Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Higher Education’ Category

Taking their cue from Alabama Sheriff TODD ENTREKIN, several members of Louisiana’s House of Representatives have co-sponsored a bill that would cut food expenditures for prisoners and college and university students while increasing the percentage of prisoner work-release pay that the state receives in an effort to boost revenue as the state rushes headlong toward the June 30 fiscal cliff.

HB-4118, co-authored by a dozen Republican legislators who received the highest ratings from the conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP), would slash funding for inmate meals three days per week in an effort to help make up budgetary shortfalls.

The bill has been endorsed by AFP, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, and Attorney General Jeff Landry as an effective cost-saving measure that would, at the same time, continue to allow generous tax breaks for business and industry to remain untouched. Also remaining intact would be tax incentives for movie and television production in the state.

In Alabama, existing legislation allows sheriffs to collect a salary supplement as a percentage of savings achieved.

Entrekin, Sheriff of Etowah County in Alabama, recently came under heavy criticism when it was learned that he cut back on his jail’s food budget by eliminating meat for prisoners for all but a couple of days per month but then used the money saved to purchase a beach house for $740,000. HB 4118, while similar to the Alabama law, would have built-in safeguards against any surplus being diverted for personal use.

“Sheriff Entrekin, who runs only a single county jail in Alabama, was able to save approximately $250,000 per year for three years. Granted, he abused the intent of the law by using his surplus funds for personal gain,” said State Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) in a joint statement announcing their introduction of the bill. “If surplus funds are properly allocated back to the state instead of to individuals as was the case in Alabama, that misuse of funds can be avoided. With 50,000 prison inmates and more than 200,000 college students in Louisiana, imagine how much we would be able to save by employing the same paradigm.”

HB 4118 would cut servings of meat, milk and juice by three days a week for 50 weeks per year—Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for state-run prisons and all colleges and universities and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for parish jails and privately-run prisons. State appropriations for those institutions would be cut accordingly.

“We wouldn’t want to make such cuts for prisons on Sundays or during the weeks of Thanksgiving or Christmas because that would just not be the Christian thing to do,” the statement by Henry and Harris said. “Colleges and universities are out during those weeks anyway, so they would not be affected during those times.”

They said the potential savings to the state, calculated at a minimum of $3 per meal at which meat, milk and juice are eliminated, would be an estimated $22.5 million per year at prisons and $75 million at institutions of higher learning, or a total of $97.5 million per year.

Public schools would be exempted from the more restrictive diets for now, they said.

Operators of prisons and jails typically receive about 60 percent of the earnings of each prisoner who participates in a work-release program. That amount would be increased to 75 percent if HB 4118 becomes law. Additionally, a processing fee of one dollar would be added to the sale of each soft drink and snack to the prices presently charged by prison commissaries, according to provisions of the bill. Currently, prisoners are charged $3 for soft drinks and $5 for snacks.

“These people are in jail for committing crimes,” the two lawmakers’ joint statement said. “They get free housing, food, clothing and they’re learning a trade. There really isn’t any need for them to earn money on top of those benefits.

“This bill will allow the state to protect the valuable incentives for businesses and industry which provide jobs for Louisiana’s honest, hard-working citizens,” they said. “The bill protects the same jobs that will be available to the college students when they graduate. We’re asking students to sacrifice a little now for greater rewards in the future.”

Though the bill’s language doesn’t specifically say so, the same cuts could also be applied at hospitals now operated as part of the public-private partnerships implemented by the Jindal administration, which would produce additional savings although no estimates were provided for the medical facilities.

If approved, the new law would go into effect one year from today.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

A handful of distinguished retired journalists (and me) meets once a month at a Baton Rouge Piccadilly Cafeteria (I told you we were retired) to solve the ills of the state, nation, and the world. Occasionally, we even delve into local Baton Rouge politics.

One of those, Ed Pratt, with whom I had the pleasure of working at the old Baton Rouge State-Times back in the ‘70s, is an occasional attendant but because he is still gainfully employed (unlike the rest of the over-the-hill-gang), he doesn’t join us each month.

