Please Define “Seen”

For the handful of people who follow me on Twitter, and the smaller handful who follow my blog, there is a reason why my Twitter profile picture (a “No Funds No Future” sign) and my blog’s subtitle (“From the Front Lines of Bobby Jindal’s Destruction of Louisiana’s Public Colleges and Universities”) will remain unchanged.

Because unless you have been hiding under a rock, everyone knows that Louisiana’s budget situation is as dire as last year’s.

And other than the fact that we now have a governor who acknowledges that public higher education should actually exist, we are in as much danger as last year.

This is because the damage that Bobby Jindal unleashed on us was meant to last far beyond his term limits.

The only difference between now and two weeks ago is that the new emperor admits we have no clothes because the last one gave them all away to every person, corporation and sector he believed would help him become Leader of the Free World.

Yesterday, Governor John Bel Edwards announced that “these [budget] problems are bigger than our state has ever seen.”

Well, we should have seen them coming last year, when we were staring down a mere $1.6 billion deficit and duct taped our way out of it. The late CB Forgotston predicted a $1.9 billion dollar deficit for next fiscal year. He didn’t come by that number magically… he instead did this thing called Math, and I guarantee not the John White, Common Core variety either. Amazing that we are now facing a projected $1.9 billion deficit for FY16-17.

And I guarantee without a doubt that Bobby “saw” it coming too.

Because deficits like these would completely cripple our state government and force institutions to effectively close.

Which I have said all along was the PLAN. Not collateral damage. Not, oops, sorry, I mismanaged the budget. But the intent.

Interestingly, the playbook looks very similar to the one promoted by the increasingly infamous Koch brothers. Others have discussed Jindal’s connections with the Koch-backed ALEC with reference to secondary education, but the implications from following the Kochs’ base ideology, which Jindal lockstepped with as much as he did Grover Norquist, extends to all areas of state government and services far beyond education.

I haven’t read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money yet, but I did read her recent article in POLITICO which includes this telling (yet not completely surprising) section describing the depth of Charles Koch’s hatred for the government, based in part on a previously unpublished biography of the Kochs she uncovered in her research:

From his earliest years… Charles’ goal was to achieve total control… “Only the governments and the courts remained as sources of authority,” [Clayton A.] Coppin writes, and, if enacted, Charles’ “libertarian policies would eliminate these.”

Had Charles wanted merely to promote free-market economic theories, he could have supported several established organizations, but instead he was attracted to fringe groups that bordered on anarchism. Coppin suggests, “He was driven by some deeper urge to smash the one thing left in the world that could discipline him: the government.”

Drawing on a cache of private documents, some of which remain in the possession of Bill Koch, Coppin was able to trace Charles’ political evolution as he moved away from the intellectual fringe of his old mentor, LeFevre, in favor of gaining hands-on power. In response to libertarian thinkers who argued that ideas, not practical politics, were the best instruments of change, Charles wrote a revealing 1978 article in the Libertarian Review, arguing that outsiders like themselves needed to organize. “Ideas do not spread by themselves; they spread only through people. Which means we need a movement,” he wrote. His language was militant, demanding that “our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.”

“Destroy the prevalent statist paradigm” is merely code for destroy the government.

Which means that the Kochs’ ideology and model policies, including as applied by Bobby Jindal (even though, boo hoo, it didn’t get him any Koch-love), are meant to “tear the government out ‘at the root.'” And what is one sure way to do that? Defund it.

The struggle to stabilize the state budget and all it funds is truly existential. While some readers may recall the dark days of the 1980s oil bust when the state economy collapsed and Louisiana’s government nearly missed payroll, and argue that things haven’t gotten quite that bad yet, I argue that in some ways Edwards is right and this is worse–because we are recovering from an outright attempt to defund and destroy our state government. While that may not actually happen, we came so dangerously close that we are still going to suffer some very severe consequences.

So we aren’t out of the woods yet. Edwards said that he would attempt to “minimize severe cuts in the next three months that would deeply hurt our citizens, hospitals, public schools and universities.” Minimize does not mean they won’t happen at all.

I have heard that we in higher ed need to at least be ready for some cuts. They wouldn’t be of the existential variety like we came within 90 minutes of getting last year. They’d be instead more like the incremental cuts we’ve had for several years. “Hearing” doesn’t mean it will happen. Maybe we will be spared this time. But since mid-year cuts will include statutory, but non-constitutionally protected discretionary funds, and the SAVE funding is clearly in that category, I will be very surprised if higher ed makes it out of this or next budget year without some additional “efficiencies” being forced upon us.

We will see.

1/22/16 UPDATE: Shortly after I published this blog post, Gov. Edwards met with higher education leaders to discuss the budget situation. The current projected mid-year higher education cut stands at $131 million if the one-time solutions the Edwards administration fail to materialize (including one-time use of BP settlement funds which may not stand up to legal scrutiny). LSU President F. King Alexander sent this message confirming this to the LSU community this morning (HT to @brandonkatzir).

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