A Closer Look at Jindal’s Higher Education Shell Game aka Budget

First, welcome to new readers who have found me from Louisiana Voice or other links. It seems my last post, the Open Letter to our state’s higher education leaders has struck a chord (or if not quite that, at least curiosity).

I did not post yesterday although I wanted to, badly. I was on the road when the budget was released. My first glimpse of it was at about 9:20 AM but it was on my phone while I was waiting to attend a meeting. Of course, since my first look was at the governor’s PowerPoint and not at the budget itself, it was hard to see the forest through the spin.

The first headlines though were, in essence, and predictably, “Higher education’s cut is *only* $166 million.” They’ve since been changed, because reporters started reading like I did, but at first they reported what Jindal wanted them to report and not what was buried in the executive budget itself.

First, it’s more than that. By quite a bit. We’ll dig a little more in a minute.

But it does explain all the political posturing. First, it’s apparent that higher education and Jindal’s proxies had already worked out somewhat of a compromise. Like everything else that Jindal “negotiates” though, there’s more in it for Jindal’s agenda and image and next to nothing for the other party,

When budget cuts were first discussed, they were projected to be between $200 – $300 million.

But then the doomsday scenarios came out where they could top $500 million.

The real projected cuts? Well, after factoring in proposed tuition increases (which are not state funding) and proposed TOPS increases (which are scholarships paying for tuition, and some institutions enroll comparably few students on TOPS), meaning that some of those so called funding streams are counted TWICE, and some institutions don’t get all of it anyway, the real cuts are…

[drumroll]

Between $200-$300 million! What was first announced earlier in the year!

According to page 25 of the executive budget it’s $211 million. Of course the number that Jindal counts is on page 24 ($166 million) and magically on the PowerPoint it was only $141 million because remember, in Jindal’s revenue neutral world, cuts equal revenue or something like that. And higher ed’s cut is possibly more because most of Jindal’s proposal to convert refundable to non-refundable tax credits has been allocated toward higher education. $376 million. Which means that higher ed will eat any refundable credits that are not changed to non-refundable credits this legislative session, or indeed any shortfalls as a result of these credits. So higher education stepped down off an incline onto an abyss covered in thin ice. Any melt, either during the legislative session or around Mid Year Budget Cut Season and BOOM. According to LSU President F. King Alexander, who I’m happy to see can add even spinning numbers, the total hit without scaling back refundable credits would have been–and might still be–$567 million. So as Alexander acknowledges, we aren’t out of doomsday territory yet.

Higher education leaders, once again you have been played by the Jindal administration. Even as you now are saying, well, it’s bad, but we’ll make it work. You forget that it’s people like me who help you make it work until we get so burnt out or fed up that we leave. And that students and parents who are at the breaking point and especially on the part of non-TOPS eligible students are on the verge of being priced out of the market. Tax breaks mean nothing to this group because they need the money in August to pay for higher education, not in March or April (and heck, where is the revenue cut from that tax break going to go? Back on higher education?).

As one of Tom Aswell’s readers has said, Jindal would cut the budget and higher ed leaders would thank him for it. That’s exactly what happened.

Moody’s said NO MORE CUTS.

My open letter stands.

PS: The headline for LSU’s budget website is the entire proposed cut. The message is… LSU, we need to come up with our own $olution which includes the autonomy to raise tuition even more.

The message should be, NO MORE CUTS. PERIOD.

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