Community college leader endorses constitutional convention

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During a press conference Thursday at the Capitol, Landry defended attacks on his proposed constitutional convention, in which he wants legislators and 27 delegates he will appoint to meet for two weeks to rewrite the state’s foundational document. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)

The head of Louisiana’s two-year college system is in favor of a constitutional convention, which he hopes could result in fewer budget cuts to higher education. 

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, penned a letter to Republican Gov. Jeff Landry expressing his and the system’s board of supervisors’ support for the governor’s quest to update the state’s foundational document. 

“We do not need to reinvent Louisiana; rather, we must untangle the fiscal complexities created by past leaders,” Sullivan wrote. “Given the intricate nature of constitutional commitments, a limited constitutional convention aimed at resolving the fiscal issues plaguing Louisiana is necessary.” 

Legislators are currently discussing legislation, House Bill 800 by Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, that would assemble a constitutional convention, with 144 legislators and 27 delegates appointed by the governor meeting to make changes to the document. While lawmakers have billed this as a limited convention to “refresh” the constitution, delegates likely would have authority to change anything they wanted. 

Beaullieu has said the delegates would use the convention to move some portions of the constitution into statute, which would make it substantially easier for legislators to change them. 

Landry, the driving force behind the convention, has not said what he wants removed from the constitution but alluded toward tax reform and removing constitutional protections for some funding. 

Presently, higher education and health care are the only large portions of the budget without statutory or constitutional protection, meaning they are the first to be cut when a fiscal crisis hits. Proponents of the constitutional convention have used this to market the convention, arguing the Legislature should have the ability to cut more evenly across the board. 

This untenable situation has always made higher education and healthcare the state’s default budgetary fallbacks, jeopardizing their crucial roles,” Sullivan wrote. 

Higher education underwent deep cuts as a result of a self-inflicted budget crisis during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. 

During his two terms in office, Jindal frequently tapped one-time funds for recurring government expenses as means of balancing the budget. He also took an hardline anti-tax stance at a time when oil and gas severance revenues, the state’s longtime fiscal staple, tapered off.      

State aid to higher education was reduced more than 55%, leaving a hole in the budget that had to be mended with increased tuition and fees, which climbed at some campuses more than 100%

The Jindal-era budget crisis was remedied by the passage of a temporary sales tax, which is slated to expire next year. Economists forecast its expiration will lead to a $585 million shortfall for the state budget.

The repercussions of the state’s financial mismanagement were severe,” Sullivan wrote. “Louisiana lost four two-year colleges, discontinued seven hundred programs, and laid off numerous hardworking educators and skilled crafts  professionals.” 

Beaullieu’s proposal is slated to be discussed Tuesday by the House of Representatives. It faces an uncertain path forward. The bill proposes the convention would start May 20 and last two weeks. If the legislation is approved by the House, it still needs approval from a Senate committee and the full chamber. 

Senators have been more skeptical of the proposal, raising concerns about the compressed timeline and the convention running concurrently with the end of session, which could impact the passage of bills. 

Louisiana’s last successful constitutional convention was in 1973, when elected delegates met for over a year to meticulously rewrite the 1921 constitution. 

The post Community college leader endorses constitutional convention  appeared first on Louisiana Illuminator.