Saturday, June 27, 2009

Catastrophe avoided, but the problem will return. "A downsized future." | News | Late-hour compromise reduces cuts in budget — Baton Rouge, LA
Lawmakers put an additional $100 million toward higher education, reducing the $219 million in cuts that Jindal proposed amid state budget problems.

They also found money for projects in their districts, firefighter training at LSU, the state agricultural department and judgments in lawsuits against the state.

Higher education and health care still will endure cuts in the $28 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts Wednesday.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen said the reductions are very close to what she asked for when she requested that the $219 million in proposed cuts be halved.

“We’re very appreciative,” Clausen said. “We now focus not on obstacles, but on opportunities.”

The reductions in cuts allow colleges to avoid drastic layoffs and program eliminations in the immediate future so they can better prepare for a downsized future, she said.

The legislature basically punted on health and higher ed budgets in this session. The real problems are down the road. Clausen seems to have agreed to "a downsized future," and that will mean that higher ed and health care will remain the governor's target for cuts for the next three years. The legislature could have taken up the real problem but did not. That problem is the fact that most of the budget is constitutionally protected and cannot be cut. Higher ed and health care are the only two areas not protected in this way. Also there are special funds which siphon off money and then cannot be used in real emergencies. The solution would have been to pass constitutional amendments to even the budget playing field, giving each area of state government the same priority when it comes to cuts. There were some faint voices for doing so heard at the beginning of the session, but apparently the powers that be in the administration and the House would have none of it. Instead, the lege created the "Tucker Commission," tasked with the duty of "downsizing" the future of Louisiana's institutions of higher education.

For those with a long memory, this movement echoes the cries of "retrenchment" in the Treen administration. But at that time it was the entire budget under scrutiny, not just higher ed and health care. One wonders why the administration can find nowhere else to "downsize" in its bloated behemoth of a budget. Let's get this straight: Louisiana spends more per capita in its budget than Massachusetts (which the conservatives call Taxachusetts.) And yet our educational system ranks among the worst while "Taxachusetts" ranks among the best. This fact tells us loads about our priorities as a state.

Our governor, legislators and news media have let us down. This should have been a fiscal session, instead we were treated to debates on cell phones, motorcycle helmets and pharmacists who want to stand as moral judges. All to distract us from asking the simple question: "Where in the world is all that $28 billion going?" A simple chart showing what proportion of our state budget goes where, which would be easy to produce, would cause outrage across the state. But the governor's office and legislature put out confusing and unnecessarily complicated statistics, while the media are too lazy to assign someone to see exactly how our budget priorities compare to other, more rationally run states. A few accurate bar charts would start a revolution in Louisiana.

I forgot -- one of those 28 billions is going to bribe some marginal businesses to build plants in Louisiana. Meanwhile, our students will pay higher tuition as the state reneges on its promise to provide high quality health care and education to its people.

And congratulations to the Senate and Senator Michot for trying to restore the cuts against the strong opposition of the House and the Governor Jindal.

No comments: