It’s no secret that Louisiana’s colleges and universities often bore the biggest brunt of state budget cuts during the 2008 – 16 fiscal downturn. A higher education system that received 61 percent of its funding from the state in 2008 now gets 29 percent from Baton Rouge – with the rest coming from students and other sources. But this year, for the first time in nearly a decade, state funding held steady, and faculty members received a long-overdue raise. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard surveys the landscape, including the effect on morale:
Seven of every 10 Louisiana professors and instructors who participated said they were actively looking for a new job. More than half said they’d be willing to take lower-paying posts in a state that demonstrates enough support for higher education that raises were possible, according to the analysis by professors Matthew Butkus, of McNeese State University in Lake Charles, and Michael Meeks, of LSU in Shreveport. A total of 575 professors answered the survey. More data suggests there’s reason for the discontent. The average full-time faculty salary at a public four-year university in Louisiana in 2014 was $65,400, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. By comparison, the U.S. average was $79,300, while the averages in Texas and Alabama are both over $80,000.
Ballard follows up on his front-page report with a column warning that more cuts are on the way if lawmakers can’t agree to a long-term fiscal restructuring.
Baton Rouge Republican state Rep. Franklin Foil says legislators don’t really have much of a stomach for slashing higher ed budgets again. “But to keep universities where they are now, we’re going to have to raise additional revenues,” said Foil, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, where the state’s budget begins its legislative trek to law every year. “That’s going to be difficult,” Foil added. Reps met with House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, last week to discuss the issue, and Foil came away with the feeling that three or four factions have different ideas on how best to address the “fiscal cliff.”
Trade war could hurt New Orleans
President Donald Trump’s promise to use tariffs and other restrictions to reduce foreign steel imports to the United States could bring benefits to the 100,000 American workers who make steel or steel products. But closer to home, it could have a disastrous effect on the Port of New Orleans, and the thousands of unionized blue-collar workers who support their families through the dangerous work of unloading foreign ships filled with steel. The Washington Post’s Ana Swanson reports (the whole thing is worth a read):
The longshoremen have the kind of good-paying blue-collar jobs that Trump has often promised to protect. Yet few places would feel the blowback from Trump’s trade policy as keenly as the ports. Steel makes up nearly half of all the goods that flow through the Port of New Orleans. The volume of exports going through the port could also drop, if other countries close their borders to U.S. goods in protest. European officials have already threatened to restrict U.S. agricultural goods in response to steel tariffs. “He trying to stop imports from other countries, but that’s our main revenue. You start messing with revenue, that’s when s— hits the fan,” David Sanders, a 41-year-old dockworker, said of Trump. “He messing with something he don’t have no business with.”
The mother of all tax breaks
Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t had much success in steering his tax reform plans through the Legislature. But using his executive authority, Edwards has made sweeping changes to a 70-year-old tax break program that gives manufacturers a 10-year reprieve from paying property taxes. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte looks at the changes to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which has the potential to steer millions of dollars to local governments that can be used for schools, public safety and other services.
In June 2016, Edwards issued an executive order tying the tax breaks to job creation and retention and giving the local government agencies that stand to lose tax revenue a say in whether exemptions are issued. In October, the Democratic governor amended the order, limiting the tax break renewal period to three years for new applicants and reducing the tax break to 80 percent for those renewals. … Critics of the program say tax breaks had been granted too haphazardly, with little obvious benefit to the parishes losing the property tax revenue. (Together Louisiana lead organizer Broderick) Bagert said the Industrial Tax Exemption Program is Louisiana’s costliest economic development incentive per capita. He cited statistics that showed an approval rate of 99.95 percent for the nearly 17,000 applications that went before the commerce and industry board from 2000 through this year. “We need to start looking at this as real money,” Bagert said. “This isn’t Monopoly money.”
Disclosure: LBP Director Jan Moller is a member of the Board of Commerce and Industry, which oversees the ITEP program.
Race and the U.S. economy
President Donald Trump said last week that the answer to America’s strained race relations can be found in the improving economy. Trump argues that more jobs – with higher pay – will serve to reduce the tensions that have spilled into the open with events like the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. that led to the death of a counter-protester. But Neil Irwin, writing for The New York Times’ Upshot blog, says there is little evidence of a connection between economic growth and racial harmony.
In the middle of 2013, when the jobless rate was 7.5 percent, 70 percent of adults thought race relations were somewhat good or very good. By 2015, unemployment was down to a healthy 5.3 percent, but only 47 percent gave that positive reading of race relations. One likely reason for the shift is the rise of protest movements over police killings of African-Americans. Those protests took off in August 2014, when a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo. Negative polling on the state of race relations has persisted in the years since, even as the economy has continued improving. As a candidate, Donald Trump stressed the idea that immigrants were stealing American jobs.
Number of the Day
21 percent – Drop in the number of tenure-track professors in the University of Louisiana System schools from 2007 to 2015 – from 2,478 to 1,961 (Source: The Advocate)