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In 2016, her first year as a member of the Louisiana Legislature, Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) successfully sponsored Senate Bill 466 which provided a procedure for the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Commissioner of Administration to seek approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the legislature to proceed with the sale of a state hospital.

The bill, which may have stymied Bobby Jindal’s privatization blitz had it been in effect at the time he jettisoned state hospitals to private contractors, passed the House, 97-0 but met resistance in the Senate before passing by a 25-11 vote.

That same year, Hewitt sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 84 which, in a classic example of bureaucratic redundancy, requested the Division of Administration “to provide a report of all the reports required of the executive branch by statute and resolution.”

Inexplicably, in 2018, she voted against SB 117 by Sen. J.P. Morrell that would have required any state contractor to comply with the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act.

Typical of the backwater mentality of the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that has kept this state from entering the 21st Century, the bill failed by an 18-20 vote.

The resistance to legislating equal pay for women parallels the Louisiana Legislature’s stubborn insistence on beating back repeated efforts to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana. Even Arkansas has recognized that a person simply cannot subsist on $7.50 an hour.

But now Louisiana. I wonder if it has ever occurred to our political leaders that the determination to keep wages low might just have a little to do with the state’s perpetual bottom ranking in everything but poverty, obesity, crime and football?

That vote probably contributed in large part to her selection as “National Legislator of the Year” by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization noted for its rigidly conservative political positions that favor the privileged over those who actually get the work done.

ALEC has long been in lockstep with the Republican Party that promotes tax breaks for the wealthy and valuable incentives and exemptions for corporations while placing the tax burden on the working class.

ALEC likes to describe itself as non-partisan but that description is about as far from the truth as possible. The organization has a long and sordid history of supporting big oil, big pharma, banking and insurance companies over the rights of injured workers, minorities, the environment, affordable prescription drugs and public education.

And it opposes equal pay for women.

Was I being overly harsh in describing LABI and the Republican Party of obstructing progress in Louisiana? Perhaps, but consider this: In Louisiana, the earnings gap between men and women just happens to be the largest in the nation.

Progressive? Hardly.

Women in this state make 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same job, according to the Association of American University Women (AAUW).

But Hewitt apparently navigates on a level that puts her out of touch with reality. She holds a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from LSU and put that degree to good use managing major deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Shell Oil.

Chances are she received comparable pay as male engineers at Shell and I can only say good for her. She earned it.

But she seems to forget that not everyone can be so fortunate. Perhaps it never occurred to her as her career advanced that other women deserve equal pay for equal work as well.

There can be no rationalization for not recognizing that fact.

It reminds me of an old television commercial by Eddie Chiles who said, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one.” Which is just a cute way of saying, “I got mine; it’s too bad if you didn’t get yours.”

Just a touch of arrogance there. Personally, I’d rather own the Boston Red Sox or the New York Times. But you see, lofty aspirations like that are simply out of reach for the unwashed masses.

Equal pay should not be.

ALEC, which bestowed its “National Legislator of the Year” honors upon Hewitt, has among its membership corporations hit hardest with penalties for employment discrimination. ALEC member CSX Transportation was recently fined $3.2 million for employing unfair and unnecessary tests designed to steer women into lower-paying occupation. In 2005, ALEC member Federal Express was fined $3.4 million fir discrimination against a woman.

But be proud, Louisiana. A woman legislator just got a national award from ALEC.

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On Monday (Nov. 13), Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell issued a glowing PRESS RELEASE in which he announced what he described as a project to provide high-speed internet service to more than 54,000 homes and businesses in the 24-parish PSC District 5.

Yet, only two months earlier, Campbell had appeared before the Claiborne Parish Police Jury to publicly trash a proposal by Claiborne Electric Cooperative to provide even faster and more comprehensive internet service to an estimated 65,000 homes and businesses in its five-parish service area—at a comparable customer cost.

Campbell, an Elm Grove populist Democrat who lost to John Kennedy in the 2016 U.S. Senate race, who lost to Bobby Jindal in the 2007 governor’s election and who three times ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House from Louisiana’s 4th congressional district, seems to be running for something again but there don’t seem to be any other offices for him to seek.