But several months ago, at a lunch he did show up. The subject that day was the future of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) and the legislature’s failure to adequately address the looming fiscal cliff that will see about a billion dollars fall off the books with the expiration of a temporary sales tax.

On March 9, Pratt, who still does a regular op-ed column for the Baton Rouge Advocate, WROTE a piece that accurately illustrated the direct connection between the continued funding of TOPS and the return on investment of apartment developers and restaurant owners, investments that exist in the immediate orbit of the state’s institutions of higher learning.

And while Pratt’s analysis singled out the spurt in apartment, condo, and restaurant development, primarily in the immediate proximity of LSU, other colleges and universities have also witnessed similar private investment, particularly in student housing.

Those investments could be in peril if the legislature continues to shirk its responsibility in setting the state on firm fiscal footing.

Take my alma mater, Louisiana Tech, for example, and Grambling State University, just five miles from Tech. There has been an explosion of housing construction around those two campuses. And because Tech has embarked on an ambitious program of student recruitment to bump its enrollment to something like 20,000 or so over the next few years, construction workers have been particularly busy in Ruston. (The enrollment at Tech when I was there was something like 4,000. But they had rotary dial pay phones, Cokes in 61/2-ounce glass bottles, manual typewriters, carbon paper, and 8 p.m. weeknight curfews for female students back then, too.)

But the way they’ve gone about with their student housing construction at Tech is quite creative and is being emulated by every other campus in the state, according to Ruston political consultant Dr. Gary Stokley, a retired Tech professor.

The Tech Alumni Foundation approaches alumni and other supporters with an “investment opportunity” that, as long as TOPS is maintained, is virtually risk-free. (And no, it’s not a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.)

Tech, despite having torn down some of its dormitories, is growing and with an increase in enrollment, students need housing. And, of course, students would prefer a home environment with private baths and kitchens as opposed to dormitories with a community bath and no kitchen.

By working with the school’s foundation, which actually negotiates the construction contracts, investors enjoy a generous tax write-off, plus they will own a percentage of the apartments or condos. The school takes care of filling the housing units and collecting the rent and is also responsible for the maintenance of the buildings. The dollars generated by student rent pays off the debt. The advantage to the school is that it is relieved of the burden of having to go through the State Bond Commission to obtain funding for the construction. The alumnus or supporter who ponies up the money does nothing but sit back and reap the rewards of his investment.

If you have the funds to sink into the project, it’s a win-win proposition.

“Tech is one of the first schools to come up with this method of financing construction of student housing,” said Stokley. “Other schools have since replicated that method.

“Tech and Grambling have a tremendous impact on the economy of Ruston and Lincoln Parish as do others schools on their communities,” he said.

“A four-year student at Tech has an economic value of a million dollars on Ruston,” he said, “so the retention of students is critical. If TOPS craters, enrollment will drop and these apartments will sit empty.

“It’s a domino effect. If TOPS is cut or eliminated, it affects not only students’ families, but the ripple effect impacts colleges and the community as well.” Stokley said it was not unrealistic to envision some universities actually shutting down or converting from public to private schools with even higher tuitions—which could further reduce enrollment.

There are already all those extra fees that students voted to impose on themselves—before tuition began rising so sharply seven or eight years ago. “At Tech, we have the $62 million Davison Center that students voted to pay a portion of by assessing themselves fees totaling $8 million,” Stokley said. “That’s an added fee tacked onto already rising tuition. If TOPS is cut, that’s money that will have to be made up by students’ parents or by students taking out student loans. If that happens, the money for private apartments and condos just won’t be in the budget.”

Combined with the threat to TOPS, banks are lobbying Congress to cap the amounts of government student loans which could place additional financial hardships on students.

With federal student loans, the interest rate is fixed and often lower than private loans which can have variable interest rates of more than 18 percent. Plus, with federal loans, students are not required to begin repayment until they graduate, leave school or change their enrollment status to less than half time. Private loans require payments while still enrolled.

For other advantages of federal over private loans, click HERE.

