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Free community college bad for LA for many reasons

For a state that already does not efficiently use its higher education resources, Pres. Barack Obama’s proposal to throw around free community college education to all would end up particularly ruinous to Louisiana, and thereby needs rejecting.

Last week, Obama announced that he wanted the federal government to pay 75 percent of the costs to those who wished to attend these, with states picking up the other quarter of the tab. Presumably, this means that anyone who graduates high school or who obtains a General Equivalency Diploma could get a full ride as long as they took a paltry six hours of courses a semester, maintained a 2.5 GPA (at this academic level much lower means either you’re lazy or you shouldn’t be able to fog a mirror), and apparently would have several years of eligibility for this. The estimated federal government annual cost is $60 billion, and assuming the proportion of Louisiana students doing this mirrors its proportion of the national population, this could cost the state $600 million annually.

That amount alone, or over half of what the state planned to contribute to pay for its entire higher education system this fiscal year, makes it a non-starter, but there are plenty of non-fiscal reasons why this is a bad idea. Marginally negative is that it could skew into community colleges students who could develop more fully at a baccalaureate-and-above school. More negative is that it would push a greater number of marginal students into college, where few will succeed (only about a fifth complete programs as it is, although some are there for knowledge from a few specific classes), wasting taxpayer resources by having to provide more instructional resources that really aren’t needed. This also spills over to more qualified students, who, knowing that a free ride awaits them if they squeak out of high school, strive for the minimum, instead of feeling an imperative they need to produce as much quality as possible in order to earn their way at lower costs into higher education, creating more capability and return on taxpayer dollars from elementary and secondary education.


Polling says Vitter sitting pretty, Edwards not so much

Last week several candidates for statewide office opened their cheeks wide and got their statewide campaign temperatures taken, bringing signs of health for some but worrying signs of sickness for others.

The information came courtesy of a pair of polls, one taken by a firm that works with Gov. Bobby Jindal, the other from a firm hired by Treas. John Kennedy, who has not stated any election intention for this or next year, that by virtue of which enabled his name to appear in both. The former, among other things, asked about potential gubernatorial candidates this year, while the latter gauged opinion about hypothetical gubernatorial, attorney general, and 2016 senatorial contests.

In the former, undeclared but possible Democrat candidate New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu led the way with 28 percent, Republican Sen. David Vitter received 27 percent, Republicans Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne trailed at 11 percent each, while Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle mustered only 6 percent and dragging the rear was Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards at 4 percent. The latter survey’s gubernatorial choices led to Vitter having 24 percent, Edwards 20 percent, Kennedy 13 percent, Dardenne 10 percent, and Angelle 2 percent.


Targeted suspensions workable LA budgeting strategy

All right, so relative to predicted recurring revenues and forecast costs for fiscal year 2016 Louisiana now has a $1.6 billion gap that could require hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to health care and higher education from this year’s baseline. Leaving spending reductions aside for the moment, what on the revenue side could be done to close this?

A number of things could be tried, but the problem is as most of them involve structural reform of Louisiana’s fiscal system and spending proclivities, they deliver not much in the way of short-term relief, with most of that coming further into the future. For example, the motion picture investor tax credit likely would have little earned in FY 2015 that also would get claimed on the tax returns of that span. And any removal of these would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, which seems unlikely for almost any of them, given politics, regardless of whether they would have a major impact this upcoming fiscal year.

But the Legislature constitutionally is empowered to suspend laws, by the same vote threshold as what it takes to enact the law, which while to raise a tax is two-thirds, to pass an exception is just a simple majority of the seated membership. Suspensions may last only 60 days after the end of the next regular session, i.e. possibly through Jun. 30, 2016, and do not face a gubernatorial veto. Thus, Gov. Bobby Jindal, oft quoted indicating opposition to any non-neutral tax changes that would have the effect of an overall tax increase, could be bypassed by simple majorities to wipe out temporarily tax exceptions, a mark that seems much more realistic by which to succeed.


N.O. smoking ban likely represents tipping point

Whether it ends up a tipping point for the remainder of Louisiana, at the very least the moderate-ranging smoking ban to begin in New Orleans this spring is significant.

Last week, the City Council passed it along to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is expected to sign it. Slightly watered down from the initial draft, it bans smoking in all indoor public places and even a few outdoors, except where smoking accessories are made or sold and in private homes. Significantly, this exceeds in reach state law on the matter.

The question now is whether this will have an impact statewide. New Orleans arguably is the largest city in the state and certainly part of the largest metropolitan area, and the most tolerant, until now, of a smoking culture. Now with perhaps the least likely and largest of places in the state for a local government having exercised its powers given to it by the state to protect the health and safety of the public, possibly this could burst through remaining resistance at the state level for a similar kind of ban as some other states have legislated.


LA should join cash welfare recipient drug testing wave

Despite meeting the derision of some in the past, trends across the country point to the desirability of Louisiana’s joining other states in requiring drug testing for cause of welfare cash recipients.

Since a U.S. circuit court of appeals decision over a decade ago essentially ruled that drug testing to receive federal benefits constituted an unconstitutional search unless suspicion of use was established, a dozen states have passed laws that require such testing when suspicion is present. That can be established as simply as administering a test that queries about behavior. Additionally, most states, including Louisiana where this applies to benefits administered by the Department of Children and Family Services (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), have not opted out of the federal welfare reform law that requires felons convicted of drug crimes to face mandatory testing for receipt of benefits, and 18 have had legislation to adopt testing introduced in the past year. Perhaps the most high profile discussion under way will happen in Wisconsin, where the political left’s bĂȘte noire Gov. Scott Walker, a potential presidential candidate, supports such legislation that includes a wide array of public assistance programs.

Louisiana is not one of those that has gone past the TANF rules, but has its own history regarding such legislation. A few years ago bills of this nature appeared regularly in the Legislature, with the last couple of attempts making it out of the House. But the Senate stalled them and 2012 marked the last bill filed of this nature.