In September, he presented his timeline of events concerning the approval process for Claiborne’s proposed high-speed broad internet service. One cooperative member who was present for that performance described Campbell’s remarks as “hyperbole,” adding that many of Foster’s claims “were outright wrong.”

“Then when he had his say, for which he caught a lot of flak from citizens in attendance, he promptly left as (Claiborne CEO) Mark Brown was given the opportunity to present his side of the situation,” the member said, pointing out that he is neither an employee nor a board member of Claiborne Electric. He asked that his name not be used.

“There was a marked difference in the points of view with Mr. Brown’s position being a lot more straightforward and fact-based,” he said. “That Campbell made his accusations and factually incorrect statements and then left without hearing Mr. Brown’s EXPLANATION was one of the rudest displays I’ve seen in a public forum.”

In his press release, Campbell said the “Connect America” program of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “is helping fiber, wireless and satellite internet providers meet the need for broadband service in unserved or underserved areas of North Louisiana.”

He said that FCC records indicate that 54,580 homes and businesses in his PSC district are eligible for high-speed internet service funded by Connect America.

That represents just a fraction of almost a million people—325,000 households—in the 24 parishes.

What Campbell describes as “high speed” internet is a download speed of 10 megabytes per second and an upload speed of one megabyte per second at an estimated cost of $60 per month per customer.

Claiborne’s proposal calls for the same $60 monthly rate for 50 megabytes to one gigabyte of service for 10,000 more customers in the five-parishes of Bienville, Claiborne, Lincoln, Union and Webster than for Campbell’s entire 24 parish district.

Campbell claims that if the Claiborne project fails, customers would be on the hook for the costs, ignoring the fact that the proposal calls for a construction phase-in that would allow the project to be scrapped if it did not meet projections.

“Foster Campbell ignores the fact the 69 co-ops around the country have already done projects like that proposed by Claiborne and none of those have failed,” the Homer member said. “He also ignores that about 75 other co-ops around the country are in the process of starting fiber optic systems.”

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Foster’s behavior is a strange reversal of traditional Democratic support for electric cooperatives begun under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and championed by such notables as Lyndon Johnson. In fact, Foster’s rhetoric is reminiscent of Bobby Jindal’s REJECTION of that $80 million Commerce Department grant to install high-speed broadband internet for Louisiana’s rural parishes back in 2011.

In that case, Jindal was in lockstep with the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC) which in 2010 had staked out its opposition to federal encroachment onto the turf of private business despite the fact that private business had been painfully slow in responding to the needs of rural America dating back to the early days of electric power and telephone service.

And therefore, since AT&T was a member of ALEC and since AT&T was opposed to the grant, therefore, so was Jindal. In Jindal’s case, AT&T had also made a six-figure contribution to his wife’s charitable foundation, giving Jindal another reason to take up the ALEC banner.

AT&T, in fact, even took the City of Lafayette to court to fight the city’s efforts to construct its own fiber optic high speed broadband internet system. It was a costly fight for both sides but Lafayette eventually emerged victorious despite AT&T’s best efforts.

Foster Campbell, in his press release noted that AT&T would be responsible for $17.2 million, or 79 percent of the FCC-funded broadband expansion into PSC District 5 while CenturyLink of Monroe would have responsibility for $3.9 million (18 percent) of the cost and satellite provider ViaSat would spend $1.5 million (3 percent).

So, why is Campbell now sounding so downright Jindalesque in his opposition to Claiborne Electric?

For that answer, one would have to take the advice FBI agent Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, gave to reporter Bob Woodward during the Washington Post’s investigation of Nixon and Watergate:

Follow the money.

