By Dayne Sherman
When John Bel Edwards was inaugurated governor on January 11, he needed several wins to put Louisiana back on the right path. The most important reforms were the expansion of Medicaid, stabilizing the state budget, and preventing destructive cuts to higher education and the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS).
After three ignoble legislative sessions in a row, some positive reforms occurred. Yet much was left undone when the real logjam didn’t end, and the clock ran out on the last special session late in the evening of June 23.
Of these essential reforms, only the Medicaid expansion was successfully implemented. No one can honestly say the governor failed to advocate for needed initiatives. However, real progress met resistance in the House.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. There has been no respite for higher education or the popular TOPS program. Colleges and universities are in a desperate position heading to the fall semester, and many smart students and faculty are looking for a way out of Louisiana. How could anyone blame them for leaving?
But diagnosing a problem only does so much toward repairing the damage. In this case, I believe Gov. Edwards should immediately employ four steps to correct the malevolence in the Legislature.
First, veto the front-loading of TOPS. In other words, spread the current funding between semesters, which is the most responsible thing to do. There’s no reason to give students a false hope with full funding in the fall and 40 % funding in the spring term. This plan, which passed in the final minutes of the third session, is a craven political move to prevent legislators from feeling the heat between now and January 2017.
Second, take the veto pen to all of the pet projects in the districts of the most delusional and spiteful representatives. The worst offenders, the most committed obstructionists, are as follows: Democrat Neil Abramson (New Orleans), Republicans Cameron Henry (Metairie), Speaker Taylor Barras (New Iberia), Lance Harris (Alexandria), John Schroder (Covington), Valarie Hodges (Denham Springs), Barry Ivey (BR-Central), Jim Morris (Oil City), Beryl Amedee (Houma), Mike Johnson (Bossier City), Alan Seabaugh (Shreveport), and Jay Morris (Monroe). If these mossbacks really want small government, as they claim, then certainly they’ll be happy to lose taxpayer-funded capital outlay pork slated for their backyards.
Third, go to House districts and explain to citizens exactly how boneheaded legislators backed the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s agenda instead of the needs of the people living in the region. This must be an all-out media blitz. Don’t be shy. Tell the people what mischief has been caused by Neil Abramson et al.
Last, visit every college and university campus in the state and explain to the remaining students, parents, staff, and faculty how the obstructionists fought plans to save TOPS and protect higher education. Name names.
The citizens of Louisiana need to know who sold them out. From my view, it wasn’t John Bel Edwards kicking the can down the road. Rather, it was a group of well-organized saboteurs in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
It’s time to hold legislators accountable for their gross negligence. Voters must know who tried to hamstring the state’s future, destroy higher education along with TOPS, and cripple the newly elected governor for no better reason than partisan political games.
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Dayne Sherman, Writer & Speaker
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