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Senator: Dismantling education “will be the coffin” for Louisiana

Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) addresses the Baton Rouge Press Club

Education Committee chair wants to reconsider repeal of Stelly Plan

(Baton Rouge – October 18, 2010) Unless Governor Bobby Jindal and the legislature can agree on some new funding sources, “the dismantling of education will be the coffin that we bury Louisiana in for decades to come,” Senator Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) told the Press Club of Baton Rouge today.

Noting that Louisiana is “among the worst in the nation” in poverty rates, health care, per capita income and opportunity for young people, Sen. Nevers said that investment in education is the only way to provide a brighter future for the people of the state.

But instead of funding education, Sen. Nevers said, the state is facing “a budget with monumental cuts.”

Already, higher education has been cut by more than $270 million, and a freeze in spending on K-12 education is shifting state costs to cash-strapped local school systems.

“We need to look at the facts and realize the damage we will do to this state if we don’t properly fund education,” Sen. Nevers said.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan welcomed Sen. Nevers’ comments.

“The senator is taking a brave and principled stand,” Monaghan said. “While some are saying that we must make do with less, Sen. Nevers understands the long-term harm that more cuts to education will cause our state.”

Monaghan said the Federation is working with a diverse and growing coalition of organizations from the education, health care, faith-based, civil rights, business and labor communities on ideas to identify, fund, and save services that are critical to the people of the state.

Sen. Nevers addressed the press club just as the administration is starting to grapple with a recently announced $108 million deficit, which must be erased by next June 30. Even though the governor and some legislative leaders say they oppose any new revenue sources, Sen. Nevers said, the next legislative session will have to find a way to adequately fund K-12 and post secondary education in the state.

Sen. Nevers, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, suggested taking another look at the repeal of the so-called “Stelly plan,” and at rescinding or delaying some of the tax breaks created by the legislature in recent years.
The Stelly plan, adopted during the Foster administration, reduced the state’s dependence on sales taxes and created a more progressive state income tax.
Income tax sections of the plan were repealed by the legislature two years ago in an atmosphere of anti-tax fervor. The result was a decline in state revenues of more than $300 million per year.

Hundreds of tax breaks in the form of incentives, abatements and deductions cost the state over $7 billion a year in lost revenue, according to the non-partisan Louisiana Budget Project.

Sen. Nevers, who voted to repeal the Stelly plan, took responsibility for what he now acknowledges was a bad decision. “If I had known the economic situation the state would face,” he said, “I would have reconsidered my opinion.”

The senator said that he plans to call on the governor and his colleagues in the legislature to cooperate on revenue measures that can save public education. He added that the news media should “step up to the plate and demand that the legislature fund education appropriately.”