criticism, but he wants the idea put on a ballot.  He wants voters to decide if they want to fund higher education.

The state will soon face a potential $1 billion shortfall coming when federal stimulus money runs out, what many legislators refer to as "the cliff".

"If, in fact, the cliff we see coming happens next year, and we have to cut a billion dollars above and beyond what we've already cut," Senator Nevers said, "there's no way we will be able to survive in Louisiana in the educational realm."

Governor Jindal said Tuesday, we spend too much on higher education for the return on the investment.

Spokesperson Kyle Plotkin at the Governor's Office released a statement Tuesday saying, "This happens every time we have a budget challenge - folks would rather raise taxes on the hard-working people of Louisiana than make the difficult choices to make government more efficient and give taxpayers better value for their dollars.  The Governor won't stand for this.  We will fight against attempts at tax increases and force government to live within its means, just like Louisiana families and businesses have to do." 
     
Plotkin went on to say, "In FY 2010, we ranked ninth in the country for the amount of state money spent on higher education as a percentage of state taxes.  Yet, Louisiana has the second lowest graduation rate in the South.  That's unacceptable.  The answer isn't more taxes - it's delivering a better value for taxpayer dollars."

Senator Donahue wants the Governor to hold a summit with higher education leaders from across the state to work on solutions.  He said he'd like to see that summit happen as soon as possible.

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