Want to keep hurting Louisiana college students? Here’s how you can do it

By Robert Mann

At first glance, two ill-conceived constitutional amendments on the November ballot might not appear to harm Louisiana college students. Their passage, however, would be further proof that the wellbeing of Louisiana’s young people remains among our lowest priorities.

It’s a complicated issue, explained well in a voter’s guide published by the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), but the basic situation is this: the state imposes a fee on nursing homes, intermediate care facilities for the developmentally disabled and community pharmacies. That money goes into the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund and is used as a state match to draw down federal dollars, much of which goes to compensate the nursing homes and other facilities who provide services to the poor and others who qualify for Medicaid.

Good so far.

Amendment one, however, would give the trust fund, in PAR’s words, “the more protected status of a constitutionally established fund, which could be altered only by another constitutional amendment. It could not be raided for other spending purposes in the annual budget process or during mid-year budget cuts.”

Worse, the amendment would lock in current reimbursements paid by the state to providers. Payments could go up, but would never drop below a “floor” established by the amendment.

In other words, this is a sweetheart deal carved out by legislators for the very powerful and politically connected nursing homes.

It gets worse.

Amendment two would create a similar arrangement for the state’s hospitals, allowing a new fee that would go into a Hospital Stabilization Fund and then be used to draw down federal money. Similar to amendment one, this amendment would create a floor for reimbursement rates.

“The amendment would eliminate the government’s ability to make targeted cuts to hospital providers,” PAR notes. The amendment, as PAR further observes, would permit a decrease in hospital rates “only to address a state budget deficit and only if two-thirds of the Legislature agrees during a session or two-thirds of the joint budget committee agrees out of session. Even then, the rate reduction could not be more than the average reduction experienced by other types of providers in the Medicaid program.”

In other words, a very inflexible state budget, already overloaded with constitutionally protected funds, would become even less flexible.

Nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities will be guaranteed their funding, even if fees are insufficient to match the payments they receive. If hard budget times hit us again – and they will, eventually – the nursing homes and hospitals will be paid first.

The only way to mitigate the mess created by these amendments would be a two-thirds vote of a Legislature already controlled by the nursing homes and hospitals. In the case of amendment one, it could only be changed by a vote of the people.

In the meantime, you know what will be cut during the hard times? Other health care providers, like doctors and home-care providers, colleges, state police and other critical services. That’s because they don’t have special budget protections, like that which these amendments would give to hospitals and nursing homes.

No one is suggesting that nursing homes and hospitals don’t deserve adequate funding. It’s just that programs for our youngest citizens are almost always the ones that get shortchanged.

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Too bad Bobby Jindal didn’t try to close Highland Coffees

By Robert Mann

Remember the widespread outrage on the LSU campus several years ago when Gov. Bobby Jindal and state legislators were slashing state funding to the school? Recall the raucous protests that erupted on college campuses across the state, as Jindal’s budget cuts to higher education triggered faculty layoffs and skyrocketing tuition and fees?

LSU_Memorial_Tower_2Nope? Well, perhaps the reason you don’t remember is that those protests never happened.

Sure, there was the occasional rally and students wrote letters to the editor. For the most part, however, students and their parents were sanguine in the face of higher tuition costs (some didn’t feel the pain of the increases because of the TOPS program).

Many faculty members were silent, too. Most likely they were fearful that any protest might cost them their jobs. That wasn’t an irrational worry given Jindal’s predilection for firing people who oppose his policies. (Isn’t it interesting how Jindal suddenly embraces free speech when it involves bashing gays or criticizing Common Core?)

So, what do you suppose happened recently when a popular coffee shop just off the LSU campus announced it would close its doors at year’s end because it could not afford to pay the increased rent its property owner demanded?

Why, there was widespread outrage and indignation. The impending closure of Highland Coffees was big news in Baton Rouge and elsewhere. In fact, students and faculty raised such a ruckus that the embarrassed property owner quickly backtracked and said he would try to negotiate a lease agreement to keep the coffee shop open.

So, now, we know where the state stands. You can get away with crippling the state’s flagship university, but don’t dare close a coffee shop.

That’s a bridge too far.

God help us if Highland Coffees laid off half its staff and doubled coffee prices. There might be riots on Chimes Street. (I’d probably join them, as I love that coffee shop and consider it a valuable Baton Rouge institution.)

Meanwhile, however, directly across the street, sits LSU, which has endured deep budget cuts and lost hundreds of faculty members since Jindal began slashing higher education funding. Tuition and fees have shot up. Across the state, it’s now much more expensive to attend college.

To be fair, many states took advantage of the recent recession to slash funding for their colleges and universities, shifting more of the burden to students and their families, keeping many marginal college students off campus entirely and further driving up student debt.

It’s not only Louisiana that has devalued education. We’re just the worst offender in the nation.

As Inside Higher Education reported in January, “In Louisiana . . . state colleges received $1.7 billion five years ago, the budget cycle just before states saw widespread effects of the downturn. In the current budget, the state’s college[s] are operating with $1.1 billion — about a third less money.”