  • CenturyLink made two $1,000 contributions to Campbell’s various state campaign fund in 2011 and 2012, according to Louisiana Ethics Commission records.
  • Glen F. Post, III, of Farmerville in Union Parish, is President of CenturyLink. He personally contributed $11,500 to Campbell between 2003 and 2014.
  • Stacy Goff is Executive Vice-President of CenturyLink. He chipped in another $500 for Campbell in 2005.
  • AT&T gave $10,000 to Campbell in campaign contributions between 2003 and 2010.
  • William G. “Bud” Courson and James W. Nickel of Baton Rouge are registered lobbyists for AT&T. Their firm, Courson Nickel, LLC of Baton Rouge, contributed $2,000 to Campbell from 2002 to 2014.

CENTURYTEL

COURSON NICKEL

Post contributed another $3,000 to Campbell’s unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2016 and Nickel and Courson also contributed $500 and $1,000, respectively, to that campaign, federal campaign finance records show.

Altogether, Foster Campbell had at least 30,500 reasons to oppose Claiborne Electric’s proposal to provide high speed broadband internet service to its members.

Because he indisputably had skin in the game, he should have recused himself from the discussion in order to avoid any conflict of interests.

Therein lies the problem of regulators accepting contributions from those they regulate.

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As a state representative, John Bel Edwards was once a harsh critic of Bobby Jindal.

That was then. Now appears to be quite different.

Edwards the legislator was often a lonely voice in the legislature, speaking out in opposition to Jindal’s destruction of the Office of Group Benefits and the raiding of OGB’s $500 million surplus from which it paid medical claims for state employees. Then.

Edwards opposed Jindal’s attempts to privatize governmental services, including prisons. Then.

Edwards the legislator was the leading critic—sometimes the only critic—of Jindal’s destruction of the state hospital system. Then.

Edwards the legislator openly challenged Jindal’s constant budgetary cuts, often asking pointed questions of Jindal or his lackeys during committee hearings. Then.

Edwards the legislator said that he was fooled into voting in favor of an amendment at the end of the 2014 legislative session that would have given a hefty—but illegal—boost in retirement income for then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson. Edwards, in fact, led the call for an investigation into the maneuver by State Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia. Then

But when John Bel Edwards was elected governor he suddenly began to morph into Bobby Jindal 2.0.

The first indication that the more things change the more they remain the same was when he reappointed Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent and Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc at the behest of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

The sheriffs’ association is a powerful lobby and anyone who desires to be governor must pass in review before the association and receive its blessing. The local sheriff, after all, is the single most powerful political figure at the parish level. And when you multiply that local power by 64, the number of parishes, you have a formidable political force to overcome if you don’t have their collective endorsement.

Edwards’s brother is a sheriff. So was his father and his grandfather before that. So, it was no surprise when Edwards received the association’s seal of approval.

JINDAL was joined at the hip by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and he showed it by his penchant for tax relief for big business at the expense of public and higher education and health care.

Remember when people could actually afford to send their kids to college?

Remember when there were facilities available to those in need of mental health care?

Remember when the state budget reflected some degree of sanity?

Remember when teachers could count on a pay raise every decade or so?

I can remember when there were real Democrats in Louisiana politics and not pretenders who bend with whichever direction the wind blows (see John Alario, John Kennedy, et al).

Well, thanks to the abetting of compliant legislators beholden to corporate campaign contributors, those are now just fond memories.

But when John Bel was elected, there was hope.

Instead, he has cozied up to business and industry and rather than confronting legislators, he tried to get along with them without offending them. Apparently, he didn’t learn from Dave Treen, a Republican governor who tried unsuccessfully to get along with a Democratic legislature.

And now, today, he is in New Orleans to address, of all people, delegates to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). On a lesser scale, that’s the moral equivalent to Trump colluding with…well, never mind.

ALEC is, or should be, everything a real Democrat (as opposed to a DINO) should shun like the plague. A real Democrat truly interested in promoting what is best for Louisiana’s citizens would never set foot inside an ALEC Annual Meeting, much less appear as a speaker at one.

Retired State Budget Director Stephen Winham said as much when was quoted by a Baton Rouge Advocate EDITORIAL yesterday.

ALEC is a conglomerate of BUSINESS INTERESTS that promotes a Republican agenda exclusively. Members converge on a city (like New Orleans) for their Annual Conference, sit down in highly secretive meetings (no press allowed, thank you very much), and draft “model legislation” for member lawmakers in attendance to take back home and introduce as new bills, quite often without bothering to change so much as a comma.

