Louisiana State University (LSU) President F. King Alexander made some bold statements recently about the impact of Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed budget on higher education. Alexander's warnings are so dire, some might call them shrill, which is exactly what Jindal and his few remaining supporters would like everyone to believe. Unfortunately, King is not overreacting. The numbers and the political realities back him up.
Alexander told reporters in several media markets last week that Jindal's answer to the state's looming $1.6 billion budget shortfall contains reductions for LSU that are "so large we'd have to furlough everybody for the entire year."
Alexander and several members of the Jindal-appointed LSU Board of Supervisors recently met with the governor to discuss the situation, to no apparent avail. Instead, several of the supervisors expressed vague confidence that somehow Jindal and lawmakers would find a way to muddle through. King responded that, yes, there's always "divine intervention."
Meanwhile, the realities don't bode well for higher ed. Here's why:
Jindal's proposed budget would reduce state funding to every public college and university in Louisiana by more than 80 percent — on top of the draconian cuts the governor has implemented over the past seven years. That's not a misprint. The governor proposes to slash the current pathetic level of direct state support for higher ed by more than 80 percent. Those numbers don't come from Alexander; they come from the Legislative Fiscal Office, which is nonpartisan.
Jindal and lawmakers should find a way to fund higher ed at current levels, period.
To offset such a ridiculously low level of funding, the governor's budget proposes "supplemental funding" via a yet-to-be-enacted cigarette tax and a controversial rollback of state tax credits given annually to businesses that pay local inventory taxes. Perhaps that's where divine intervention may be needed.
Proposed changes to the state's tax code are speculative, even for a governor who is popular, which Jindal is not. The governor's latest approval numbers among Louisiana voters — 28 percent — are lower than those of President Barack Obama. Moreover, the state's largest and most powerful business lobby, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), has declared war on the inventory tax credit rollback idea.
LABI publishes an annual legislative scorecard tracking lawmakers' votes on key business issues and rating the legislators accordingly. Few are willing to appear "anti-business" at election time, which is less than seven months away. That bodes ill for Jindal's inventory tax credit proposal, which means cuts to higher ed could be much worse than the rosy $141 million projected by Team Jindal.
Lest we forget, since 2009, Jindal and lawmakers have cut direct state aid to higher ed by more than $700 million already. Cutting another $141 million, which now looks like a Pollyannaish best-case scenario, is still disastrous. Jindal and lawmakers should find a way to fund higher ed at current levels, period.
Does Jindal have a Plan B in case LABI succeeds in tanking the inventory tax credit rollback? If he does, he's keeping it a closely guarded secret. More likely, he has no backup plan. Heck, his Plan A isn't much of a plan.
No wonder Alexander has suggested to students that they protest — loudly — at the state Capitol when lawmakers gather next month. The Council of Student Body Presidents has scheduled a demonstration (#nofunds#nofuture) from noon to 3 p.m. April 15, which is two days after the session begins. Alexander's advice to the students: "Be annoying."
"Sometimes, you don't have to be so polite," he added. "This is a time when you need to fight."
Students aren't the only ones who should heed Alexander's advice.