After a day of major votes to cut tax breaks and exemptions, the Louisiana House’s Appropriations Committee added the expected new revenues from the bills into higher education funds in next year’s proposed budget.
State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, joyfully tweeted the appropriations as “fully funding” higher education. Although that phrase is correct as far it concerns the original budget proposal from Gov. Bobby Jindal, it is far from making higher education whole after years of budget cuts.
The original Jindal budget proposal envisioned more cuts to higher education. That would be true even if additional revenues could be generated by either cutting the tax exemptions and breaks, or by raising new taxes recommended by the governor. The House plan is better than Jindal’s, keeping higher education funding levels at last year’s, or at best with a few enhancements.
If you add it all up, though, the higher education budget will remain significantly below what it was when Jindal took office — and, we note, when many of the legislators who have repented of their earlier actions also came into office.
Given the circumstances of a national recession, it is no surprise that the impact of economic troubles has been reflected in budgets for public colleges. Most states surveyed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group, are now trying to reverse those cuts and put more money into higher education.
Louisiana is an outlier, again.
Last year, compared with the year before, Louisiana increased average tuition across its four-year institutions by more than any other state, nearly 9 percent, or roughly $600. It was one of only four states to raise tuition more than 4 percent.
Nearly every state has shifted the cost of a college degree to students and their families, the CBPP’s national report said, but few have done so with more gusto than Louisiana — tuition up 67 percent, adjusted for inflation, for 2008-15.
And while Jindal was decrying the 2009 economic stimulus bill pushed by President Barack Obama, Louisiana took the subsidies offered for higher education. Otherwise tuition increases could have been even higher, or cuts much more severe.
Taxation-by-tuition and increasing costs of entry to college create a hardship that’s not going to promote economic growth in the long term.
“A slow economic recovery and the need to reinvest in other services that also have been cut deeply means that many states will need to raise revenue to rebuild their higher education systems,” the CBPP report said. “At the very least, states must avoid shortsighted tax cuts, which would make it much harder for them to invest in higher education, strengthen the skills of their workforce and compete for — or even create — the jobs of the future.”
Thus, the initial actions by the Louisiana House this spring are just that, not fully funding higher education but starting a process of putting the tax breaks of yesteryear under a microscope to determine if they are investments or giveaways.
A Legislature must learn to say no to those seeking what Jindal himself has characterized as “corporate welfare.” It’s not just a matter of beneficiaries cutting their taxes, but also an opportunity lost to invest in the education of our people.