When the so-called WISE fund was launched, a look behind the news releases showed far less in new money for state colleges than the $40 million advertised.
Typical of the chronic mismanagement of the state budget under Gov. Bobby Jindal, a lot of the advertised benefits for colleges were one-time money that was shuffled around in various state accounts, and the WISE “increase” was negated by reducing other expenditures on colleges.
All that said, the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund was better than nothing, which is about what colleges were used to getting out of Jindal.
Also typically, the limited amount of money was portrayed as an effective response to Louisiana’s serious problem with workforce training. That there is a need is obvious: An industrial boom along the state’s petrochemical corridors is one thing, but there is also a growing market for high-tech employment in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
“Economists have recently said they have never seen an industrial expansion like the one underway in Louisiana, but have also warned that we must do a better job training skilled workers that will be needed to fill the demand for jobs,” Jindal said, signing the WISE bill in June.
Now Louisiana faces the financial music.
Hundreds of millions must be cut from higher education alone, according to early estimates for the budget year that begins July 1. That is partly a consequence of oil price declines. Another major issue, as outlined in The Advocate’s recent “Giving Away Louisiana” series, has been the profusion of ill-advised tax breaks that have drained the state’s coffers, leaving it with too little to spend on basic government priorities such as education. The likelihood of lawmakers facing re-election next fall passing tax increases for colleges and universities is slim, even if Jindal was not ready to veto anything he construes — and he construes a lot — as a tax increase.
No matter that the dimensions of this cut will make into a fraud the WISE fund, that the governor personally touted endlessly around the state last year.
A better policy than the WISE fund? Generate some serious dollars for higher education on the front end, instead of parceling out payments like this through mechanisms that generate headlines but precious little new training and education opportunities. An education policy is fundamental to economic development, and WISE was hardly the kind of comprehensive thinking that is needed.
In fiscal 2016, the budget lawmakers are about to work on, we figure there might be something called a WISE fund, because the governor and legislators were so invested in the fraud the first time around.
But it will be a fraud, and it will underline the problem of unwise legislators and ideologically rigid governors who see fiscal responsibility as refusing to pay the bills, even for something as manifestly needed as workforce development.