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LSU president F. King Alexander, right, chats with Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, who delivered the keynote speech during LSU's spring commencement at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Friday May 12, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La..

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

Over his four decades of public service Bubba Rasberry has been through plenty of state Senate confirmation hearings.

But he was a little taken aback Wednesday morning at the ferocity of the questioning over his appointment to the Board of Regents.

During a Senate & Governmental Affairs committee confirmation hearing on appointees to the board, which distributes funds to four other college boards, Republicans demanded to know why higher education hadn’t come up with bold visions, like consolidating higher ed governance and merging regional universities.

“We get isolated bills. But what we need in the state of Louisiana is a plan for how we move higher education forward,” said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville. “I don’t see the Board of Regents doing that.”

New Orleans Sen. Karen Peterson, who also chairs the Louisiana Democratic Party, added, “It’s also very important for you to be courageous and be bold” in demanding that the Legislature properly fund higher education.

Rasberry wore the frightened expression of a child being scolded for misdeeds out of his control by warring parents who really are trying to score points against each other.

Commissioner for Higher Education Joe Rallo consoled Rasberry after the hearing: “They were projecting, using this as their forum. The rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality.”

“There has been plan after plan after plan,” Rasberry said with a shrug that acknowledged he understood.

Rallo has dozens of those plans, reports and recommendations stacked up under his desk. They all share the fundamental flaw, he said: the Legislature won’t give higher education the authority to do the consolidations and seamless administration across campuses to the degree legislative critics — and their supporters in the public — think are warranted.

Any pretense of bipartisanship shattered later that day in the House.

Forty Democratic representatives banded together to vote against the mechanism that allows payment to contractors and builders of state construction projects. It was one of the few bills they could block because it required 70 votes in the 105-member House.

Democrats say the Republican majority has excluded them from any participation in drawing up the state spending plan for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. They want consideration of their plans to restore funding cuts for health care for the poor and disabled in this year’s state budget and tax restructuring that would begin to fill the $1.3 billion budget deficit that hits in mid-2018.

House Republicans responded Thursday by postponing a vote on six bills that would revamp the criminal justice system. The bipartisan legislation is supported by business and church communities as well as Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The Senate is considering the House’s budget, which Senate President John Alario says will differ from the pared-down version the House sent over.

Meanwhile, the agencies that provide state services are caught in the middle.

Actually, higher education is faring better in the proposed state budget than, say, the Louisiana Department of Health or the Department of Corrections and Public Safety.

The colleges and universities are slated to receive $2.64 billion next fiscal year, when a fully funded TOPS is added in, which is a little more than what higher education received this year because the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarship was not fully funded.

But a standstill budget doesn’t cover increased costs for goods and services, growth in the health care and pension systems, all of which will require accountants to shift funding from the classroom to administration.

Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, asked LSU President F. King Alexander to describe the seaworthiness of the state’s flagship university.

“We’re bailing hard and we’re bailing fast,” he responded.

When the questioning at Thursday’s hearing zeroed in on LSU’s vision of the future, the flagship struck back.

His dander up, Alexander told the committee a decade of budget cuts has dropped the state’s appropriation to LSU from about 80 percent of the costs in 2007 to about 20 percent now.

“Ten years has consequences,” he said. The cuts have damaged the university’s ability to conduct the research and run the programs that distinguish a flagship as the state’s premiere institution of learning.

Top faculty and researchers are being cherry picked by other flagships. The state’s best and brightest students are seeing offers from Alabama, Florida and other states as enticing against the backdrop of financial uncertainty at home, Alexander said.

“We need stable funding support so that we can appropriately plan for the future.”

He would like LSU to have the autonomy to set tuition and fees. But that’s a power the Legislature repeatedly has refused.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.