Our Views: From bad to worse

Our Views: From bad to worse
Advocate story
Feb. 13, 2015

If you’re president of a state college, or if you are even thinking about being president of a state college, Gov. Bobby Jindal has more unpleasant surprises for you in the coming two weeks.

If it’s not bad enough that the state faces a $1.6 billion projected shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1, there’s also a looming deficit this year that the governor blames on falling oil prices, so another $100 million or so is going to have to come out of this year’s budget right away.

The first hit of bad news will be Feb. 20 on this year’s cuts. Those will mostly spare education; a week later, the fiscal year 2016 budget proposal will be submitted to legislators.

Either way, it’s bad news.

Louisiana families with college-age children are almost certainly likely to take a hit.
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Some colleges are eligible to raise tuition by 10 percent so long as they meet academic benchmarks. There is talk of raising that cap so that tuition can increase at all schools, even those like Southern University, not performing up to academic standards it agreed to a couple of years ago. Another idea is to allow campuses to increase particular fees; the latter are not subject to TOPS state tuition waivers.

Absent new money somewhere, as much as $400 million more might be cut from higher education, putting some campuses from the category of hard-pressed into outright financial emergency.

This is not the result of a drop in oil prices. Jindal’s budgets are predicated on two highly dubious business propositions.

One is that any loophole closed in the tax code is a tax increase to be avoided at all costs — no matter how egregious the tax exemption or giveaway may be or even if the loophole in question has in previous years been identified as expendable by the Jindal administration itself. Legislators want to end or suspend some of the least defensible exemptions, but the governor has promised to veto revenue raises of almost any kind; he’s made the problem worse with tax giveaways.

The second dubious proposition is that state government should use one-time money to pay for ongoing expenses. Other than his first year, in 2008-09, Jindal has continued to prop up the operating budget with ever-larger sums of one-time cash.

It is typically used for matching Medicaid funds from the U.S. government but is now part of the financing of the general fund, including universities’ budgets.

As a candidate named Jindal once said, it’s operating on a credit card instead of a sound revenue stream.

Say you’re thinking about being president of a state university, say, Grambling State, where there is a vacancy. You look at this deal, and you wonder if you should sign up at all.

In fact, Grambling State may find it hard to recruit a new president, if the job description is to cut the place until it’s nonfunctional.

For higher education, the Jindal hits just keep on coming.