That’s it. Legislative members of ALEC attend these meetings so lobbyists for corporations from other states can tell them what’s best for Louisiana citizens.

In 2011, when then-State Rep. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro was its national president, Jindal was the featured speaker and received the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award.

Now, ALEC is back and so is Jindal 2.0 John Bel Edwards.

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This should be the mother of all embarrassments for the legislature…but it won’t be.

I received a couple of emails over the past few weeks that, though sent independently of each other, combine to illustrate in crystallized form the ineptitude of the Louisiana Legislature.

Whether this ineptitude is by design or is simply the unfortunate consequences of an uninformed citizenry’s having elected a bunch of dunderheads remains a matter of conjecture.

But regardless, ineptness is ineptness and everyone loses. Barney Fife perhaps said it best in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show when, speaking to Andy, he said of a character played by Don Rickles, “He’s not ept, he’s not ept, he’s just not ept.”

But I digress.

The emails.

In the first one, I was blind-copied on a message sent to 15 senators, all members of the Senate Finance Committee:

  • Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), chairman;
  • Brett Allain (R-Franklin);
  • Conrad Appel (R-Metairie);
  • Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge);
  • Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans);
  • Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville);
  • Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro);
  • Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell);
  • Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles);
  • Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport);
  • Bodi White (R-Central);
  • Norby Chabert (R-Houma);
  • Blade Morrish (R-Jennings);
  • Francis Thompson (D-Delhi);
  • Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)

(Chabert, Morrish, Thompson and Walsworth are all interim members.)

The email dealt with the writer’s concerns over the Louisiana Department of Education’s Minimum Foundation Program, the formula employed for funding public education in Louisiana (not that they would be likely to read anything that didn’t have a campaign check attached),

I have withheld the identity of the author of the email because he/she obviously is an LDOE insider with sensitive knowledge of the situation. Here is that email:

To: lafleure@legis.la.gov, allainb@legis.la.gov, appelc@legis.la.gov, barrowr@legis.la.gov, bishopw@legis.la.gov, donahuej@legis.la.gov, fanninj@legis.la.gov, hewitts@legis.la.gov, johnsr@legis.la.gov, tarverg@legis.la.gov, whitem@legis.la.gov, chabertn@legis.la.gov, morrishd@legis.la.gov, thompsof@legis.la.gov, walsworthm@legis.la.gov
Date: April 28, 2018 at 4:16 PM
Subject: MFP Program at Department of Education

Greetings,

On Monday morning, the Senate Finance Committee will approve SCR48 by Sen. Morrish.  This resolution deals with the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) formula for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. As the Department of Education and representatives of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will argue that these funds are necessary to help Louisiana’s struggling schools, one must question the MFP in the current fiscal year. 

The department has been in complete chaos these past few weeks when it discovered a serious flaw in the MFP formula. Every child in the state was shortchanged in State General Fund dollars since the fiscal year began in July 2017. Interestingly, some districts got more MFP dollars than (they) should have. The department currently has a $17 million State General Fund surplus because of the flawed formula. Now, instead of quickly correcting the formula and distributing the funds to the school districts, they (Deputy Superintendent Elizabeth Scioneaux and MFP Director Katherine Granier) are attempting to “spin” the mistake and make no mention about it because they are afraid of an audit of the MFP program. Basically, the department will lie and cover up the mistake, the local school districts will lose out on the funding that they are entitled, and the excess State General Fund will be used for onetime expenses in fiscal year 2018-2019.

Who is monitoring the Department of Education? Anyone? Are they not accountable? 

I would be interested in what they have to say about the $17 million surplus. I am quite certain that the local school boards would be surprised to know this, too. They are unsure how the formula is derived and they just depend on the Education department to get it right.

I would hazard a guess that this individual never received a response from a single member of the Senate Finance Committee. LouisianaVoice also would be interested in knowing if anyone at LDOE is accountable or if anyone in the Legislature is paying the least bit of attention.

