State Treasurer John Kennedy visited Thibodaux on Tuesday to address the Rotary Club.
His message, though, extended far beyond the local community.
He spent much of his speech criticizing the state’s budget priorities. The problem with the $25 billion budget, he said, is not that the state takes in too little money. The problem is where our officials decide to spend that money.
It is difficult to argue with his point.
While there are areas of the state budget where the money stream is constitutionally protected, there are areas of fat and waste that could be cut.
There are places, for instance, that could absorb the hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts the governor is proposing for higher education without significantly affecting the vital services offered to the public.
“I don’t think we should be cutting higher education at all,” Kennedy said. “I think we need to be figuring out how to get more money to higher education. All I know is this: At the end of the day, we’ve got $25 billion to spend. We’re spending some of it in the wrong places. If they hurt higher education, it’s because they chose to. It’s not because they didn’t have choices.”
To that end, Kennedy has tried for years — with the assistance of state Rep. Dee Richard, a Thibodaux independent — to cut the money the state spends on consulting contracts.
In 2013, the state spent some $2 billion on those contracts, Kennedy said. He has proposed cutting them by 10 percent, allowing the governor to decide exactly where the cuts are made, and asking the contractors to discount their contracts by 5 percent on those that remain.
That action alone could save hundreds of millions of dollars — money that could go toward the desperate need being felt at Nicholls State and other colleges and universities around the state.
Kennedy has a compelling question, and it’s one that our officials in Baton Rouge should answer before they vote on any spending bill: Is this a higher priority than education tomorrow’s leaders?
The fact is that there are priorities in state government — things such as health care and infrastructure — that are necessary expenditures. But there are places where responsible government leaders should be able to trim the fat without depriving our state of the money we ought to spend paying for higher education.
Kennedy has some excellent points. Unfortunately, there are some real-world political considerations that stand in the way. Let’s hope our representatives in Baton Rouge find the courage to do what is right for the state.
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