Lawmakers, higher education leaders split after Amendment 2 fails to pass

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Despite a heavy push, including television advertisements and billboards, Louisiana voters said no to a constitutional amendment in the primary election that would allow college boards across the state to have control over tuition rates.

Dr. Joseph Rallo, the state commissioner of higher education, said while voters did not support the plan, he believes the pressure is now on for legislators to come up with other funding options.

"Voters don't want to pay higher tuition and have it be on their backs, but what they're saying though, I believe, is that they expect the state as a public institution basically to go back and begin to put the monies into the higher education that we had before," Rallo said.

Rallo said much of the fear that fueled the "no" vote was that tuition rates would skyrocket if boards had that much power without any oversight. However, he believes the chances of that happening were highly unlikely.

"A lot of people don't realize that market forces are going to force tuition to stay pretty much where it is and people are not going to raise tuition and thereby lose students," he added.

State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, serves on the Senate Finance Committee and said she was not shocked by the vote and glad that people chose to cut off a measure she called unpredictable.

"I was extremely happy," Barrow said. "I believe that that amendment was a step backwards and I believe that ensuring that we provide the opportunity for our young people to be able to go to school is something that is our responsibility."

By voting no, essentially there is no change to the process, meaning any shift in tuition prices must still be approved by a two-thirds vote in the legislature.

Currently, Louisiana and Florida are the only two states in the country where changes to tuition must be signed off on by the legislature. Rallo said the process is unnecessary and time-consuming.

"I mean it really is. I don't expect tuition to go up, but the point is if tuition had to go up by $1, $10 or $100, it's sort of a waste of a lot of peoples' time to have to go to the legislature and seek their approval," he said.

Barrow said the voters have spoken and renewed their confidence in the legislature. She now hopes lawmakers will do whatever is necessary to make higher education a priority going forward.

"There are some options on the table and I just hope we have the political will to get it done to ensure that our students have a brighter future here in Louisiana," Barrow said.

Lawmakers do not have much time to identify new funding sources for higher education before the session starts. The 2017 regular legislative session begins Monday, April 10.

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