Regardless of whatever stats, rankings or carefully shaded reports the Jindal administration puts out regarding job creation or the state of the state’s economy, please know that, in truth, Louisiana is on a high-speed-rail collision course with global economic irrelevance.
Make no mistake, it’s fabulous that Louisiana, under Gov. Bobby Jindal, has spent hundreds of millions of economic development dollars to sustain chicken farmers, enable the manufacturing of high-end toilet paper, land international industrial companies, leverage cheap natural gas to attract manufacturing facilities and provide any incentive necessary to develop the movie and nascent digital media industries. Without question, each and every win by LED’s Stephen Moret has been great for this state.
It’s also wonderful that Louisiana, under Jindal, has moved hundreds of millions of dollars from the state treasury to personal bank accounts and corporate balance sheets thanks to an unprecedented level of tax cuts over the past five years. Even better for the average reader of this publication, nearly every one of these cuts has almost exclusively benefited the wealthiest of this state’s residents and business owners.
Economic development wins and massive tax cuts have buoyed the state economy during the national recession, made Louisiana appear more business- friendly and, without question, earned the ballyhoo of the suddenly authoritative Site Selection magazine.
Yet all of that good news is effectively eradicated by the financial carnage that’s taken place in higher education under Jindal’s watch. The past four years have seen Jindal and the Legislature slash $360 million in higher education funding, $92 million from LSU, the state’s supposed flagship institution.
The result of these nine budget cuts has been a brain drain of campus talent, the elimination or reduction of critical academic programs, and a general sense of despair on campuses from Ruston to Lafayette to Baton Rouge.
The governor’s supporters will tell you the cuts aren’t nearly as dramatic as those of us in the media and academia portray them. They say allowing universities to hike tuition and fees has offset many of the cuts. If the only measurement is dollars, then they have a point. Just as those who argue tuition at Louisiana universities has for decades been far too low are correct. Raising tuition is the right thing to do, but only when done in conjunction with proper funding from the state.
Simply transferring the financial responsibility from the state to the student creates a situation where the student is paying more for a degree that’s worth less. How is that right?
Consider that Louisiana pays more than $8,000 per student annually to educate a child at the K-12 level, but contributes less than $1,000 per student toward higher education.
Incredibly, the worst has yet to hit college campuses. What the governor and legislators are talking about now is a budget that will hack an additional $225 million from higher education, $43 million at LSU’s Baton Rouge campus. To be blunt, higher education and this state can’t survive with cuts that severe.
Blame what likely will be a death knell for higher education on fiscal hawks not wanting to use one-time dollars for recurring expenses in the state budget. Blame several universities teetering on the edge of bankruptcy on the impact of tax cuts this state really couldn’t afford to approve finally catching up to Jindal and legislators. Blame record levels of corporate welfare or blame the ending of federal money post-Katrina. Blame whatever one wants, but there’s no escaping that higher education is collapsing on Jindal’s watch.
How much longer will it be before many of the companies this state is paying so handsomely to locate here find it’s impossible to hire qualified workers? How much longer will we accept a state that ranks 46th in the nation for education attainment?
It’s clear our state leaders have no stomach for restructuring higher education, but do they also have to kill our economic future?
At a time where knowledge, research and creativity have never been more economically important, Jindal and the Legislature are systematically destroying the very institutions that give birth to knowledge, research and creativity.
So while tax breaks and corporate incentives are great, there’s no tax break or corporate incentive big enough to overcome stupid.
JR Ball is executive editor of Baton Rouge's Business Report, where this column first appeared. Email him at
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SEP 16 Here's something for LSU to be proud of. It's a video of some (presumed) 'frat boys' manhandling another young man who is not wearing a polo shirt and khakis on the parade grounds prior to Saturday's LSU football game. The best part of this brief video is the look on the face of the guy who shot it, who also is (presumably) responsible for the title of the tape.
SEP 16 Lafayette is up for inclusion in another pointless list, but if it makes you feel better, go vote for the city here. This contest, sponsored by that pillar of excellent journalism, USA Today, is seeking the top ten college towns that are able to conduct a social media campaign to get voted as the best college town.
SEP 16 Here's a weird post on LaPolitics about how many doctors we have in Congress. With Charles Boustany, John Fleming and Bill Cassidy, we've got a lot of physicians up there. Why is that? Jeremy Alford has some ideas.
SEP 16 Here's a post from the Facebook page of the Al Berard Music Festival, announcing the date of the new event to honor the musician's memory and to raise money for the Al Berard Memorial Music Fund at Community Foundation of Acadiana. They're seeking volunteers, if you want to help.
SEP 16 This post on the Oxford American magazine features the work of New Orleans-based photographer/artist Kevin Klein, as well as some of his amazing portraits of NOLA people. It's worth a few minutes of your time.
SEP 16 Just as Rod Dreher was marking the anniversary of his sister's death from cancer, he learned this his friend Dave's wife, Alison Neustrom, had died of cancer, he writes in this post. In searching online for info about her wake, he learned of Alison's testimony regarding medical marijuana, and marvels at the fact that this woman, who was fighting a battle herself, spent some of her precious, limited time to fight for others.
SEP 16 Finally, something useful from a daily newspaper. Here's a story in the Picayune about the Jambalaya Calculator, a free-to-download spreadsheet that helps hungry Cajuns calculate ingredients for the dish.
SEP 16 Columnist Jim Beam writes about cuts to the military in this post. It's a theme that has been repeated over our history, and it has never been a good idea, he argues. Beam remembers processing out of the Army in 1957 and sitting next to a captain who had been cut during one such drawdown.
SEP 15 Blogger Bob Mann is writing about the death of Victor White III, who died in New Iberia, handcuffed and in the back seat of a police car, from a gunshot wound to the chest. He wonders if perhaps the residents of that town should riot, as the residents of Ferguson did, in order to get national (and federal) attention for the case.
SEP 15 Here's the NOLA Defender blog's coverage of the Gulf Energy Forum, hosted last week in the city by The Atlantic magazine. Although the mag's people tried to ensure the discussion explored all types of energy, it focused on oil and gas, the post reports. Since the forum was held in Louisiana and underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute - how is that a surprise?
SEP 15 Blogger Tom Aswell gives us the details on a recent Legislative Auditor's report on Louisiana's obligations to Tom Benson, some of which he says "appear to border on financial irresponsibility." He's also detailing an audit of the seemingly endless problems with hurricane recovery contractors.
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