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UNO-SUNO merger even better idea 4 years later

Better late than never, never let a crisis go to waste, or whatever saying fits to describe an attempt to do what made far too much sense years ago, which for that reason didn’t get done, in the merging of the University of New Orleans and Southern University in New Orleans.

State Rep. Patrick Connick announced his intention to file a bill that would perform precisely that, four years after legislative majorities probably could have accomplished, but legislative supermajorities almost certainly would failed to engineer, the same. Back then, both institutions still were reeling from the aftereffects of the hurricane disasters of 2005, and SUNO had the additional distinction of having the lowest degree completion rate in the country – but given that its student body averaged a fog-a-mirror score of 15.5 on the American College Test (the national average is around 21, with a minimum of 8), it’s a wonder any student graduated from there.

Since then, matters have only gotten worse. UNO changed systems after the merger attempt, which also would have given Delgado Community College a formal link to the merged institution, but it continued to lose enrollment, which now is almost half of what it was a decade ago. SUNO got some brand spanking new infrastructure out of disaster recovery dollars but the state’s move to get baccalaureate-and-above schools out of the associates degree/certificate/remedial education businesses with a strengthening of admission requirements flushed around a sixth of its enrollment away, mostly full-time, first-time students.


LA budget resolution hangs on politics of definitions

As policy-makers scramble to find ways to make sure Louisiana can find enough money to spare itself, principally in higher education and health care, from drastic budget cuts comparing fiscal year 2015 to 2016, confusion reigns over what options politics will present -- which may play out over definitions.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s strict interpretation of holding the line on taxes – they don’t go up, even if that means keeping unproductive tax breaks, unless there’s some relief elsewhere – has had to his point the very salutary effect of putting right-sizing government ahead of tax increases, but includes the less fortunate impact of treating tax breaks that do not demonstrably impact economic growth in a positive or efficient way as the same as those that do. This attitude seems to have changed as last week his administration announced that portions of these breaks should be eliminated.

In other words, if a credit or deduction means, after payment of state taxes, that a filer would get some kind of rebate beyond its liability as a result of these, the Jindal Administration has proposed that the state hold onto this excess. The meets the no-tax-increase criterion in that taxes would not go up, but only that a bonus which technically is an expenditure that the state hands out would disappear.


Case unmade for retaining Caddo schools footprint

Last month, the Caddo Parish School Board unanimously put on the ballot in May a plan to use $108 million in borrowing capacity for its schools, keeping a tax authorized until 2033 at 6 mills worth to back it. Whether a shrinking school system needs that much is debatable.

The board and Superintendent Lamar Goree have argued that, despite the slow trickle of students out of the system, that conceivably this much in capital expenditures is needed because of decrepit older schools and population shifts. The district plans as a result to close six schools but to build three more. The six older ones, many several decades old that would cost substantially if renovated or reopened, sit in parts of the parish towards north Shreveport and its  center that have seen steady population declines; new ones consolidate in those areas and one in an area of population growth in the southeast. In essence, the thinking is if a lot of money must be spent, it should go to new schools and closer to populations being served than in rehabilitating older structures dispersed in geography.

The bond measure also would include expansion at other schools for classrooms, auxiliary buildings, new buses, and equipment replacement. On these items, a good case can be made for spending, and to a degree so can the idea that swapping out fewer new and better-situated buildings for greater old and worse-situated structures.


Edwards standard-bearer role more likely after reports

With all Louisiana gubernatorial candidates having publicized, if not filed, their fundraising totals up until the end of last year, the results narrow state Democrats’ options considerably in this contest.

All four who have announced their intentions to run for this – Sen. David Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, and state Rep. John Bel Edwardsclaimor demonstrate they had raised over a million bucks, but with Vitter lapping the field in cash on hand. The only Democrat, Edwards, was the only one not to make an assertion or to file that he has $1 million or more hand.

That Edwards apparently collected the least and has relatively less on hand than the others reveals that there isn’t a great deal of confidence about his bid among Democrats. As the only declared Democrat in the race – for over a year now – a bid thought more seriously should have attracted more money. Then again, that he did suck in at least a million smackers shows neither is a trivial candidate and could be competitive enough at least to make the inevitable runoff.


Suspension strategy involves intriguing mix of options

So with even the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration ready to talk about rolling away temporarily tax breaks, what seems a simple matter of a simple majority in fact has left the Capitol dazed and confused and the possibility of fireworks as the budget process plays out.

The clear part of it comes from the Constitution that permits the Legislature, without gubernatorial input, to suspend any law by the voting margin by which it was necessary to enact it, for a period of time 60 days past the end of the next regular session from the one in which the Legislature acted. As tax exemptions require only simply majorities, this means a simple majority of each seated chamber could trigger this, in this instance theoretically for a period as long as 469 days (assuming unrealistically this would happen on the first day of the 2015 session and ending 60 days after the last possible adjournment day of the 2016 session).

What then may occur with the money enters uncharted waters. At least four scenarios, excluding one particular only to the 2015 regular session, could require a supermajority vote of two-thirds at some point for suspensions to happen.