Don’t mess with football, governor

Published 11:22 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2016

And we thought we had it bad in Alabama.

In 2015, Montgomery lawmakers spent months dealing with an expected General Fund budget shortfall of at least $250 million. State parks closed or reduced hours and state services were trimmed. It took three legislative sessions to produce a budget Gov. Robert Bentley would sign. And still more shortfalls are expected this year.

Well, down in Louisiana, that state is facing a $943 million budget deficit and has a June 30 deadline to solve it. Thursday night, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget chief said the state was stopping payments into TOPS, Louisiana’s college scholarship program that assists 47,000 students, and that virtually all parts of the state’s public colleges and universities would be affected by the drastic cutbacks.

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That includes LSU football, some feared.

Imagine, if you can, Bentley stepping up to the microphone and announcing that budget shortfalls were forcing him to slash spending and that the football teams at the University of Alabama and Auburn University might not play next season. (That scholarships for LSU’s football players are fully covered by LSU’s athletics department without TOPS money didn’t lessen Thursday’s brief thump factor.)

In Louisiana, Edwards’ announcement — or scare tactic, as the governor’s critics have described it — got the state’s attention. Edwards announced Friday that payments to TOPS would continue, for now, but that lawmakers must consider his revenue-creating plans (tax increases, in other words) during this session because the deficit for the upcoming fiscal year remains. And it’s severe.

Here is what lawmakers in Louisiana and Alabama have in common. In times of fiscal crisis, it comes down to intestinal fortitude: will they make the uncomfortable, but necessary, decisions to keep state government afloat?

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