The Louisiana GOP’s budget illusions

By Robert Mann

In his 1976 book about the Middle East conflict, “To Jerusalem and Back,” novelist Saul Bellow meditated on the seduction of self-delusion. “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance,” Bellow wrote, “when the need for illusion is deep.”

That’s a universal truth that also applies to Louisiana’s budget crisis, which many Republican lawmakers pretend can be solved almost entirely with budget cuts. The illusionists were in high dudgeon this past week, as lawmakers gathered for a special fiscal session. Among the illusions they tried to sell us:

Closing or consolidating a few universities will save the state big money.Whether the state should consolidate or close some universities is a valid question and one that the Board of Regents and some legislators have long discussed. The evidence from other states, however, suggests that merging universities won’t save much.

If not merge, shouldn’t we close some colleges and require students to attend other state schools? Sorry. Closing a university – or two or three – won’t fix the current budget mess or even next year’s. Last fiscal year, for example, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux received $16 million in state appropriations. That represents less than 1 percent of next year’s $2 billion shortfall.

What if we closed and merged some universities? We could “save” $85 million in state appropriations by closing Nicholls, Grambling State ($14.8 million in state appropriations), Northwestern State ($21.6 million) and UNO ($32.7 million). Unfortunately, that’s merely 4.25 percent of next year’s shortfall.

In fact, if the state shuttered all 10 universities in the University of Louisiana (UL) System, the state would save about $240 million in direct appropriations. Put another way, those institutions’ state funding is equal to 12 percent of next year’s anticipated shortfall. The truth is, the state has already cut deeply higher education. Legislators have slashed appropriations to the UL system by 55 percent since 2009, forcing schools to sharply increase fees and tuition.

Talking about the potential damage of budget cuts is counterproductive and scares people. Some legislators grew angry when higher education officials shared the impact of potential budget cuts to their institutions. Senate Education Committee member Conrad Appel was particularly miffed by talk of temporarily closing universities. “Is it fair to tell the public that we’re seriously considering closing schools?” Appel asked, after reports that budget cuts might force Nicholls State to close.

In other words, he seemed to say, “Can we stop talking about the potential consequences of our decisions? It’s difficult for us when voters are well informed.” Do Appel and his colleagues suppose that Louisiana’s college students are so ignorant that they haven’t noticed the damage that he, his colleagues and former Gov. Bobby Jindal did to higher education?

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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4 Responses to The Louisiana GOP’s budget illusions

  1. Fredster says:

    The idea of closing, merging or consolidating colleges and universities is worthy of discussion however that’s for another time. For right now, at this special session, the members of the lege just need to seriously deal with the budget issues for this year. Talk about the other matter in the regular session. But I can tell you now that whatever school is suggested or chosen for closing/merging etc., the members of the lege for that district or region are going to fight and argue like hell. So dear members of the Louisiana legislature: concentrate on the immediate job at hand with this budget for this year.

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    • jechoisir says:

      Yes, revision of the state education system at all levels needs to be discussed seriously and with proven models of success as guides. There is as much graft and administrative inflation in the colleges and schools as there is in any other area of government. South Korea and Denmark, the nations in the world that have the top k-12 education results achieved that position by closing all teacher-training programs in the nation except three. Then they rewrote the curriculum for those programs, limiting enrollment to the top-third of the class, requiring four years of rigorous humanities-science-math classes, and a fifth of intense pedagogical practice, where students are critiqued by peers and teachers. Then they must pass a real examination and performance evaluation. The two nations made salary commensurate with the difficulty of the degree and quality of those who held it, so that teachers and engineers’ salaries are similar. Both nations recognized that in order to compete economically, they absolutely had to improve their educational systems. Failure was a non-starter. So they didn’t try half-way measures. I honestly believe that what they consider failure is the only starter Louisiana legislators and governors consider. When we decide to improve both the quality and efficiency of education in our universities, we need to forget half-way and look for revolutionary quality. As you note, right now, we can’t pay our utility bills.So it’s no time to be remodeling the house.

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  2. jechoisir says:

    Bob, when did the need for illusion or the practice of delusion become a Republican trait? Did Louisiana Democratic legislators do something I’ve not heard about in the last five minutes? This mess we are in is not a party issue: it’s a Louisiana issue. In this state we assume nobility is impossible in politics and that state government is a revenue-generating institution for elected and appointed state officials. The Democratic wing acts like poverty is a given and wants state funds to go to those mired—more often by choice than chance—in it. The needs of black people differ from those of white people, they say, and in bovine deference to racial political correctness, our representatives act like that’s true. In my view state Republicans seem to be a little more far-seeing and suggest a connection between jobs and poverty and personal responsibility and poverty. But almost without exception, pals and brothers-in-law continue to benefit from the stasis. The rich get richer, the poorest survive, and the middle class is hung out to dry. It would be refreshing to see you and other political commenters take a non-partisan look at our situation. A wise man once told me, “Good is the enemy of the Best.” He was right. In Louisiana, our home state, we don’t dare envision Good. We settle for stagnation and same-old, same-old.

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    • Stephen Winham says:

      Listen to yourself. You are smarter than this. Your last sentences prove it. Does reality have to equal partisanship? Certainly not.

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