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To date mythical, coming college cuts demand real changes

With a revenue gap now forecast to top over $1 billion for fiscal year 2014, once again higher education in Louisiana finds itself on the front lines in any budget balancing exercise. And this time, tinkering at the margins, the past response to a largely nonexistent perceived calamitous situation, probably won’t be good enough.

One drumbeat of opinion that relentlessly will be propagated by some in the upcoming debate is that Louisiana higher education has suffered horribly as result of fiscal retrenchment in recent years, necessitating that existing levels of funding be maintained, if not increasing them that require additional revenues on way or the other. This view ignores the facts surrounding actual higher education spending in Louisiana.

Six months after Gov. Kathleen Blanco took office, in that fiscal year the state spent about $2.342 billion on higher education, serving (by the fall headcount) 214,144 students, of which 29 percent was self-generated (most of this being tuition and fees), or a per-student cost of $10,937 ($7,765 to taxpayers). Four years later, a half-year after Gov. Bobby Jindal recited the oath of office for the first time, $2.878 billion was spent (25.9 percent self-generated) on 207,760 students, or a per-student cost of $13,853 ($10,265 to taxpayers). Then, last completed fiscal year, $3.012 billion (37.5 percent self-generated) paid for 225,835 students, or a per-student cost of $13,337 ($8,336 to taxpayers).


Continued Landry political career likely with wise choosing

Whether one finds his political preferences congenial, give outgoing Rep. Jeff Landry credit for WYSIWYG until the very end of his single term in Congress, a characteristic that will affect both ways chances of any political future he might have.

Republican Landry showed he had a political potential when in 2007 he almost knocked off a very established Democrat state House incumbent for a state Senate seat in his first foray for elective office, after having worked as a staffer in that body. By 2010, with the Democrat incumbent of his Congressional district, which was rumored to disappear in two years due to redistricting, making a hopeless escape for a U.S. Senate seat, he waxed the field to pick it up, joining a large number of freshmen fiscal conservatives in the body.

Events did conspire to eliminate the district, forcing him into a district with another sitting and more senior Republican member, Rep. Charles Boustany, so his entire congressional career operated in the shadow of having to face a popular incumbent. Therefore, no separation ever occurred between his bombastic campaign rhetoric and that of his governing.


New Year's Day, 2013

This column publishes usually 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 or New Year's 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 Tuesday, Jan. 1 being New Year's Day, I invite you to explore this link.


Last old PSC gasp foists rate hike, crony capitalism

Perhaps the Louisiana Public Service Commission will be the last unreformed elected statewide government institution the citizens will have to endure, as outgoing Commissioner Jimmy Field demonstrated with his goodbye kiss to corporate and special interest cronies.

Field, who did not run for reelection and will be replaced by Scott Angelle next year, as his final vote in a 16-year career joined Commissioners Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere in puckering up through hiking the rates of anybody who buys electric power outside of Orleans Parish except for the largest manufacturers, even those of the most impoverished households. Commissioners Clyde Holloway and Eric Skrmetta opposed, and even tried at a previous session to get residential households exempted from the final regulation, but were thwarted by the other three.

The increase goes to subsidizing firms that sell equipment designed to increase energy efficiency, through a tax rebate to ratepayers who contract for those services. Eventually, a mechanism would be created to allow power sellers to recoup lost revenues from the hike, estimated to be in the range of 50 cents a monthly bill for the typical household. Only a vague outline of this program named “Quick Start” has surfaced and was approved last PSC meeting, despite it having been introduced more than three years ago, and it may be another two years before the specific details are worked out. At this time, it is estimated to cost ratepayers $25-30 million annually.


Faux outrage demeans real instances of political pressure

When it comes to traditional media elites, the narrative is relentless. Stick to this product of their ideological orthodoxy and ignore or insulate themselves from anything inconsistent with it, and life in their bubble-wrap worlds is good. Never mind if it produces a garbage-in, garbage-out kind of quality, as recent story choices in and around Louisiana have shown.

One prize specimen comes from The Lens, an online publication that argues it tries to provide story content that “to report stories that others aren’t or can’t” in order “to advocate for a more transparent and just governance that is accountable to the public.” Leaving aside the larger questions of who defines what is “transparent,” “just” and “accountable,” this nonprofit organization produces stories on a range of subjects, including opinion pieces.

Recently, it put on offer one such piece by Tyler Bridges, a journalist best known perhaps for a book written in the aftermath of the short-lived political career of David Duke, which constituted a first-class rendering of the events involved, but a second-class analysis of the larger scope and meaning of that career. Essentially, the narrative propagated in his piece was Gov. Bobby Jindal was an oppressive meanie when it came to making sure his agenda remained unchallenged within state government.