If you are a parent with a kid enrolled in a Louisiana public university who is on TOPS, you may wish to turn your attention from March Madness long enough to give your House and Senate members a call to suggest that they take time away from campaign fund raising long enough to do the job they were elected to do.

Better yet, here are the links to the HOUSE and SENATE. Scroll down and click on the name of your members to get their email addresses to contact them that way.

Read Full Post »

Legislators, like any member of society, can be incredibly stupid when they set their minds to it, as they all too often do.

But a story by Baton Rouge  ADVOCATE reporter Elizabeth Crisp, excerpted from a Washington Post column by writer Catherine Rampell, establishes a new low for stupidity, intolerance, and a propensity for shooting off at the mouth, the facts be damned.

Now let it be established here and now that I am a military veteran and that I stand and face the flag every time the National Anthem is played or sung at a public event, no matter how badly a singer may be singing his or her interpretation of the Star-Spangled Banner (and believe me, I’ve heard some incredibly bad renditions). I don’t care if I’m at the concession stand outside Alex Box Stadium for an LSU baseball game, when the PA announcer asks the fans to stand for the National Anthem, I stop what I’m doing, remove my LSU or Boston Red Sox cap, and hold it over my heart in my right hand until the song is finished. No big deal, just something I do.

Why don’t I take a stand? Well, I do. I stand for the anthem and I respect those who choose, for whatever reason, not to. That’s because this is still America where freedom of expression is guaranteed in the First Amendment and every person in that ball park has that right, whether I happen to agree with them or not.

For that matter, how is taking a knee any less respectful than those who continue to talk or who refuse to remove their caps during the anthem? And believe me, there are literally dozens all around me who (a) continue with their concession stand purchases, (b) continue talking, or (c) do not remove their caps/hats. Taking a knee is an act of protest. Any one of the other three is indifference and just as disrespectful in its own way.

So, please, don’t waste my time telling me how unpatriotic it is.

But back to Elizabeth Crisp’s recap of the Washington Post column which, as the Saints stumble into the playoffs and LSU prepares to meet Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, is more than a little timely:

According to Post writer Rampell, a group of Louisiana legislators (much to their relief, LSU has refused to divulge their names, thus saving them considerable embarrassment) got their shorts in a wad and called LSU President F. King Alexander just before football season to threaten additional cuts to the higher-ed appropriations if any player took a knee in protest during the playing of the National Anthem before any LSU games.

King had to find a tactful way to remind the dumb-asses that LSU players remain in the locker room during the anthem and are not even on the field. If the legislators had ever used their free tickets to attend a game, they should have realized that.

Not that this is really relevant to this particular issue, but those brain-dead legislators apparently forgot how they kowtowed to Bobby Jindal and slashed higher-ed funding year after year for a cumulative 43 percent reduction in funding since 2008. Apparently, they had no problem taking a knee before Jindal so they could kiss his ring. And make no mistake, they are every bit as complicit as Jindal for the fiscal morass the state finds itself in today.

Interim Vice President of communications Jason Droddy told Crisp last Friday, “I can confirm the phone call occurred, but we won’t name the person, as that was an unfortunate comment that is better left in the past. We hope that in the future, LSU’s state appropriations will be tied to its performance in the classrooms and laboratories and its economic contributions to our state.”

It should also be hoped that in the future, legislators won’t be afflicted with diarrhea of the mouth just for the benefit of political grandstanding, but don’t bet the farm on that happening. Politicians, by their very nature, are grandstanding, running-off-at-the-mouth self-promoters who seldom let facts stand in the way of political expediency.

State Rep. Kenny Havard, for instance, wanted to pull state subsidies for the New Orleans Saints after Saints players knelt during the anthem before a pre-season game. “If it’s a state-subsidized sporting event, that’s not the place to protest,” he said.

And while I support pulling state subsidies for the Saints for an entirely different reason (mostly having to do with my distaste for supporting a billionaire owner’s hobby—and the requirement that state agencies rent expensive office space from that same billionaire), I would pose this question of Havard:

If a sporting event is not the place to protest, then is it the proper place to honor military personnel? While public support of our men and women in uniform is a noble gesture, it is, nevertheless, just as much a political statement as a protest. You can’t have it both ways, Rep. Havard.

