Shots fired: What’s the meaning and the fallout over LSU’s decision to threaten exigency?

By Robert Mann

The word about LSU’s financial woes, particularly the threat of academic bankruptcy, is now national news. From the Boston Globe to Bloomberg News to the Houston Chronicle to Al Jazeera America, the news is out that LSU is on the ropes.

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First, LSU President F. King Alexander issued a statement on Wednesday, in which he said, “Based on the current status of the budget debate, we have decided to begin contingency planning for exigency as many of our campuses may be impacted, as well as other campuses across the state.”

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Exigency is the academic equivalent of bankruptcy or insolvency. It would allow the university to fire or furlough tenured faculty and instructors. Even partial exigency will ruin a university’s reputation.

Already, it’s sure bet that recruiters from the University of Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU’s other regional competitors are reminding their academic prospects that LSU might not be open for business in the fall.

And you can bet Tiger Stadium that Nick Saban and his recruiters (as well as coaches from other schools that compete against LSU for top athletic talent) are telling high school prospects, “Do you really want to take a chance on a school that’s telling the world it might not be open for classes in the fall?”

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For Jindal, if the choice is tax hikes vs closing LSU, it’s “Bye, bye LSU”

By Robert Mann

I was talking with a friend the other day about Louisiana’s massive budget shortfall and the threat it poses to higher education, in general, and LSU, in particular. I observed that, eventually, Jindal’s loyalty to his no-tax-increase pledge to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform would trump everything. In other words, if Jindal is forced to choose between raising taxes and letting LSU go under, it will be, “Bye, bye, LSU.”

My friend, who has one of smartest political minds I know, disagreed. Ultimately, he said, Jindal’s cronies on the LSU Board of Supervisors would trek to the Governor’s Mansion for a serious heart-to-heart with the governor. They would tell him the truth. They would tell him the game over was.

“Nice play, governor,” they will tell him. “You held onto the no-tax line for as long as humanly possible, but this is reality. You either support some tax increases, or our state’s flagship institution will cease to exist.”

Faced with that choice, my friend said that Jindal would finally relent. The potential press backlash in places like Iowa and New Hampshire would be so devastating that Jindal would have no choice but to break his pledge, raise a few taxes and save higher education.

Perhaps that is how the scenario will play out. But, as someone fairly close to Jindal told me today — and I’m paraphrasing here — “We worked hard, lined up all the right legislators behind a plan to raise the tax revenue to save higher education and Jindal has already undermined much of the deal by threatening to veto the state budget if it has tax increases.”  Continue reading

Bobby Jindal is now against corporate welfare?

By Robert Mann

Are Louisiana’s corporations heroic job creators or greedy welfare addicts? It depends on when you ask Gov. Bobby Jindal. Two years ago, Jindal wanted to abolish the state’s corporate income tax. “Louisiana’s current tax climate results in competitive disadvantages for businesses and individuals by penalizing hard work and increased earnings,” Jindal said in March 2013. 

The plan – which also included eliminating the personal income tax – was so reckless that the state’s top corporate lobby, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, opposed it. Jindal surrendered one day into the 2013 session.

Two years later, our governor has had an epiphany. He once said we were crushing businesses with oppressive taxes. This past week, however, Jindal told lawmakers, “The truth is, today, we have a system of corporate welfare in this state.”

Legislators did not applaud that line. Perhaps they were dumbfounded that Jindal suddenly attacked the very businesses he has pampered for seven years. “Our businesses are a great asset,” Jindal explained. “But we cannot stand idly by while companies pay zero in state taxes and then continue getting free taxpayer money from the government on top of it.” 

Jindal was likely referring to the recent news from the Department of Revenue that some prominent corporations are not paying state income taxes. According to the Associated Press, an audit by the department found that of the 87 largest corporations that filed tax returns in 2012, only one-fourth paid any income taxes to the state. While the department cannot identify those companies because of privacy laws, Jindal suggested some of those corporations are pocketing underserved tax credits and subsidies.

“We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut to help protect higher education and health care,” Jindal said Monday (April 13).

Even by Jindal’s low standards, his sudden opposition to “corporate welfare” qualifies as stunning hypocrisy. Legislators surely recalled that only two years before, Jindal wanted to eliminate all corporate taxes. And they undoubtedly remembered that last year Jindal vetoed a bill they passed, which required detailed accounting for many of the “incentive expenditures” that Jindal now calls “corporate welfare.”

Explaining his veto last year, Jindal claimed the legislation could have “the unintended consequence of an aggregate tax increase on businesses and/or individuals” and “could create uncertainty about the state’s commitment to job creation and economic development.” Further clarifying that veto, Jindal wrote these astonishing words: “Americans for Tax Reform agree and has asked for a veto.” Translation: Grover Norquist made me do it.

But today, according to Jindal, “it would be wrong for us to impose cuts to higher education in order to protect this corporate welfare.”

I know Jindal hasn’t spent much time in Louisiana lately but, surely, he did not just learn that state government bestows billions in unwise subsidies and tax credits upon businesses. In fact, I am certain Jindal has long known about this corporate welfare because he has held press conferences with dozens of corporate welfare kings. Those would be the executives of companies Jindal and legislators have showered with hundreds of millions in tax dollars to lure them to Louisiana.

Every month, it seems, our governor brags that he has lured some new business to the state. In Monday’s speech, he boasted about “90,000 more jobs from companies that have expanded in our state” since he became governor.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Bobby Jindal claims credit for an economic miracle that’s really a mirage

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “State of the State” address to the Louisiana Legislature on Monday was such a cornucopia of half-truths and distortions, it’s difficult to know where to start.

The longer Jindal serves as governor, the greater a fabulist he becomes.

Among the many problems with Jindal’s speech was a clever bit of revisionist history he presented to lawmakers about the state’s economy under his stewardship.  Jindal told legislators that he’s leaving Louisiana’s economy much better off than he found it. That is patently false.

You have to look no further than the state’s projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall to realize that a supercharged state business climate would generate enough tax revenue to keep the state’s universities from closing. I don’t know what is Jindal’s definition of economic vitality, but it is nothing like what Louisiana legislators are facing in the coming months.

Here’s how Jindal cast his leadership of the state’s economy:

I’d like to start by asking you to think back to ten years ago, about the time hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit our state. Louisiana was at rock bottom.

Our economy was stagnant. We had over two decades of outmigration, with more people leaving Louisiana than moving here. Job were scarce and the future didn’t look so bright. And then the storms hit. . . . 

Fast forward to today, and you see a far different picture of Louisiana. And you see the true greatness of our people.

Together — we rebuilt and we are today stronger than we’ve ever been before.

Perhaps Jindal and his speechwriter do not have access to the website of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but I do.

Turns out, exactly 10 years ago, in April 2005, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 5.7 percent. As of last February, it was 6.7 percent. That’s one point higher than 10 years ago.

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The month that Katrina hit Louisiana — August 2005 — Louisiana’s unemployment rate was up to 7.3 percent, a half-point higher than it was in February 2015 (the date for which the most-recent BLS state numbers are available).

In 2005, Louisiana’s economy was not, as Jindal claimed, at “rock bottom.” Our unemployment rate was higher than the 4.9 percent national average, but far from the bottom.

Here is a graph of Louisiana’s unemployment rate from the BLS, tracking Louisiana’s unemployment rate over the past 10 years. It does not exactly support Jindal’s contention that he has turned around Louisiana’s economy.

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Wrecking Louisiana with a ‘religious freedom’ bill. Is this Bobby Jindal’s grand finale?

Screen shot of Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking to the American Enterprise Institute in October 2014.
Screen shot of Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking to the American Enterprise Institute in October 2014.

By Robert Mann

Is it not enough that Gov. Bobby Jindal will leave office next January with our state’s higher education system in tatters and its health care system shattered? Is it not sufficient that he is leaving our budget in shambles?

Jindal apparently doesn’t believe he’s done enough damage. For his finale, he appears eager to undermine the state’s economy – including our vital tourism and convention industry – by backing a so-called “religious freedom” bill. That legislation, in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling negating anti-gay marriage laws, would allow businesses to deny services to gay couples based on “a religious belief or moral conviction about the institution of marriage.”

Some call the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, a “religious freedom” bill. Let’s be honest. It’s the “Cloak My Bigotry in Religion Act.”

While the governors of Indiana and Arkansas thought better of annihilating their states’ business climates, Jindal sees a similar Louisiana bill as an opportunity. Not an opportunity for enhancing “religious freedoms,” but rather to distinguish himself as the most outlandish extremist in the GOP presidential field.

Jindal apparently believes playing the fanatic is a winning campaign strategy. Perhaps he forgets that public opinion on homosexuality is evolving rapidly. Many Republicans, especially those under age 30, have accepted the reality of gay rights, including marriage equality.

Republican governors like Mike Pence of Indiana and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas also listen to their states’ business titans on these issues. The priests and preachers prodded Pence to sign his state’s “religious freedom” bill, but outraged business leaders wisely persuaded him to scrub the bill’s language allowing businesses to discriminate against gay people.

Jindal, meanwhile, has doubled down on support for legislation to outlaw government intervention when businesses discriminate based on religious convictions. “There used to be a bipartisan consensus in this country around religious liberty saying that as Americans we don’t all have to agree with each other, but we should respect each other’s rights and freedom,” Jindal said. “And that’s what this debate is about: Are we going to use government to force people to contradict their own sincerely held beliefs.”

On this issue, governor, yes, we are. That is what the civil rights movement was about. No one suggests Jindal wishes to revive Jim Crow segregation. That said, the arguments of some political leaders on the question of a business owner’s right to refuse services (or contraception) to whomever he or she pleases is hauntingly reminiscent of the language segregationists used against the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Proponents of these “religious freedom” bills argue, what could be more American than respecting the right of a business owner to express his or her religious beliefs? The answer? Well, how about the principle that every business open to the public should serve people without judging their lifestyle, religion, race or sexual orientation?

Johnson says his bill would merely prevent the denial of government benefits to businesses that discriminate based on religious beliefs about marriage. To that, I would respond: You want to allow businesses to deny services to gay couples? Then, maybe the taxpayers should withhold tax deductions and credits, government-backed loans and other government benefits that subsidize those businesses.

I’ll go one step further. If you want to run your business like a private social club, then let’s make it subject to all the IRS rules governing such non-profit organizations.

Continue reading at this link.

LSU Board member Rolfe McCollister: Faculty who criticize LSU in print are unethical

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Rolfe McCollister

By Robert Mann

In a new column in the Baton Rouge Business Report, publisher Rolfe McCollister seems to question whether it is ethical for an LSU faculty member to criticize, in print, the university for which he or she works.

In his column entitled “Two Hats of Bob,” McCollister notes that I serve on the faculty of the Manship School of Mass Communication while also writing a weekly column for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He says my criticism of him and Gov. Bobby Jindal qualifies me as a “hater.”

“Mann is one to take full advantage of free speech and faculty tenure as he pontificates in his columns on all that’s evil,” McCollister wrote (sorry, there is no hyperlink for the column as of Tuesday night). “Hey, this is America, and I respect that right. But I am getting the feeling that Mann switches his hats often and there may be an ethical question with his two roles. Not a good example for Mann to set for LSU students.”

Speaking of two (or three) roles: McCollister, for those unfamiliar with Louisiana politics, is not only a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors. He is a newspaper publisher. He is also one of Jindal’s closest political allies. According to NOLA.com,

McCollister is the organizer of a nonprofit political organization that buys advertising to promote Jindal’s agenda. He was the treasurer of Jindal’s 2007 gubernatorial campaign and the chairman of the governor’s transition team, and he’s given $17,000 to Jindal’s campaign since 2003. He was on the LSU board from 1988 to 1994, appointed by former Gov. Buddy Roemer.

While wearing his publisher hat (or is it his LSU hat?), McCollister criticizes the fact that I often disagree with Jindal’s policies. I must assume McCollister did not care for my recent column in which I called for the next governor to dismiss the current LSU Board for its failure to defend the university against Jindal’s harmful budget cuts. He probably also did not like my post on Monday, which noted that in 1992 he had advocated the arrest of then-Gov. Edwin Edwards over proposed budget cuts to higher education.

Unsure about journalistic ethics (hasn’t he run a newspaper for more 25 years?), McCollister said that he reached out to an anonymous source, who he identified as “a former seasoned journalist about the ethics of a faculty member who has a second job and writes about his university.” This anonymous person told McCollister:

Every good journalist knows that you cannot ethically cover the institution that pays your salary and the people who supervise the work you do for that salary. The ethical equation doesn’t change if a reporter vilifies those people. Who is to say the reporter’s self-interest isn’t involved? Would the reporter be better off if the person they criticized was fired? Did the administration make the reporter angry one day and now it’s a chance to get even? When journalists don’t recognize this fundamental aspect of journalism, everything they write, on any topic, lacks credibility.

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Loyal to Jindal, not students, LSU’s board must go

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By Robert Mann

Next January, after taking his oath of office and calling a special session to clean up Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal mess, our next governor should immediately demand the resignation of every member of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Appointed by Jindal, the current board not only is unrepresentative of the state (14 wealthy white men and one black woman); its members also abdicated their duty to protect the school. They were silent as mice as Jindal pillaged LSU’s budget.

Like state Education Superintendent John White and some courageous members of the state’s Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, they could have protested Jindal’s misguided policies or publicly challenged his destructive acts. They might have threatened to resign in unison. They did none of that — and for their unforgivable omissions, they should go. All of them.

President F. King Alexander has waged a valiant fight for LSU’s future, as have University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley and some other college leaders. Alexander also has rightly prodded students to protest the threatened $600 million in higher education budget cuts. “Sometimes you don’t have to be so polite,” he told students earlier this month.

This past week at the Baton Rouge Press Club, Alexander repeated that admonition. So I tossed out this notion to him: It’s good for students to lobby legislators, many who are finally willing to raise taxes for higher education but whose legislation Jindal will probably veto. You have 15 bosses (the LSU board) who are close to Jindal. Why don’t they stop being so subservient and urge the governor to do more for higher education?

In response, Alexander shared an astonishing story that underscores my argument that this group must go. Alexander said that after he described the dire budgetary situation at the board’s January meeting, some alarmed members sought an appointment with Jindal. An LSU spokesperson told me that board members Ann Duplessis, James Moore, Raymond Lasseigne, Rolfe McCollister and Blake Chatelain joined Alexander for a meeting with Jindal on Feb. 4.

On its face, that’s a positive development. But step back for a moment and consider this disturbing scene: After five years of deep, damaging cuts, these board members apparently did not understand the serious threat to the university until Alexander made what one reporter described as an “impassioned speech — detailing the threat with campuses facing 40 percent reductions in state funding.”

Do they read the papers? Did they assume that Jindal also does not keep abreast of the news? I’m glad they privately urged Jindal to stop the cuts, but aren’t they five years too late? Speaking of little and late, good luck finding any LSU board member who has publicly condemned the looming demolition of Louisiana higher education.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.