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.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

We still don't know. But there may be a larger purpose in view by the administration. | News | Higher ed fund cuts still unclear — Baton Rouge, LA
Officials from the state’s top college oversight board, the state Board of Regents, are predicting 15 percent budget cuts of state funding for colleges could be reduced by at least $70 million to $80 million if the House and Senate can resolve some of their differences. But many questions remain.

“We thought we’d have a better idea of where we stand,” said Donnie Vandal, Regents deputy commissioner for finance. “There’s lots of ways things can get muddied and unclear.”
. . . . . . . .
Gov. Bobby Jindal and the House managed to blockade Senate plans to delay state income tax breaks to generate $118 million in extra dollars for colleges.

How does the well-educated Governor Bobby Jindal plan to reform the state with destructive cuts to higher ed? If these cuts stand, expect the closing of at least one college or university and several large programs at other universities within the next three years.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Melancon's statement on running for the senate.

Rep. Charlie Melancon considering challenge to Sen. David Vitter - Louisiana Politics | State Legislature News -
"For the past five years, I have been honored to serve the people of Louisiana's 3rd District as their Congressman. The challenges we have faced in the wake of four hurricanes and a national recession are deeply personal. I have worked to be a bipartisan leader that does not let party politics get in the way of Louisiana's progress. I want to continue to serve. Many Louisianians have encouraged me to run for U.S. Senate next year. I am discussing this opportunity with my wife and kids and will be making an announcement in the coming weeks.''

Maginnis says Melancon will challenge Vitter.

Louisiana Politics by John Maginnis
Melancon Set to Run

While he is not ready to make a public announcement, Congressman Charlie Melancon is said to have decided to run for the U.S. Senate next year, according to multiple political sources. The congressman has made no comment about challenging Republican Sen. David Vitter in 2010, but sources say he has told national Democratic campaign officials he will run.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Interesting buried lede.

Apparently the Senate is slowing down pet House projects in an effort to salvage funding for higher education.  The article buries the news on the second page. | News | Senators jab House in budget bill dispute — Baton Rouge, LA
The bills are the Senate’s biggest negotiation tools in a dispute with the House over funding for higher education and other services.

PAR weighs in on higher ed cuts. | News | PAR urges lawmakers not to make hasty cuts — Baton Rouge, LA
The session ends June 25.

PAR said there still is time to agree on a plan to buy higher education time to make changes.

The group said the state’s public colleges and universities need to decide:

* Which degree programs are essential.
* Which programs are duplicated.
* Which services can be privatized.
* How students and faculty can be eased through the changes.

PAR weighs in on higher education cuts. | News | PAR urges lawmakers not to make hasty cuts — Baton Rouge, LA
The session ends June 25.

PAR said there still is time to agree on a plan to buy higher education time to make changes.

The group said the state’s public colleges and universities need to decide:

* Which degree programs are essential.
* Which programs are duplicated.
* Which services can be privatized.
* How students and faculty can be eased through the changes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

If there's serious unrest in Iran, what will that mean for gas prices?

Higher, I'd think.

There's that "draconian" word again that the governor hates so much.

College cuts face growing criticism from the Louisiana business community - Money
"The business council is not in any way supportive of the draconian cuts that are proposed," Brown said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has proposed making a 15 percent, or $219 million, cut to colleges and universities for the next budget year, a blow that the Senate tried this week to soften by proposing to delay an income tax break and dip into the state's rainy day fund.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good, but I bet they would prefer to have their homes back instead.

Hurricane victims get chance to buy trailers for as little as $1 - Los Angeles Times
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it would allow hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast still living in government-supplied trailers to buy their temporary homes for as little as $1.

The government will also provide $50 million to help other trailer residents, whose homes were destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, move into rental or public housing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What the heck is this about?

From Gawker

Listen to your elders, Bobby. | News | Former governors meet with Jindal — Baton Rouge, LA
Four former Louisiana governors held a private meeting Thursday with Gov. Bobby Jindal, urging him to find a way to lessen planned budget cuts for the state's public colleges in a rare display of advice-giving from the people who once held Jindal's job.

The unusual meeting involved Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco - all Louisiana's living ex-governors except the jailed Edwin Edwards.

