Bobby Jindal is seeking the 2016 GOP presidential nomination; so Louisiana’s public colleges and universities may have to absorb $380 million in cuts and as many as nine institutions might be closed.
In this last election cycle, much attention was paid to the disastrous effects of Sam Brownback’s “tax reforms” in Kansas. Everyone likes paying less in taxes, but it turns out that if you keep cutting taxes, there is literally no money for schools, for road maintenance, for public services, or for even the fairly basic operations of government. More than a hundred prominent Republicans were so fed up with Brownback’s single-minded pursuit of this radically anti-government ideology that they very publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent, but it was somehow not enough to prevent Brownback’s re-election.
What’s the matter with Kansas voters? Well, it turns out that career politicians who are so anti-government that they want to starve it of revenue until they eliminate most of it—excluding, of course, their own bases of political support–are no better at serving the public good than their opposite numbers, those career politicians who view government revenues as a bottomless source of personal and political largesse. Both are playing politics to serve their own interests rather than the public interest. And once they are in office, it is just as hard to get rid of one as it is to get rid of the other.
And this situation is hardly unique to Kansas. I have written earlier posts about how Bobby Jindal has been relentlessly reducing state support for public education in Louisiana. At the K-12 level, he has promoted charter schools at the expense of public schools, even as he has taken up the Tea Party skepticism about standardized testing. Although the Far Right and Progressives have increasingly shared a skepticism of standardized testing, they have done so for very different reasons that, paradoxically, seem to be combined in Jindal’s political opportunism on the issue. Specifically, since the charter schools are now being exposed for performing no better than and often considerably worse than the public schools, it has become convenient for the champions of charter schools to oppose the tests that are exposing that reality, even though both “school choice” and “increased accountability” are products of the same ideological promotion of privatization and corporatization.
At the higher-ed level, Jindal has reduced state funding of public colleges and universities in every budget, regardless of the economic trends at the state and national levels. Jindal has cut state support in the midst of deep economic recession and in the midst of the economic recovery. As a case in point, the current deficit in the state of Louisiana’s revenues is now being blamed on the decline in oil and gas production that has resulted from the collapse in the prices of both fuels. But several years ago, when oil and gas prices were near all-time highs, Jindal kept cutting tax rates and cutting state support for higher education.
In an earlier post, I noted that in the discussions of this past year’s state budget, Jindal tried to pass off a state-permitted tuition increase as an increase in state support for public colleges and universities (see: https://academeblog.org/2014/04/01/bobby-jindal-calls-a-large-tuition-increase-an-increase-in-his-states-support-for-higher-education/). It is the sort of ploy that one resorts to when one has cut tax revenues to a level at which public institutions and services are no longer sustainable.
In the interim, Louisiana voters have approved a state ballot issue that caused the looming budget crisis to be even more inescapable than those that have occasioned the previous rounds of cuts. The Jindal administration had been budgeting monies to a variety of special initiatives that were never actually funded—or if one wishes to be cynical, never intended to be funded—at the publicly announced levels. When very unreliable sources of revenue for public institutions and services did not materialize, monies were reallocated, quite predictably, from the special initiatives to the areas of need, one of which was almost always higher education. Well, one of the special initiatives from which funding has been repeatedly redirected is the effort to re-establish the coastal wetlands that used to absorb the brunt of the hurricanes and other severe storms that strike Louisiana with some regularity. In November, voters approved a constitutional amendment to prevent funding budgeted for the restoration of those coastal wetlands from being redirected to anything else. (See: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/louisiana_constitutional_amend_2.html.)
So now, Louisiana is faced with a huge shortfall in state revenues, currently estimated at $1.4 billion but rising with each new estimate, and somewhere between $300 and $380 million of the shortfall will have to come from the already much reduced state support for public colleges and universities. To put the projected cuts in higher education funding in some perspective, they are equivalent to the combined budgets of all of the state’s public community and technical colleges or the equivalent of a third of the operating budget of the Louisiana State University system. If campuses aren’t shuttered and if cuts are, instead, proportionately distributed across all public colleges and universities, each institution will need to absorb between a 40% and a 60% reduction in state funding.
So, very obviously, the Jindal administration and the Louisiana legislature have reached something of a point of no return in pursuing the ideological mantra of reducing taxes to increase economic growth. The impact of colleges and universities on a state’s economic performance and, even more dramatically, on local and regional economies, has been very well documented. None of the legislators is going to want colleges or university campuses in their districts to get the axe because the direct and indirect blows to the local and regional economies will be severe. So new revenues will have to be raised; tax rates will have to be raised—or partially restored—and/or new taxes will have to be imposed.
But Bobby Jindal is not going to want to do either of those things because he has dreams of securing the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. So the state of Louisiana will have to pay the price for his delusions of national prominence and influence, and his successor will have to try to repair economic damage that will be much less obvious than the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina but every bit as devastating and much more broadly felt.
For a news report on the budget crisis, see Julia Odonoghue’s article for the Times-Picayune, which is available at: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/01/college_university_closures_mi.html.