Should members of the LSU Board of Supervisors disclose who receives their scholarships?|
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|Time to sell a book|
When Gov. Bobby Jindal returns to Baton Rouge next week from an excursion across the country to promote his book, "Leadership and Crisis," he should expect the criticism over his travels to have reached a fever pitch.
The griping would be justified if the Legislature was in session, haggling over balancing a budget while looking to an absent governor for some direction on how do it. The Legislature isn't in session, though. It won't be until early next year when lawmakers gather in a special session to deal with redistricting. They will tackle redistricting before convening the regular session to hammer out a balanced budget in light of a projected $1.6 billion revenue shortfall heading into the new fiscal year. Keep your eyes peeled on the $1.6 billion shortfall figure—it's a moving target that's expected to rise or fall between now and next spring.
Yet, the griping over Jindal's perceived absence from the Capitol, or lack of leadership, is real in the eyes of the higher education and healthcare communities, which will bear the brunt of cuts in funding once state lawmakers get down and dirty and work out a spending plan for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2011. Mid-year budget cuts that are trickling down the pipe now thanks to an unbalanced 2009-2010 fiscal year budget only add fuel to the fire over Jindal's book tour.
Look for Jindal to unveil a proposed budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year shortly after the first of the year. That's when we'll learn what the governor has in mind for the new fiscal year budget, which, in light of cuts in spending, is certain to anger more than a few people. Don't look for Jindal to waiver on his promise to turn a deaf ear to any suggestion that entails raising taxes to prop up the new fiscal year budget, including that asinine idea of suspending tax exemptions the taxpayers were granted when the Legislature rightly put the Stelly Tax on ice in 2008.
Oh but the hue and cry over raising taxes to spare healthcare and higher education from the budget-cutting knife will reach a fever pitch, too, by the time state lawmakers gather in late April to begin the regular legislative session. Lawmakers would be wise to follow Jindal's lead on the tax front, especially since 2011 is an election year in Louisiana.
It goes without saying that the higher education community could do itself a favor if it took some meaningful steps to prepare for a lean year or two budget-wise. Meaningful cuts in spending, not layoffs involving janitors or secretaries or whatnots. Meaningful cuts such as laying off administrators who make $75,000-$300,000 annually, for the higher education community is chock full of administrators and support staff who are not worth the significant salaries they draw courtesy of the people who actually pay taxes in Louisiana.
Not too long ago, the Division of Administration in the governor's office passed along some interesting information concerning higher education. Here's a sample:
• From January 2008 until now, the overall state budget has decreased by almost 26 percent. Higher education's total budget in Louisiana during that time frame has decreased by 4.57 percent.
• Prior to mid-year budget cuts in fiscal year 2010, only 37.8 percent of higher education funding ($934 million) made its way to the classroom. Classroom funding represents instructional spending, including general academic instruction, community education and preparatory and remedial education.
• Since January 2008, the state has provided $536 million for higher education infrastructure investments, including construction, renovations, debt service and major repair projects at higher education institutions.
• State General Fund appropriations for higher education, combined with State Fiscal Stabilization Funds (Rainy Day Fund), have been reduced by $212 million since January 2008. More than half of those reductions have been offset by almost $124 million in increases in tuition and fees at the state's colleges and universities.
• As of August 2010, higher education comprised nearly 40 percent of the full-time workforce in the executive branch of state government. While state government has seen an overall reduction of 8,875 full-time employees since December 2008 (roughly 10 percent), higher education has cut only 1,407 full-time employees in the same period (4.3 percent).
• In fiscal year 2010, Louisiana ranked ninth in the nation for the amount of state dollars spent on higher education as a percentage of state taxes. However, as of May 2010, Louisiana's six-year graduation rate lagged behind other states at 38 percent. That's compared to a 53 percent graduation rate for all states in the southern region.
• According to the American Institutes for Research, Louisiana ranks 13th highest in the country in state funds spent on dropouts from 2003-2008. The state spent $217 million on freshmen who dropped out after just one year of college from 2003-2008.
What does that tell us?
At the very least, the information provided by the Division of Administration doesn't bode well for higher education officials in their campaign to convince the public that it should embrace a tax increase to aid higher ed's cause. Rest assured, the higher ed community will poke holes in the Division of Administration's figures. If any of it is inaccurate, higher ed officials should explain exactly how and why it is.
Be that as it may, we now have an idea of what Jindal has been talking about of late in saying higher ed needs to do a better job in educating the young men and women who we hope will evolve into tomorrow's leaders. Jindal's comments should be accepted as right on the mark until someone comes along to prove him wrong.
A few weeks ago, LSU Chancellor Mike Martin was in Monroe to attend a small gathering of LSU alumni. Martin was there to make LSU's case for why the state's Flagship University should not be forced to absorb millions of dollars in cuts in state funding.
An engaging and impressive figure, Martin went out of his way to avoid criticizing Jindal. Instead, Martin talked up LSU's positives, advocating along the way that LSU should be given the green light to raise its tuition to a level comparable to universities the size of LSU. He says a $1,300 increase in tuition per pupil would go a long way in shoring up LSU's finances.
Martin made a compelling argument, and it would behoove the Jindal administration to hear him out. Martin could help his cause if he brought some meat to the table when the time arrives for a sit-down with Jindal administration officials to discuss LSU's future. The meat would be represented by LSU's plans to shed some of those over-paid administrators and support staff. If he brought the meat, so to speak, Martin might encounter a somewhat receptive audience for his tuition hike proposal.
For now, the public, including those good-intentioned college students, should recognize that not much can be accomplished by staging protests and rallies over proposed cuts in funding to healthcare and higher education. Not much can be accomplished because no one is paying attention to them. After all, the holidays are here.
And the governor has a book to sell.