Nov. 24, 2010 06:00 AM

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holding his cards until the last minute may be clever politics for the governor, but it seriously threatens good decision-making for the rest of us.

From the "embarrassment of riches" of the early Treen administration to the current budget crisis, we've been watching state coffers wax and wane for over 30 years. Under the current constitution, adopted in 1974 and amended many times since, we have gradually limited our budget options. The result: During down cycles, 100 percent of the spending cuts must be borne by 33 percent of the unprotected programs that remain, essentially services for the poor and in higher education. Unless there's some yet-to-be-revealed magic solution, that's the easy default that our governor has chosen in this downturn. The cycle is frustrating, debilitating and dysfunctional, especially for those in the business community who understand responsible fiscal planning, and it's time to fix it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holding his cards until the last minute may be clever politics for the governor, but it seriously threatens good decision-making for the rest of us.

From the "embarrassment of riches" of the early Treen administration to the current budget crisis, we've been watching state coffers wax and wane for over 30 years. Under the current constitution, adopted in 1974 and amended many times since, we have gradually limited our budget options. The result: During down cycles, 100 percent of the spending cuts must be borne by 33 percent of the unprotected programs that remain, essentially services for the poor and in higher education. Unless there's some yet-to-be-revealed magic solution, that's the easy default that our governor has chosen in this downturn. The cycle is frustrating, debilitating and dysfunctional, especially for those in the business community who understand responsible fiscal planning, and it's time to fix it.

It doesn't have to be this way. We could boldly react to this crisis by restructuring higher education in Louisiana, or change the budget by constitutional amendment, a constitutional re-write or legislative action to selectively adjust some of the $7 billion in tax exemptions. Right now, Jindal has the authority to spare higher ed and services for the poor from bearing the entire brunt of this crisis. He can exercise the authority any governor has in the current constitution to trim up to 5 percent of all programs (save for a few) when a mid-year budget deficit occurs. So why is he, among the brightest people on the planet, choosing to deal with Louisiana's budget woes so cavalierly, with so little vision and even less transparency?

Apparently he wants to minimize our opportunity for discussion and the potential criticism that might follow, thus hurting his presidential ambitions. His constant self-promotion is steadily eroding the notion that Louisiana's best interests are his primary concern. At a time when the nation seeks a new breed of leader, Jindal could seize the opportunity to prove he's a courageous visionary who can solve tough problems in Louisiana, building his resume for higher office. Instead, he's holding back with the rest of the pack, playing it safe.

Cuts in higher ed hit Lafayette hard. According to Jerry Luke Leblanc, UL's vice president for administration and finance, for every single dollar the university generates, the community receives an $8 return. Already one of the top employers in the parish, it also contributes 7,783 non-UL jobs in the community. Suffice it to say that whatever the additional decrease (remember higher ed has already taken a 20 percent hit), there will be a commensurate impact on regional employment figures and income in Acadiana, both on campus and off. Yet after months of meetings, there is still no specific directive from Gov. Jindal regarding the percentage of additional cuts higher ed is facing. Responsible planning is all but impossible.

Additional cuts in higher ed will not only impact unemployment statewide; they also seriously jeopardize the state's economic future, a highly touted Jindal priority. But the governor is showing little leadership in the process as precious time ticks away, leaving scant room for informed discussion about our options. It's time to demand an open debate about the future of higher education in Louisiana. We here in Lafayette should think and act like our future depends upon it, because it most certainly does.

Read the Flipping Paper!