Lest you conclude that Jindal’s cuts to Louisiana higher education were simply the natural consequence of the recession and the inexorable evolution of higher education in the U.S. (and, trust me, there is widespread resignation to this new funding reality, including at the LSU System Office), consider what other countries are doing.

After widespread student protests and a petition signed by 1.35 million voters, chastened German officials announced recently they are reversing course and going back to full government subsidized college tuition for all student who gain admission to a German university.

Germany rejoins those European countries that provide fee tuition to their citizen. Those countries include Austria, Denmark, Finland, and Norway. Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and France charge nominal fees to college students.

Then, there is the special case of South Korea, as reported by the website Think Progess in July:

The [Korean] government formally acknowledged a commitment to education through reforms put in place throughout the second half of the 20th century. Policies instituted in 1969 and 1974 abolished middle school and high school entrance exams, which increased access to school in the lower levels. The 1974 High School Equalization Policy also pursued uniform facilities and instruction through strong regulations and financial assistance across secondary schools to promote equality, primarily by assigning students to schools and taking control over curriculum.

 In 1980, the Chun Du Hwan administration introduced the July 30 Education Reform to make higher education more fair and accessible. A popular part of this reform dramatically increased higher education enrollment by eliminating individual entrance exams and stressing the importance of high school achievement in deciding college eligibility. This expanded the number of high school graduates accepted into colleges and universities from 403,000 students in 1980 to over 1.4 million in 1989. Another part of these reforms was to introduce one standardized college entrance exam that, despite its reputation for creating an “examination hell,” is considered a fair and objective measure of achievement. The mid- to late-1990s was also full of higher education reform meant to increase quality and efficiency.

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Bobby Jindal’s unbalanced, balanced budget

By Robert Mann

It’s pretty clear that that Gov. Bobby Jindal and his staff panicked a few weeks ago when they realized they would close out the 2013-14 state fiscal year with a $141 million deficit.

Gov. Bobby Jindal

Gov. Bobby Jindal

That, of course, would blow a hole in Jindal’s already dim presidential hopes. After all, you can’t get elected president if you can’t balance your budget back home (never mind the ugly, messy way Jindal has balanced his previous budgets).

So, it appears Jindal and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols went on a furious search throughout the state coffers, looking under every seat cushion to find the funds necessary to cobble together a “balanced” budget.

When they were done, they had magically discovered $319 million.

And then, just to divert attention from their incompetence, they tried to blame the whole thing on state Treasurer John Kennedy, attacking him for not finding the money in the accounts that the Jindal administration controlled. Their attacks and obfuscation have confused the issue just enough that Jindal just might get away with it.

But let the record show that until a few weeks ago, there was apparently widespread panic in Jindal World.

They had failed to balance the state’s budget.

How much should we care about politicians’ personal failings?

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

What’s the difference between former Gov. Edwin Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter? Vitter paid prostitutes and apologized while an unabashed Edwards has often bragged about his sexual prowess. Vitter has always campaigned against public corruption while Edwards used his high position to enrich himself and his friends. Vitter is a committed conservative; Edwards remains an old-style populist.

They are about as different as any two politicians could be.

In my mind, however, here’s the crucial difference between them: For his crimes, Edwards deserves to lose his race for the state’s 6th congressional district seat. Despite his 2007 prostitution scandal, the voters were probably correct in re-electing Vitter in 2010.

Edwards served time in a federal prison for racketeering. He maintains his innocence and has never apologized for the misconduct that earned him eight years behind bars. Vitter, on the other hand, has been contrite about his moral lapses, if not specific. Regardless of his unwillingness to fully cough up the details of his sexual misconduct, Vitter apologized.

When he ran for re-election, many believed the voters would reject Vitter. They were wrong. Vitter might have been a flawed individual, but he well represented the state’s disenchantment with President Barack Obama.

Put another way, Vitter skillfully channeled Louisiana’s growing conservatism. He staked out conservative positions in an increasingly conservative state and made his case more effectively than his Democratic opponent. In short, he earned re-election.

All this came to mind this week after I read an excerpt in The New York Times of a new book by journalist Matt Bai, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid.” It’s about the 1988 sex scandal that derailed Colorado Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign. In the piece, Bai decries the rise of journalism obsessed with the personal failings of politicians, not their policies.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link: http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2014/10/david_vitter_edwin_edwards_sex.html – incart_2box

Bobby Jindal with a Cajun accent? Scott Angelle’s perplexing candidacy for governor

 

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By Robert Mann

As a new Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey demonstrated, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s standing among Louisiana’s citizens is pretty darn low. He’s probably still more popular than Ebola, but I’m not sure he’d want to go head to head with toe fungus.

As I noted in a post on Wednesday,

Jindal’s job approval rating is a dismal 34 percent. He’d lose to Edwin Edwards in a hypothetical governor’s race and a large majority say they wish he wouldn’t run for president. And, if he should he become the GOP vice presidential nominee , a strong plurality said Jindal’s presence on the ticket would make them less likely to support the Republican ticket.