I happen to support both the right to protest injustice and the right to honor our military personnel, even if I happen to disagree with our reasons for invading another sovereign nation. That is my right under the First Amendment. And it’s consistent.

I would suggest that Rep. Havard and those anonymous legislators who made that embarrassingly inadvisable call to Dr. Alexander step back and digest the words of my college classmate TERRY BRADSHAW who, in an NFL pre-game show on (appropriately enough) Fox Sports, a division of Fox Network, had this to say about Donald Trump’s tirade against NFL players who took a knee during the anthem:

It’s hard to believe that I’m going to say something about the most powerful man in the greatest country in the world, but probably like a lot of you, I was somewhat surprised that the President—the President of the United States came out attacking NFL players for them exercising the Freedom of Speech.

While I don’t condone the protesting during our National Anthem, this is America!

If our country stands for anything, folks—it’s freedom. People died for that freedom. I’m not sure if our president understands those rights—that every American has the right to speak out, and also to protest. (emphasis added)

 Believe me—these athletes DO love this great country of ours.

 Personally, I think our president should concentrate on serious issues like North Korea and healthcare rather than ripping into athletes and the NFL.”

Like Bradshaw, I feel legislators also have a few more pressing problems to address than football players taking a knee.

Louisiana is on the precipice of a $1 billion budgetary shortfall. This is largely attributable to the actions of the legislature in falling all over themselves for eight years to do the will of Bobby Jindal, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Grover Norquist—and for failing in their responsibility to face up to the looming crisis. That, after all, is their job—not monitoring knee-bends at a football game.

So, do your damned job.

Instead, you’re worried about some college football player taking a knee and in a frantic effort to prevent that, you make a wildly reckless threat to cut funding even further.

And I thought Roy Moore was an idiot…

 

 

Read Full Post »

Corporations need tax breaks

so they can earn more money

to pour into campaigns and PACs

to lobby for bigger tax cuts

Spoiler alert: All you frothing fanatics who still think Donald Trump is the savior of the free world may want to stop reading at this point because the rest of what I’m about to say will not be very pleasant to those of you who to this point have refused to think for yourselves and this will only serve to stoke your anger.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t read it; you should. You should read the words of what any rational observer of the body politic might write about this blusterous buffoon we know as POTUS. To refuse to read or hear or to ignore the facts would cast you into that 35 percent core group of Trump supporters that I refer to as a cult. You continue to experience mind-altering donalgasms with each new tweet.

Okay, you’re already composing your response for this post’s comments section. You will say:

  • That I am a flaming liberal (I’m not. In fact, I only left the Republican Party after more than 30 years of an uninterrupted record of voting Republican because of the likes of Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump);
  • That my candidate Hillary Clinton lost the election (she was not my candidate; I really dislike her intensely, just not with the same intensity as that with which I loathe Donald Trump. And Hillary didn’t lose, the American people lost);
  • That I can’t get past losing (what I can’t get past is having a POTUS who is a laughingstock to the rest of the world, who would accept the word of Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence agencies, who thinks it is more important to have a child molester in the U.S. Senate than a Democrat, and who finds it impossible to distinguish documented facts from his sorry version of the truth).

Since becoming president, Trump has been caught telling no fewer than 500 lies that are easily substantiated as such. Yes, all politicians lie. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards once said as much. But this idiot has taken it to a new level, lying through his teeth even as he had to know his every utterance and tweet is fact-checked and more often than not, debunked before the echo of his words has faded. A few examples:

  • During the campaign, he promised to release his income tax reports. He lied.
  • He claimed the crowd for his inauguration was the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” He lied.
  • During his speech at CIA headquarters, he repeated his claim that he opposed the war with Iraq. But he told Howard Stern in 2002 that he supported the war. He lied.
  • Trump has repeatedly, without any evidence to back his claim, said he only lost the national popular vote because of widespread voter fraud. He lied.
  • Speaking to business leaders at the White House, Trump said, “I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment. I have received awards on the environment.” He has never received any environmental awards. He lied.
  • Trump claimed that immigration and Customs Enforcement and border agents “unanimously endorsed me for president.” He lied.
  • He said the national homicide rate was “horribly increasing.” In fact, it is down significantly (except perhaps in Baton Rouge). He lied.
  • He claimed two people were fatally shot in Chicago during President Obama’s last speech as president. Didn’t happen. He lied.
  • He claimed he had “one of the best memories of all time” but later could not remember a meeting with George Papadopoulos, who confessed to lying to the FBI about meeting with Soviet agents. Here is a photo of that meeting.

