Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

Shortchanging Higher Education; Legislators torpedo equal pay; Budget cuts are bad news for prisons; and The Jindal hangover continues

Shortchanging Higher Education

Years of reduced investment by Louisiana in higher education have helped drive up tuition, jeopardizing the ability of many to afford the college education that is key to their long-term financial success and essential to a growing economy. Louisiana has cut funding for higher education by 39.1 percent since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, a decrease of $4,602 per student, according to Funding Down, Tuition Up: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Quality and Affordability at Public Colleges, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


Though some states have begun to restore some of the deep cuts in financial support for public two- and four-year colleges since the recession hit, their support remains far below previous levels.  In total, after adjusting for inflation, of the states that have enacted full higher education budgets for the current school year, funding for public two- and four-year colleges is $8.7 billion below what it was just prior to the recession. As states have slashed higher education funding, the price of attending public colleges has risen significantly faster than the growth in median income.  For the average student, increases in federal student aid and the availability of tax credits have not kept up, jeopardizing the ability of many to afford the college education that is key to their long-term financial success…Between last year and this year Louisiana increased average tuition across its four-year institutions more than any other state, hiking it by more than 7 percent, or roughly $540.


Legislators torpedo equal pay

Despite heavy lobbying from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, an amendment offered to assuage the business community’s fears of lawsuits, and the fact that Louisiana has one of the largest gender pay gaps in the country, members of the House Labor Committee refused to pass Senate Bill 254 by Rep. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans. The bill would have required men and women be paid the same amount of money for the same work.  Julia O’Donoghue of Times-Picayune reports the bill failed to pass by a vote of 10-5, adding injury to insult during a rough week for women at the Capitol.


“The failure of the House Labor Committee to pass the Equal Pay Act today is a true disservice to the women of our state,” Edwards said in a written statement after the vote. “Actions speak louder than words, and the time has come to stop talking about family values and start making decisions that actually value families.”… “I guarantee you. Most of you on this committee have probably been lobbied harder on this issue than any other issue,” said Edwards chief of staff Ben Nevers, testifying before the committee. Employees who didn’t pay women and men similar salaries for the same job would have been vulnerable to lawsuits, under the legislation… The equal pay vote came less than 24 hours before Rep. Kenny Havard set off a controversy with an amendment on another bill to restrict the weight and age of strippers…Havard has said the amendment was a joke, but many women lawmakers didn’t find it funny.


Budget cuts are bad news for prisons

A $39 million hole in the budget for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections could mothball the state’s promising reentry programs and result in more than 60 layoffs. That’s what Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc told the Senate Finance Committee, which is reviewing the cuts included in next year’s operating budget that was sent over from the House. LeBlanc indicated that without more investment in the system, it is unlikely that Louisiana will cede its position as the incarceration capital of the world. Justin DiCharia with the Manship School News Service was there:


“We need to start thinking about investing in this business instead of taking money from it,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve gained a lot of ground, but it won’t take much to lose ground (if we take cuts) with our budget.” … Without the additional money, LeBlanc said he fears Louisiana will maintain its status of having the nation’s highest incarceration rate. … If state and local prisons received the $39 million they are seeking, the total state general fund dollars to the prison system would be about $482 million. … LeBlanc and Bickham agreed it would take a second special of the Legislature session to fix the prison’s budget problem.


The Jindal hangover continues

Columnist Robert Mann makes the case that the revenue increases being proposed to plug Louisiana’s massive budget gaps would still be on the table had David Vitter been elected governor last fall. He writes in Times-Picayune that many of the same people who are now preaching fiscal prudence are complicit in causing the current imbalance.


A Republican governor and a Republican House populated with erstwhile Jindal collaborators – all explaining to us all why we must raise taxes and eliminate corporate exemptions – would be sweet justice. And, trust me, Vitter and GOP legislators would hike taxes. In fact, they would propose almost exactly what Edwards has since taking office in January because it’s the only way to fix the state’s fiscal mess without shuttering universities and depriving people of life-saving medical services.


Number of the Day

$26.3 million – Amount state taxpayers forked over to build a hangar in Lafayette as an incentive for Bell Helicopter to move 115 jobs to the region. The company announced Thursday that it would build its new-model aircraft in Canada, (Source: The Advocate)