By Robert Mann
What example do Louisiana’s higher education leaders set by promoting the deceit and chicanery that is the Student Assessment for a Valuable Education (SAVE) bill, supposedly created to rescue Louisiana’s higher education budget? What do they demonstrate with their eagerness to create a phantom fee that won’t be paid by anyone, but is designed only to help Gov. Bobby Jindal honor his no-tax-increase pledge?
Well, they are showing they believe that the ends justify the means. In other words, it’s acceptable to enable Jindal’s concoction of a dishonest financial scheme so long as the state’s universities raise the money needed to remain open this fall.
As explained in the Times-Picayune on Monday:
The governor is struggling to get a higher education tax credit through the Louisiana House. Without the measure, it will be very difficult to get the state budget in a position to comply with the ATR [Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform] guidelines.
If adopted, the tax credit would cover a yet-to-be-established higher education student fee. The credit and the new fee would essentially cancel each other out, so the measure wouldn’t raise any new money for higher education. It also wouldn’t bring down the current cost of attending a public university for students.
“The bill, itself, doesn’t raise any money,” said Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Louisiana Legislature.
By supporting the SAVE bill, higher education leaders are telling us all – students, faculty and citizens – that they have no stomach for asking legislators and Jindal to do their jobs with honesty and integrity. They are saying, in effect, it’s fine to engage in an unseemly financial shell game to get your hands on some cash – but only if you really, really need it.
Instead of urging legislators to print Monopoly money to prevent Jindal from vetoing the state’s budget, higher education officials should ask legislators to behave as an independent, third branch of state government – and not a subsidiary of the Governor’s Office. Simply put, higher education leaders should demand that legislators to do their jobs – with integrity.
Would Jindal veto the state budget simply because this phony offset credit isn’t part of the plan? Would he let higher education crash because of his treasonous no-tax-increase pledge to Grover Norquist?
Perhaps, but that should be of no consequence to legislators. They could override his corrupt veto. Actually, they should be yearning for the opportunity to finally stand up to Jindal after cowering before him for almost eight years.
Our state’s leaders ought to be eager to show their constituents, and our state’s young people, that although they worry about the future of higher education, they also respect and care about the system’s integrity.
Thankfully, some legislators appear to have more integrity than higher education officials. They include House Ways and Means chair Joel Robideaux, Rep. John Bel Edwards (the House Democratic leader) and other lawmakers who are tired of subsidizing Jindal’s fantasy about living in the White House.
They all seem to agree with state Treasurer John Kennedy, who has called the SAVE bill “nonsense on a stick,” adding, “Is that the best we can do — come up with more smoke and mirrors? No rational person would come up with that policy.”
If there are enough House members willing to oppose the SAVE bill, they may force Jindal to choose – as he should – between raising the taxes needed to fund our universities or vetoing the state’s budget. In other words, legislators might be willing to put the primary responsibility for crashing the state exactly where it belongs – on Bobby Jindal.
Higher education’s leader, however, are working hard to let Jindal off the hook.
These so-called “leaders” of higher education, who are stalking the Capitol’s hallways in the legislative session’s final days, are compromising themselves and their reputations by agreeing with Jindal’s dishonest and ridiculous scheme. They are enabling the very person who is most responsible for the sad state of their institutions’ budgets.
Who knows what will happen in the end. No one ever went broke betting on the cowardice of Louisiana lawmakers. But wouldn’t it be a sad day, indeed, if it our elected officials showed more courage, fortitude and integrity than our higher education leaders?