Monday, Feb. 24, 2014

Monday, Feb. 24, 2014

Education leaders agree that state needs more need-based scholarships; Lawmakers describe Jindal’s budgeting tactics as “money laundering”; State takes money from the blind to pay legal expenses; State officials want to keep source of execution drugs kept secret; and Tonight in Metairie: Panel on Mass Incarceration. $14 million – The actual proposed increase in state funding for higher education, once tuition and “annualization” of one-time funding is stripped out.  (Source: LBP)

Education leaders agree that state needs more need-based scholarships
Louisiana policymaker should put more money toward need-based college scholarships as a way to improve affordability and access, higher education leaders agreed Friday. The remarks came at a panel discussion at the One Voice Leadership Summit, where outgoing Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell, Baton Rouge Community College Vice Chancellor Albert Tezeno and Southern University System President Ronald Mason agreed that low-income students need relief from the state’s fast-rising tuition. State funding for TOPS — the state’s popular scholarship program — has skyrocketed 253 percent since 1999. Meanwhile, funding for the GO Grant program — which largely aids lower-income and non-traditional students — has remained stagnant for the past several years.

No area of state government has been cut more than higher education in recent years, with state support for public colleges and universities falling by $700 million since 2009.  While Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest budget proposes a $142 million increase in 2014-15, a deeper look inside those numbers found that most of the increase ($88 million) is tied to tuition increases, while another $40 million in “new spending” simply replaces a $40 million appropriation for “operations and maintenance support” that is in the current-year budget. Strip out that money and you’re left with roughly $14 million in actual new financing for the $2.6 billion enterprise that is higher education in Louisiana.

Lawmakers describe Jindal’s budgeting tactics as “money laundering”
While Gov. Bobby Jindal was touting his ability to do “fiscally responsible things” on “Face the Nation,” some elected officials were making the opposite case to Mark Ballard of The Advocate. State Treasurer John Kennedy, a frequent Jindal critic, used a barnyard epithet to describe the “accounting gimmicks” Jindal uses in his executive budget to avoid deeper cuts. Brett Geymann, a leader of the “Fiscal Hawk” faction of House Republicans, voiced similar criticisms in somewhat less colorful language. “They’re getting around the law by changing the color of the money. That’s money laundering,” Geymann said.

The Advocate’s Sunday editorial took a similar stance, calling the $25 billion executive budget “a mess” and accusing the governor of deploying the same tactics that helped create the mess in the first place: Every reckless shortcut of Jindal’s is still there. The tangle of cuts and budgetary shifts among various funds, tapping of what were supposed to be long-term investments, one-time money flowing into the operating budget in defiance of every conservative budget principle — this budget continues to “contain some techniques for short-term revenue enhancements that are not in the state’s best interest in the long term,” in the words of the Public Affairs Research Council.

State takes money from the blind to pay legal expenses
While they cannot see it for themselves, blind entrepreneurs are feeling the impact of a newly revealed financial gimmick used by the Jindal administration to balance the budget. The controversy stems from the administration’s decision to use of money from a trust fund for the blind to pay attorney’s fees for state lawsuits — bringing the fund’s total to $700,000 from $1.6 million in 2009. The fund supplies dollars for health insurance, equipment and repairs in a program that helps the legally blind run snack stands, cafeterias and vending machines. In addition to draining the fund, representatives from the Elected Blind Vendors Committee say they have been excluded from policy decisions involving the fund’s use.

State officials want to keep source of execution drugs kept secret
Prison officials in Louisiana and Missouri are petitioning the courts to allow them to keep secret the names of the sellers and manufacturers of drugs used to perform executions. Officials say disclosing the information could harm the businesses that create and sell the products to the states, but advocates from the inmates say that the lawsuit is a stall tactic and that keeping the information from the public could subject inmates to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. The issue stems from controversy surrounding a two-drug combination that was used for the first time to carry out a lethal injection in Ohio. Witnesses say the executed individual was gasping, struggling and convulsing for as long as 15 minutes after the drugs began flowing.

Tonight in Metairie: Panel on Mass Incarceration
Appeals Court Judge Fredericka Wicker, New Orleans businessman Pres Kabacoff, conservative policy wonk Kevin Kane and Marjorie Esman of the ACLU will be the headliners at a community panel on mass incarceration sponsored by the Micah Project on Monday evening in Metairie. The forum is from 7-8:30 p.m. at Congregation Shir Chadash, 3737 W. Esplanade Ave. and is co-sponsored by Marine and Mt. Moriah Ministry.

$14 million – The actual proposed increase in state funding for higher education, once tuition and “annualization” of one-time funding is stripped out.  (Source: LBP)