Jindal may, in fact, be the least popular governor in the United States. He is certainly in the bottom two or three.

That’s what makes Thursday’s announcement by Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle — he says he’s running for governor in 2015 — so curious.  Of all the potential candidates in next year’s governor’s race, none is closer to Jindal than Angelle.

Is there any evidence that the people are yearning for a continuation of Jindal’s policies, only now explained to them in a Cajun accent? If so, the polls certainly don’t show it.

Just how close is Angelle to Jindal?

The former St. Martin Parish president served as Jindal’s secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (having been first appointed to that job by Jindal’s predecessor, Kathleen Blanco). Angelle also held the position of Jindal’s top lobbyist to the Legislature. When then-Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu became mayor of New Orleans in 2010, Jindal appointed Angelle as the state’s temporary lieutenant governor until the election of Jay Dardenne.  Continue reading

Bobby Jindal’s awful, horrible, very bad poll

 

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By Robert Mann

There probably was a time when Gov. Bobby Jindal and his aides believed they could ignore Louisiana as Jindal ramped up his 2016 presidential campaign. I can hear his advisors telling him, “As long as you’re feeding them red meat in Iowa and New Hampshire, no one will care about what you did in Louisiana.”

Well, the consequences of Jindal’s inattention to his home state crashed headlong into his presidential hopes on Tuesday, when Public Policy Polling (PPP) released a wide-ranging survey of 1,141 likely voters, conducted Sept. 25-28.

The survey doesn’t test how Jindal might do in the presidential primaries outside Louisiana. But it does suggest, if not prove, that as a party nominee Jindal would have difficulty carrying his own state against Hillary Clinton. Perhaps that’s because Jindal’s job approval rating is a dismal 34 percent. He’d lose to Edwin Edwards in a hypothetical governor’s race and a large majority say they wish he wouldn’t run for president. And, if he should he become the GOP vice presidential nominee , a strong plurality said Jindal’s presence on the ticket would make them less likely to support the Republican ticket.

In all, it’s a disastrous poll for Jindal.

Fifty-five percent of voters disapprove of Jindal’s job performance. Only 34 percent approve the job he’s doing. And those aren’t just liberal Democrats. Jindal’s performance gets poor ratings from 40 percent of those who describe themselves at “somewhat conservative” and 38 percent of those who consider themselves “very conservative.”

In the survey, potential GOP presidential hopefuls like senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and former governors Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush each outpolled Hillary Clinton in Louisiana in a hypothetical 2016 matchup. Only Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finished behind Clinton.

For example, Bush outpolled Clinton 49-41, while Huckabee outpaced her 50-43. Matched with Jindal, however, Clinton finished a point ahead, 46-45.

Louisiana’s voters are overwhelmingly opposed to a Jindal presidential campaign. Only 20 percent of those surveyed like the idea. Sixty-eight percent say he should not run.

If Jindal were the vice presidential nominee, only 28 percent of Louisiana voters surveyed said that would make them more likely to vote for the Republican candidate. Forty-two percent said it would make them less likely to vote Republican. In other words, Jindal might not be able to accomplish the first duty of a vice presidential nominee — carry his or her own state.

In a matchup with Edwin Edwards — who recently finished an eight-year prison sentence on federal racketeering charges — Jindal comes up short. Asked whom they would rather have as governor, Jindal or Edwards, voters chose a felon by a 47 percent to 43 percent margin.

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Louisiana Democrats’ big favor for David Vitter

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

When Louisiana Democrats try to defeat Sen. David Vitter for governor next year, they’ll almost certainly roll out the fact that Vitter was embroiled in a very public and humiliating prostitution scandal in 2007.

In some fashion, they’ll ask the state’s voters, “Do you want someone as sleazy as David Vitter as your governor?” It’s not a bad question and it might cause some voters to pause before handing over the Governor’s Mansion to someone like Vitter.

Until this week, we didn’t know what the Republican response to that question might be. But now we do.

They will rightly shoot back, “This from the party that endorsed Edwin Edwards, an unrepentant felon, for Congress last year?”

It’s a good rejoinder that wouldn’t have been available to the GOP until Monday, when the Democratic State Central Committee overwhelming embraced Edwards, a sure loser in the race to represent the 24th most Republican district in the United States Congress.

But the Democrats endorsed the old crook anyway, taking a nostalgic stroll down Corruption Lane. They’d apparently rather revel in the good old days of Democratic cronyism. They’d rather embrace a disgraceful felon like Edwards than consider what it might take to rehabilitate their dying party.

By the way, the embrace of Edwards not only deprives the Democratic Party of any high moral ground in next year’s governor’s race; it also makes it much harder for Democratic leaders to credibly attack the cronyism in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.

The party’s endorsement won’t help Edwards get elected to Congress, but it sure might help David Vitter get elected governor.