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Pursue rational, not political, higher education solutions

Maybe drastic cuts will come to higher education in Louisiana, maybe not. But in contrast to this uncertainty, one sure thing is that policy-makers inside and outside of higher education aren’t doing the optimal things to deal with this situation.

Faced with a projected cut of around $300 million for fiscal year 2011-12 from loss of federal funds, this deficit might grow larger if the state cannot recover revenues from the Pres. Barack Obama’s Administration to shut down stealthily and needlessly deepwater offshore drilling. This has led higher education system administrators to search for deep cuts in their universities; for example, the Louisiana State University System has asked each campus to find a way to operate on budgets only 77 percent of what they are today (this is somewhat of a hypothetical exercise because cuts would not have to be uniform if they come; some campuses could deal with larger percentages but others with smaller ones).

Drastic measures such as these which include systems declaring exigency (essentially bankruptcy) which would allow mass firings even of tenured faculty members and dramatic reductions in courses offered, however, are only tenuously necessary. Loudly and public these institutions have trumpeted the financial reviews spawned by the recognition of predicted revenue shortfall partly to scare elected policy-makers partly as political ploys: the old trick of trying to prevent an action by forwarding the most extreme alternative as the solution, when other less disruptive amelioration exists.


Future ambition makes present lt. gov. race interesting

Qualifying begins today for a replacement lieutenant governor to be elected this fall, normally a next-to-useless office that deserved dismantling – but this time perhaps producing an election with actual long-term significance to state policy.

Former occupant Mitch Landrieu actually took a step up when he vacated it this spring to assume the mayor’s job in New Orleans, triggering this election. The office does little which does make it cushy but by no means leaves its occupants with much of a political future. Until former Gov. Kathleen Blanco ascended from the job to her final elective office just six years ago, no lieutenant governor in the post-1921 Constitution era had succeeded directly from the job to a better or even comparable slot, and former Gov. Jared Sanders was the last to do it in 1908. Not only usually has it been a political dead-end for the politically-ambitious looking for a stepping stone to grander things, but also on this present occasion the remaining term lasts just a year so you have to do it all over again next year.

Yet now the office has been most coveted by the status-climbing Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, who has campaigned vigorously for it. That at this time he holds an office arguably more important might bring into question why he would make, in ordinary times, at best lateral move he would have to defend next year if successful this year, when he could cruise to reelection in his present post. But, these are no ordinary times.


Shreveport needs to end cost inefficient recycling plan

Now about two years after its full implementation, the most accurate statement about Shreveport’s curbside recycling program is the resources it transfers away from the city’s landfill is less than and will soon be dwarfed by the transfer of resources it forces from the wealth of the city’s residents.

In the May, 2008, Mayor Cedric Glover, with the unanimous support of the City Council, announced this initiative. Not only did he tout the environmentally-friendly aspect of it all and that it would divert some materials from going into the city’s landfill, but also he claimed it would become an economic development tool as at the Port of Shreveport-Bossier said it attracted Pratt Industries to it in part because it would recycle these paper products from the city. By August, 2008 the program was in full swing and the Pratt facility opened in the fall of 2009.

One would think that the savings from a longer landfill life and ability to sell recyclable materials to the private sector would allow the program to pay for itself. One would assume that city government would not add an entirely new function to itself that did not address basic common needs and dealt with public goods (such as roads, parks, public safety, etc.) unless this luxury raised more revenues than the costs it imposed less those it could reduce elsewhere. But to think that one would have to discount the big-government-knows-best ideology to which Glover adheres and the Council slavishly followed.


Desperate Melancon to roll craps on strategy again

Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon is a dead man walking regarding his campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. David Vitter, but he doesn’t yet realize he is a political corpse. From the beginning, his strategy to defeat Vitter, whose current lead is 18 points, has been to try to paint Vitter as unethical. In doing so, he and his party have made some big reaches but perhaps none so far as his latest effort.

Recently, Vitter fired a staffer accused of holding against her will a woman and inflicting injury on her in 2008 but which only came to light in the past month. He also had prior run-ins with the law about which Vitter and his staff did not know, including conviction of cocaine possession. He dealt with abortion issues, among other things, for Vitter.

While this doesn’t say a lot about Vitter’s vetting process for staffers, neither does the affair demonstrate anything close to what Melancon has to say about it, an accusation that aide was the women’s outreach coordinator, that Vitter “protected” him, and thus Vitter has a tolerance for people insensitive to women. “I’m a father and I have a daughter. What’s he doing with a guy like this on his staff?” fulminated Melancon, who in his high dudgeon seemed to forget that Vitter has three daughters of his own.

Melancon went this dubious route perhaps because of that latest polling data that showed that among men Vitter held a 30 point lead while it was “only” 11 points among women. When drowning, the desperate grab on even if it’s an anchor thrown their way so Melancon must be thinking the gender gap holds some key to his winning.

But those familiar with polling and political behavior know that the gender gap normally is caused by one tremendous outlier group among voters: single women with children, particularly lower income. That is, if you adjust for marital status and whether having children, except for the lowest income brackets, the gender gap doesn’t exist. It only appears in aggregate because of the overwhelming advantage Democrat candidates have in that one category.

And that’s not because of any perceived anti-female attitudes that Republican or conservative candidates like Vitter have in the minds of these people. It’s because Democrats are seen as the candidates most likely to back laws spewing forth generous welfare and other government benefits and the most likely to favor black interests (this group largely disproportionately is composed of blacks). There’s no reason to believe this pattern does not hold true in this race. But, unfortunately for Democrats, this group comprises perhaps a twentieth of the population and even less of the proportion of those who show up to vote.

So this isn’t anything close to a winning strategy. But it’s been desperation mode for the Melancon campaign for a long time now, and this is just the latest in long-shot tactics that will fall (well) short.


Independence Day, 2010

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Sunday, Jul. 4 being Independence Day, I invite you to explore the links connected to the link above. (P.S. Through 2008, the White House used to have an excellent page elucidating the relevance and meaning of the holiday. Since 2009, that has vanished.)