Perhaps Gov. Bobby
Jindal went a bit hyperbolic on the issue, but there’s no doubt that as far
as the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s
editorial page goes that’s a “no-go zone”
if you’re a conservative columnist willing to stand on your feet and present
heterodoxy when writing about state and local issues.
This week, the T-P announced
that James Varney had been reassigned to report on the Northshore beat. Varney
was moved from the opinion pages, where for nearly two-and-a-half years he had
presented a perspective rarely seen on those pages about state and local
political issues, with some forays into national events as well. When he
space wondered whether it signaled a change in the thinking of the
newspaper, then on the cusp of transforming itself into a more Web-centric
media outlet that put many of its stories into print, rather than act as a dead
tree publisher than on the side posted its stories to the Web.
Orthodoxy reigns when it comes to
Louisiana newspapers, enthralled to the political left that corresponds to the
state’s recent history of populism. Only the Houma Courier and its sister publications and the Alexandria Town Talk among the larger
outlets have anything close to ideological balance with opining in their pages about
state and local issues while, among the smaller, the Hanna Publications chain, to which I
contribute, does yeoman work in presenting alternative conservative viewpoints.
At the time of Varney’s debut, the two hardest left editorial pages were the
state’s two largest newspapers, the T-P
and the Baton Rouge Advocate, with
the latter the farther out there.
Over four years ago this
space conjectured about the privatization of Louisiana State University.
Now that it seems that some
on the Louisiana Board of Regents and others have caught up to this, then
the time has come to revisit the idea – and such an inquest shows why it likely
would fail without major restructuring of the state’s higher education system.
The post stemmed from a move at the
University of Oregon to accomplish this. Since
then, not only UO, but also Oregon State University and Portland State
University all headed in this direction, commencing last summer. The other then-existing
four state universities were given a similar option and some have moved to take
These institutions no longer
participate in almost any state grouped settings, such as for risk management,
but handle most of their own organizational maintenance. Revenues generated by
participating schools now accrue to a separate fund that schools draw upon for
expenditures, including issuing revenue bonds for capital items. A minimal
state general fund contribution continues and they must ask the state’s
coordinating commission for higher education for any tuition increases above 5
percent. They also have independent boards to govern each, although their
members appointed by the governor. In short, they have almost entirely detached
themselves from state government, with its flagship UO able to do this on an endowment
only about 50 percent higher on a per student basis than LSU Baton Rouge’s.
If state Rep. Franklin Foil
knows what’s going on with his HB 62, he’s
the only one.
Foil’s bill would amend the
Constitution to get rid partially of the odd artifact that any new fee
imposition or existing fee increase by a state agency needs a two-thirds vote
in each chamber of the Legislature to go through. As it applies specifically to
academia, this includes
both fees and tuition.
While falling short of asking for
repeal that thereby exempts all of government from this to grant added
flexibility to administration, where oversight could be conducted by running
every proposed increase or new charge by the Joint
Legislative Committee of the Budget which then could veto these by a majority
within a certain time span, at least HB 62 removes entirely fees charged in
higher education, with no oversight at all. This makes sense as the marketplace
will punish an institution that raises fees too much, if there’s some concern
that the Legislature must conduct oversight on these matters out of fear that otherwise
that runaway government will jack all fees sky high (even though oversight
already exists in that policy-makers accountable to the electorate always can
pass laws and resolutions vetoing these hikes or new ones).
Fool the Baton Rouge Advocate’s editorialists once, shame on you. Fool it twice,
shame on them. And maybe that’s enough, as their eyes
now seem wide open to understanding the unavoidable political nature of any
government agency, no matter how allegedly protected it is and/or should be “independent”
of politics – at some cost to the taxpayer.
After the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection
Authority-East sued nearly a hundred petroleum extraction companies or
their successors for reputed damage to the Louisiana coastline over decades and
the Louisiana Legislature responded by legislating to negate that and Gov.
Bobby Jindal began using his gubernatorial powers to pick members to the
SLFPA-E opposing the suit, howls came from some about how such tactics produced
(in the words of one Advocate opinion
writer) a “loss
of independence” concerning a board that many wished somehow was above
politics. The suit now functions on life support after a federal
judge routed it out of court in a way that almost nobody believes it has
any of chance of survival on appeal.
Except, of course, for the lawyers
who, with renegade former members of the SLFPA-E’s governing board Tim Doody
and John Barry, concocted a contract approved by the board that means any
attempt for the agency to stop the suit before it is concluded means it owes a
huge payday of taxpayer dollars to the Jones Swanson Huddell & Garrison law
firm and the discretion to pursue the suit lies totally in the firm’s hands, which the firm has chosen to continue despite the Advocate's pleading to desist. The nature
of the contract leads to disputation over the final disposition, but that could
be anything from, at worst, losing or withdrawing and the agency (read "taxpayers") owing the firm perhaps
into the eight figures of dollars to, at best, doing either and losing nothing
In all the talk about finding ways
to bring Louisiana’s fiscal year 2016 budget into balance, through spending
cuts and/or revenue additions, an obvious policy change of the former should
stand out – limit welfare receipts to those who already receive some forms of
assistance if they have another child.
Colloquially termed “welfare queen”
laws, about half
of all states place family
caps on recipients in a variety of programs. While a few states offer
either a flat amount regardless of children or a voucher spendable only on
certain items, a couple reduce incremental payments as the number of children goes
up and the rest deny the entire increment when a receiving family has another
In Louisiana, an unlimited number
of children related to a head of household by blood, marriage or adoption may
qualify for higher Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program dollars; 10
family members, for example, qualify for $512 monthly with roughly a $36
addition for every additional qualifying child. Another cash
benefit program, the Kinship Care Subsidy Program, awards $222 per month
for a child. Naturally, income for the family cannot exceed certain amounts.