He Lied.

  • His “alternative facts” spokesperson Kellyanne Conway alluded to the “Bowling Green massacre” in defending Trump’s travel ban. There was no “Bowling Green massacre.” She lied for him.
  • Trump claimed The New York Times was “forced to apologize to its subscribers for the poor reporting it did on my election win.” Never happened. He lied.
  • Trump promised tax reform that would lower taxes for working Americans. The biggest cruelest LIE of them all.

And these are only a handful of the buckets of lies that have poured out of his mouth.

Just as cruel, and approaching a new level of stupid, is the position taken on the tax bill by Louisiana’s two senators, John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy. Cassidy’s support is baffling because he worked as a physician at Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge where he had to know the desperation of Louisiana’s poor, uninsured citizens.

Kennedy is more understandable. In addition to drinking week killer, he once ran a TV ad during his first campaign for state treasurer in which he said, “During my time as secretary of Revenue, I reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent.”

How anything can be reduced more than 100 percent is one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. The real irony, however, is that the claim came from a man who was asking us to put him in charge of the state’s financial investments. Talk about voodoo economics….

Kennedy has said he would vote against the tax bill if it contained the so-called “TRIGGER” provision, which would automatically abort the bill and revert to the present tax rates if the new bill did not perform as projected by the Republicans in Congress who keep promising they are from the government and that they are here to help us. And they’ll still respect us in the morning.

ILLUSTRATION OF PROJECTED EFFECTS OF TAX BILL

Those of you who have stayed with me to this point need to consider one other feature of the so-called “tax reform” package.

If you have children in college, who are headed for college in a couple of years, or if you have children who recently graduated from college, it might interest you to know that the interest rates on student LOANS will no longer be deductible under the new tax bill. Moreover, students on TOPS or who receive other tuition EXEMPTIONS will find that those exemptions will now count as income on which taxes will be due.

Of course, Trump and his congressional lap dogs—Cassidy, Kennedy, Garrett Graves and the rest of Louisiana’s Repugnantcan delegation included—will continue to lie, distort, twist and skew the facts to make you believe their tax REFORM is the best thing for you since Barry Goldwater and you will continue to drink the Kool Aid—because you want to believe them.

Never mind that you continue to vote against your own economic interests because the Repugnantcans continue to feed you the red meat of islamophobia, illegal immigrants, welfare cheats (who in fact take only a tiny fraction of what corporate America and Wall Street steal from taxpayers every day), Obamacare and gun rights. They do this in the knowledge that you will continue to elect a 70-year-old child predator as long as he waves a pistol in the air and displays the Ten Commandments.

You are being taken for fools, to be perfectly honest. The Republicans are holding a Bible in one hand, wrapping themselves in the flag and picking your pocket, all in one swift motion.

And you love them for it.

I don’t suppose any of you have ever wondered what became of the so-called Fiscal Hawks now that the Republicans have full control over everything in Washington. It’s kinda funny how you don’t hear anything about deficit reduction these days.

Read Full Post »

When I was a student at Louisiana Tech, I worked part time as a disc jockey at KRUS radio station in Ruston. Occasionally, I would have a “Golden Oldies Show,” during which I played only old rock & roll records.

I saw a story in the Washington Post recently that conjured up memories of old news stories and at the same time made me wonder if the Republicans in Congress were paying attention all those years.

