Thursday, February 19, 2009

Abandon all heauxp

Let me see whether I can put together some news items from today's Louisiana newspapers.

Let's start with the bad-news baseline for the Gret Stet: There is -- at a minimum -- a bad, bad recession in full swing, the price of oil has collapsed, tax revenues surely will be down and the state is looking at a budget shortfall of about $2 billion.

If things don't get any worse.

CONTINUING WITH the baseline of suck, we note that various constitutional strictures ensure most of the budget ax's blows will fall squarely on the necks of higher education and social services. This promises that cuts to those crucial areas will be draconian. As in -- worst case -- a 30-percent reduction in higher-ed funding.

According to Louisiana State's student newspaper, planning by officials on the main Baton Rouge campus has turned up some dire consequences of a 30-percent cut. The Daily Reveille reported Thursday that:
The University is bracing to endure a 29.8 percent drop in enrollment if it’s forced to cut $71.9 million from its budget next fiscal year, according to documents obtained by The Daily Reveille.

And an apparent difference between the University and the LSU System’s approaches to dealing with the cuts has been a sticking point between the two since the beginning of the year.

An estimated 8,500 students may leave the University if state funding is cut by 30 percent next fiscal year.

This figure — among others like hikes in tuition and student fees — was not included in the LSU System’s “budget reduction exercise” released Feb. 4.

“We’ve tried to minimize any discussion of enrollment loss and avoid too much focus on alternative sources of revenue,” LSU System President John Lombardi told Chancellor Michael Martin in a Jan. 29 e-mail obtained by The Daily Reveille. “Those issues are likely to prompt questions we’re not ready to answer given the variable nature of the budget conversations at the present time.”

With a projected cut in higher education state funding between $212 million and $382 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the Division of Administration asked Lombardi to complete a “budget reduction exercise” showing what a cut of up to 30 percent in funding would mean for the System.

Administrators at the 11 institutions compiled their own budget scenarios to submit to the System office, where they were compiled into one “budget reduction exercise” and submitted to the Division of Administration.

Records show several differences between what the University submitted and what was shown in the System’s exercise.

“I think [the System’s budget reduction exercise] made as good of a case as it could [for the University],” Martin told The Daily Reveille on Wednesday. “I understand that we have other units within the System that have to be represented as well.”

Lombardi declined an interview, through System Spokesman Charles Zewe, about the differences between the budget scenarios.

Martin said University officials focused more on finding possible solutions for a cut of up to 30 percent while the System’s interests lay in displaying what an across-the-board cut of 30 percent would look like for the System.
LET'S PUT THIS in perspective. Right now, LSU's Baton Rouge campus -- the state's "flagship" university -- has an enrollment of 26,140. Let's assume the state makes draconian cuts and the enrollment craters as badly as LSU administrators think it will.

That would leave LSU's new enrollment at just over 17,600 students, smaller than it has been in nearly 40 years. By way of comparison, the University of Nebraska at Omaha -- an urban, primarily commuter campus -- has about 15,000 students.

The enrollment collapse, though, would just be the beginning of the carnage:
Besides an estimated student loss of 8,500 — including 2,250, or about half, the minority student population — other elements were discussed in the University’s budget scenario that were omitted from the System’s final draft.

For instance, the Bengal Legacy Scholarships for non-resident sons and daughters of LSU graduates, the Board of Supervisors scholarships and the Louisiana Freshman Merit Award would be eliminated under worst-case scenario cuts, according to the University’s budget exercise.

“The cutting of any scholarship will have a detrimental impact on students eligible for the awards and may have a negative impact on enrollment,” the document states.

Merit increases for faculty, administrative and professional staff would also be “out of the question.”

With a large budget reduction, closing academic colleges is likely.

“To reach this [30 percent] level of a cut, more than one large college must be eliminated because of the corresponding loss of tuition revenue,” the document states.
WHOLE COLLEGES. Gone. Just the prescription for the "jewel" of a substandard higher-ed system in a poor, ignorant, underdeveloped state.

This is the backdrop for the other headlines of the day.

One is atop a column by veteran Lake Charles columnist Jim Beam,
who writes in the American Press that, no matter how much sense it might make, don't look for lawmakers to cut back on the state's bloated ranks of four-year universities.

Quantity always has been more important to the Gret Stet than quality, and the people's representatives aren't about to change things now. No matter how desperate the fiscal situation:
Any legislator with a higher education institution in or near his district is going to be reluctant to close a university anywhere else for fear his school could be next. That is the political reality here.

Making a college education convenient and affordable is everyone’s goal. Unfortunately, the legislators who promoted four-year status for LSU-A didn’t tell their colleagues the whole story.

The ink had hardly dried on the act Foster signed in 2001 before those same supporters launched grandiose plans for spending millions of dollars more on expanded facilities at the university.

While everything Michot, Clausen and others are saying makes sense, it’s not likely to change anything. The Legislature doesn’t have the courage it would take to close any state universities. If lawmakers could resist political pressure, LSU-A wouldn’t be a four-year school today.
MEANWHILE, some legislators are seeking a way to deal with an ideologue governor threatening to turn down, on "principle," billions in federal "stimulus" money as he stares down a $2 billion budget defecit.

On the other hand, according to Gannett newspapers, some legislators -- in the face of the $2 billion budget deficit --
think cutting taxes is just the thing to do when you're already way short of money. Gov. Bobby Jindal thinks this might be just as good an idea as gutting higher education and turning down billions from Uncle Sam:
Questions submitted to the governor's office about the tax cuts proposed so far brought a response from Kyle Plotkin, the governor's press secretary. The governor was out of town.

Plotkin said, "As a conservative, the governor supports tax cuts and has cut taxes in Louisiana six times so far. He is willing to support tax cuts that are fiscally responsible by being fully implemented in the same year and are accompanied by necessary spending reductions.
ONE CAN ONLY ASSUME that Louisiana has gone from being misgoverned by crooks to being driven into the ditch by fools and nuts.

Of course, this being Louisiana, the fools and nuts always had a place at the policy-making table. But now, with crookedness being less fashionable than it historically has been, the fools and nuts have seized their opportunity to shine.

There are three ways to live happily in Louisiana. One is not to care about one's future or one's fellow man.

Another is to adopt a fanatical devotion to Bacchus while trying to ignore the shadows creeping up on you and yours.

The third is to adopt a position of pie-eyed optimism, maintaining that everything is tickety-boo in Bayou Goula despite all available evidence.

UNFORTUNATELY, none of the "happy" strategies account for the inevitability of getting bitten -- hard -- in the ass by reality, which it would appear is now upon Louisiana in what might be an unprecedented manner. And that reality, cher . . . she can be a stone-cold bitch, yeah.

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