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Sacred cows stay unmolested courtesy of LA House

Yesterday was a good day if you were a sacred cow in Louisiana politics, as the House and a committee of it whiffed on some money-saving bills that would increase efficiency in the use of taxpayer dollars.

The House Education Committee certainly did its part, defeating one bill, causing the (same) author to yank another, and barely passed the least helpful of his three. State Rep. Joe Harrison offered up HB 490 that would have capped the amount of Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships at slightly less than the highest tuition now currently paid for any state school (LSU Baton Rouge) which went down to defeat, HB 905 that would have raised the GPA requirement to qualify from 2.5 to 3.0 for the baccalaureate awards which Harrison withdrew under fire, and his HB 994 which would require repayment of money from it by those who failed to meet its requirements – maintain a 2.5 GPA and take at least 12 hours a semester – during their first two years in the program which advanced.

The fundamental problem with TOPS, which the trio of bills was to have addressed systematically, is that with its low qualifying standards (for the four-year versions its ACT requirement is not even the national norm and with grade inflation in high schools these days most could get a 2.5 GPA in their sleep) it acts more as an entitlement which ends up paying too many marginal and/or indifferent students to go to college. When the 20 percent or so that fail to meet standards yearly do so, taxpayers have wasted money on paying for them and educators have wasted resources on that task.

Of course, families like the idea of free college even for their unmotivated and less-capable children, universities like it because it drums up business and therefore brings resources their way, and the bureaucracies behind it support it because more of it means more jobs, money, and prestige coming their way. Harrison’s bills would have reduced this flow, as fewer would qualify and/or those who would might have to pay more given future tuition increases (which would also weed out the weaker because the better students would qualify for scholarships and other aid to make up the difference), and thus the one that would have little impact on the actual numbers – perhaps reducing them slightly as the indifferent students may not want to risk the payback – was the only one the bunch (barely) to get committee assent.

The entire House thrashed HB 1474 by state Rep. John Schroder which would have allowed the governor to declare unpaid furlough days under limited circumstances as a way to reduce expenditures. It would not have affected government operations at all since they would occur during holidays, and it’s not like not already enjoyed are generous paid time off provisions given to classified civil service employees. In addition to the nine official state holidays (and the governor can call four more statewide), new employees start at 12 vacation days a year and spend about 15 years in the system and it goes up to 24. Few in the private sector get as many as 37 paid days off a year.

But these would have resulted in reductions in pay in times of budgetary stress, and apparently that’s not acceptable in a state which already is overstaffed and whose pay and benefits are unusually generous to its employees. While during these time periods taxpayers have to suck it up, heaven forbid that state employees must do the same.

So, despite a looming fiscal crisis, the means to weed out obvious inefficiencies and to right-size government to economic conditions get rejected. Putting a little less pressure on the accelerator as the state races to the budgetary deficit cliff’s edge would have been welcome.

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