"I hope we can convince the governor to take some steps to lower the disastrous impact of the higher education cuts," said Treen, a Republican who served as governor more than 20 years ago.

Roemer said he was responsible for organizing the meeting. Foster said the former governors were concerned the level of higher education cuts under discussion at the Capitol could be damaging to campuses.

Kisatchi Hills Wilderness, Louisiana

GOP senator: Governor using taxpayer money to attack higher ed advocates. | News | Senator: ‘Ledger’ blog use illegal — Baton Rouge, LA
A Republican state senator Wednesday accused the Jindal administration of advocating the governor’s agenda on a political Internet blog paid for taxpayers.

“It is a Web site for the purpose of pushing and implementing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policies. That’s not legal,” said state Sen. Robert Adley, of Benton. “It’s against the law to use taxpayer money to further a proposal or proposition.”

Adley said the administration is using the blog, called “The Ledger,” to defend Jindal’s proposed budget cuts.

Adley said the blog, which is part of Jindal’s Division of Administration Web site, presents false information and editorially attacks higher education advocates and the Council for A Better Louisiana, which have been vocal against college cuts.
. . . . . .
“My question to the division is who are you going to send to jail?” Adley asked. “You broke the law.”

The Advertiser has lots more detail.

And here's the Ledger's weaselly reply
It’s true, of course, that the previous post employed a rhetorical device – analogy, or, more precisely, allusion – but did so simply as a way to draw attention, in a more easily accessible and understandable manner, to a set of facts that seems to have been lost in the discussion over higher education funding, in a way that a dizzying set of facts often is.
No harm, it was just an allusion. Neat. He can call opponents "angry" and imply that they are greedy, but it's just a figure of speech paid for by you, the taxpayer. Move along. Nothing to see here.

The Economics of higher education. Cuts will injure more than just the colleges. | News | Holden: College cuts would hurt BR — Baton Rouge, LA
Mayor-President Kip Holden warned that steep cuts to state funding for higher education being considered by the Legislature would have a devastating economic impact on Louisiana’s capital city.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday in the Metro Council chambers, Holden said the university system plays a significant role in the area’s economy.

“When I read the details of what the budget cuts will mean to these institutions, it is obvious we are moving down a dangerous road that can lead to long-term consequences,” Holden said.

The mayor was flanked by the chancellors of LSU, Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College and a representative from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Each warned of layoffs and other dire consequences if $219 million in proposed cuts to higher education — about 15 percent of state funding for colleges — are made by the state.

“All three institutions in Baton Rouge are facing layoffs, which weakens consumer confidence and consumer spending and ultimately impacts our sales taxes,” Holden said. “It begins to take on a life of its own in negatively impacting a local economy, even one as strong as Baton Rouge.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chas, son of Buddy Roemer -- critical of governor. | News | BESE’s Roemer criticizes Jindal — Baton Rouge, LA
Gov. Bobby Jindal is unwilling to risk his political capital to help repair Louisiana’s public schools, a member of the state’s top school board charged Tuesday.

Even Republicans now critical of Jindal's inaction on education.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Governor to veto help for higher ed. | News | Tax break delay goes to House — Baton Rouge, LA
The Senate advanced a controversial measure Wednesday that would generate more money for higher education by delaying a tax break.

The Senate voted 29-9 in favor of sending the legislation to the House, where many lawmakers warn it will be defeated.

Senate Bill 335 by state Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, would freeze the amount of federal excess itemized deductions that state income tax filers can deduct at current levels through 2011. Instead of being able to claim 100 percent, tax filers would only be able to claim 65 percent.

The savings to state government would be $118 million.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is vowing to veto the legislation. Many in the House have said the bill is dead on arrival.

See this article about Senator Landrieu's testimony in favor of the bill.

And this article from the Daily Advertiser

Higher ed funding fail. | News | Changes foil funding shift try in panel — Baton Rouge, LA
A state senator’s attempt to free up at least $150 million for higher education and health care from tax amnesty revenue failed in committee Monday.

Just what higher ed needs: politicians with a "study" from a "commission." | News | Representatives approve higher education review — Baton Rouge, LA
A plan to do a sweeping study of higher education in Louisiana won House approval Monday.

“I think this is one of the most important bills of the year,” said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown and sponsor of the proposal.