The story, headlined, “GOP abandons any pretense of fiscal responsibility,” noted that the Republican Party has essentially abandoned its platform of fiscal restraint, “pivoting sharply in a way that could add trillions of dollars in federal debt over the next decade.”

https://politicalwire.com/2017/10/07/gop-abandons-pretense-fiscal-responsibility/

So, doing the minimum research, it was almost too easy to find stories that reveal that the tax cuts proposed by Trump would further widen the gap between wealthy and low-income Americans. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/42177-trump-s-proposed-tax-cuts-would-further-widen-the-gap-between-rich-and-poor

The Trump-led (and that’s a very loose term) Republican tax reform would cut taxes for the very rich and place the burden on the rest of us.

In 1970, the bottom 50 percent of U.S. wage earners averaged $16,000 a year in today’s dollars. In 2014, that figure had skyrocketed to $16,200.

The top 1 percent, meanwhile, saw their average income increase from an average of $400,000 a year to $1.3 million during the same time period, hardly enough to keep the lawn watered in the Hamptons.

Some might dismiss these sources as typical liberal media, but the conservative U.S. News & World Report seems to agree with their assessments.

More than two years ago, on May 20, 2015, the magazine ran a story headed simply as THE PARTY of RED INK.

That story did cite the $1.2 billion budget deficit that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Mally left for his Republican successor, but for the rest of its story, USN&WR hammered one Republican state governor after another. Those included our own wunderkind Bobby Jindal (a $1.6 billon deficit), Chris Christie (a staggering $7.35 billion structural budget deficit), Scott Walker of Wisconsin ($2.2 billion deficit), and Sam Brownback of Kansas ($1 billion shortfall).

Their collective answer to these budgetary nightmares? Cut taxes.

But along with tax cuts go cuts to services.

Back when I was a student at Tech—and given, that’s been a long time; Terry Bradshaw was emerging as a top draft pick back then—my tuition was $99. Today, my grandson, a computer engineering student at Tech, is forking over $9,000 per quarter to stay enrolled.

In Louisiana, cuts to higher education, public education, referral services to the mentally ill, services to children with disabilities, foster child services, and other cuts have had devastating results. Yet, the Republicans go merrily along with their vision of fiscal reform.

Jindal’s obsession with tax cutting, service cutting, and privatization was such a dismal failure that Newsweek on June 1, 3015, published a story headlined HOW BOBBY JINDAL BROKE the LOUISIANA ECONOMY.

But a March 26, 2015, story was even more revealing. That story, admittedly by a partisan Democrat writer, nevertheless cited a report by an outfit called WalletHub, a commercial personal financial web site that rated all 50 states on their dependence on federal dollars to prop up their respective economies.

The REPORT basically said that red states, America’s stalwarts of fiscal responsibility, suck more money out of the federal treasury than any others and that some of the poorest states, of which Louisiana is certainly one, depend on federal funding for 30 to 42 percent of their total revenue.

Louisiana depends on federal dollars for 42.2 percent of its budget That just happens to be the highest percentage in the nation. Mississippi is right behind, drawing 42.1 percent of its budget from the feds, according to a report released in May of this year. http://www.governing.com/topics/finance/gov-state-budgets-federal-funding-2015-2018-trump.html

Yet, who screams the loudest to get the federal government out of our lives? Well, that would be the Republicans, who control both Louisiana and Mississippi.

And yet, there they go again, to paraphrase Mr. Reagan. The Republicans in Congress are pushing that same agenda of tax cuts for the rich, cuts to services, increased military spending, heavier tax burdens on the middle class, and economic stagnation for what now, something like the 35th straight year?

And yes, I am keenly aware that some of those years included the administrations of Clinton and Obama and that some of those years Democrats controlled Congress. But that only goes to prove my oft-repeated point that there is little difference in the two parties when Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the NRA, and defense contractors exert such a heavy influence on the national agenda.

But with the Republicans, it’s not so much a political philosophy as it is an obsession, a mindset.

They adhere to the Laffer Curve at all costs. That’s the theory advanced by one Arthur Laffer, who says that tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth.

Anyone seen any economic growth around these parts in the last couple of decades or so? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

The Laffer Curve might be appropriately named were it not such a cruel joke.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »