By Robert Mann
It was a week for waving white flags. By the look of things at the Louisiana Capitol, you’d have thought Gov. Bobby Jindal and state legislators were debating in semaphore. If so, the words they spelled with their bright pennants were “surrender” and “cowardice.”
First on deck were members of the Senate Finance Committee. When the state’s top higher education adviser, Tom Layzell, showed up to testify Monday, he lamented Louisiana’s pitifully low college graduation rate. When he finished, the white flags began to flutter. Committee members — unwilling to support any serious reinvestment in the state’s colleges and universities — conceded their fecklessness.
“We’ve broken every piggy bank and trust [fund] that’s out there,” Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, complained, seeming to dismiss Layzell as a starry-eyed dreamer. Mills said he doubted there would be “any new funding coming to higher ed.” Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, was equally weak-willed. “We made a conscious decision, or maybe a less than conscious decision, (to) find ourselves where we are today,” he said.
Had LaFleur literally waved two white flags while making that statement he could not have appeared more fainthearted. Never mind that he and other legislators voted to slash income taxes on wealthy taxpayers in 2008. They not only made our tax system more regressive, they also blew an annual $300 million hole in the budget. Forfeiting that revenue led directly to the inadequate higher education funding they now accept as Louisiana’s fate. It would take some courage to reverse that vote, little of which was on display Monday.
Next, it was Jindal’s turn to capitulate by consummating his gradual U-turn on Common Core. Those are education standards developed by the nation’s governors and adopted by 44 states. Until recently, Jindal vigorously supported the standards. “Adopting the Common Core State Standards … will raise expectations for every child,” Jindal said in a video released on April 2 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Of course, that was before the future presidential candidate weighed his concern for the education of Louisiana’s children against his need to court tea party activists in Iowa. Guess who won? When he finally reversed himself, Jindal lacked even the courage to wave his white flag in person. He surrendered in a written statement.
“We share the concerns of these [anti-Common Core] legislators and also of parents across Louisiana,” Jindal said. His capitulation to the tea party was complete, so much so he vowed to unilaterally remove Louisiana from a consortium of states developing tests for Common Core.
Not to be out-surrendered, by Tuesday the Senate was back in action, meekly submitting to its overlords in the oil and gas industry. In a 23-15 vote, the majority yielded to Big Oil by passing legislation that would retroactively stop Louisiana’s flood protection authorities from hiring outside lawyers without the governor’s permission.