Tax Plan's Failure Forces Roemer To Slash Budget

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The defeat of a tax-reform measure in Louisiana has forced Gov. Buddy Roemer to scrap a proposed teacher-pay raise and to slash budget requests for other elements of his education-reform package.

Voters on April 29 rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that Mr. Roemer argued would have ended the state's reliance on sales taxes and oil and gas revenues and created a more stable and diversified tax base.

The defeat forced the Governor to slice more than $700 million from the $7.7-billion budget he initially proposed to the legislature late last month.

Mr. Roemer last week presented a tentative budget that includes $1.3 billion for the state's minimum-foundation program for schools, slightly less than the $1.5 billion in spending proposed by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state constitution gives the foundation program highest priority for funding during fiscal crises.

Mr. Roemer's budget axe, however, fell much harder in the areas of health care, higher education, and state government.

For example, the Governor's staff last week was weighing which of the state's colleges and universities to close, and possible layoffs of up to 7,100 state workers.

The Governor originally proposed to eliminate more than 100 of the 180 positions in the education department, a move that one official said "would have dismantled" the agency in order to save approximately $5 million.

But according to Robert A. Schiller, the state's deputy superinten4dent of education, subsequent negotiations with the Governor's office should soften the impact of those proposed cuts.

Mr. Schiller and other observers said Mr. Roemer's education-reform package, which helped carry him to office in 1987, could be crippled if lawmakers failed to find new revenues.

According to Mr. Schiller, the most drastic cuts proposed for the state's precollegiate-education budget include:

The elimination of a 7 percent teacher-salary hike in order to save $75 million. This year's raise was to have been the second phase of an initiative Mr. Roemer began last year.

The elimination of eight "regional service centers" established last year to coordinate the Governor's reform efforts. Their closing would save an estimated $1 million.

The closing of more than 30 vocational-technical schools, for a savings of approximately $25 million.

Although the state constitution prohibits the legislature from raising taxes during regular sessions held in odd-numbered years, observers said the session could be cut short to allow Mr. Roemer to call a special session to deal with the fiscal crisis.

Art Green, associate executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said last week that elements of Mr. Roemer's tax plan could be passed as separatebills during such a session.

He pointed out, for example, that lifting exemptions on state sales taxes could raise almost $500 million.

"I'd say that three-fourths of the package can be passed, if the legislature dares," Mr. Green said.

Vol. 08, Issue 33

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