That curiosity is piqued not only by the email above but by one received on Sunday. Again, I am keep the identity of the second writer confidential as well. Here is that email:

To anyone who thinks that the legislature is doing ANY real work:

Consider the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP). This $3.7 BILLION appropriation is the second largest item in the state budget (the largest is Medicaid). These dollars go to local school districts to fund operations. It’s kind of a big deal and surely elected members have some questions or at least want to know a little about this gigantic item, right? WRONG!  The MFP for FY19 exists as SCR 48. This resolution sailed through the Senate with only a couple of perfunctory questions. Not to be outdone, when it arrived at the House Education Committee, it got worse. Chairman Nancy Landry (one of the worst of the Tea-Partiers) called up the resolution before anyone from LDOE even arrived at the meeting, said it wasn’t necessary for the Department to be there, moved favorable, and just like that, $3.7 BILLION moved on. Not a single question, not a single comment, no public testimony (no one was present), no Department testimony. And THAT is YOUR legislature at work. Meanwhile, the House Floor spent HOURS on an asinine bill by Rep. Amedee (possibly the least intelligent member of the body) to mandate a certain amount of time per day as “recess” for grades K-8. One would think this is purely the purview of BESE and the local school boards, but No. Incidentally, Amedee is one of those Tea-Partiers who abhor any sort of government regulation EXCEPT WHEN IT IS SOMETHING THEY WANT. Then, it’s okay! To its credit, the House voted her bill down. But the fact that hours were spent on such stupidity, and not one minute was spent on the MFP, tells you everything you need to know about YOUR legislature. These are the jackasses that WE elected!! So, who should really shoulder the blame? The elected jackasses or “We, the People” who put them there? 

In addition to the contents of those two emails, consider this:

The Louisiana Department of Education has 37 unclassified employees (appointive) who draw $100,000 or more per year in salary, including Elizabeth Scioneaux, who is paid $133,000 per year whose job it apparently is, according to the first writer, to spend multi-million-dollar mistakes in order to conceal them from legislative or state auditor oversight.

LDOE also has nine people identified by the somewhat ambiguous job title of “Fellow” knocking down between $88,000 and $110,000 per year. Those are mixed in with the “consultants,” “directors,” “advisers,” “specialists,” “assistants,” “researchers,” “managers,” “liaison officers,” and something called “paraeducators.”

In all, LDOE has a whopping 170 UNCLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES, topped of course, by State Superintendent John White’s $275,000 per year. This information was obtained as part of a public records request submitted by LouisianaVoice.

We even found our old friend David “Lefty” Lefkowith, who pulls down $100,000 per year as a “director,” whatever that is. Our first encounter with Lefty was back in 2012 when we discovered he was commuting to and from his California home to perform his duties with LDOE. A little closer examination revealed he was part of a CARTEL that included then-candidate for Florida governor Jeb Bush, the now-defunct Enron Corp., and a spin-off company named Azurix in a failed effort to privatize and store potable water to later sell to the highest bidder through a process called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). At least LDOE did drop Lefty’s 2012 salary of $145,000 per year to its current level. But then, we’re told that he no longer commutes, either; he works from home in California. Nice.

Others include:

  • Laura Hawkins—Recovery School District administrator (RSD): $110,000;
  • Elizabeth Marcell—RSD administrator: $115,000;
  • Dana Peterson—RSD administrator: $148,500;
  • Jules Burk—superintendent: $120,000;
  • Meredith Jordan—education coordinator: $112,200;
  • Ralph Thibodeaux—superintendent: $115,000;
  • Allen Walls—education coordinator: $112,200;
  • Ronald Bordelon—RSD administrator: $150,000;
  • Andrea Cambria—RSD administrator: $100,000;
  • Tiffany Delcour—assistant superintendent: $120,000;
  • Gabriela Fighetti—assistant superintendent: $135,000;
  • Lona Hankins—director: $140,000;
  • Jessica Baghian, assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Erin Bendily—assistant superintendent: $140,000;
  • Kenneth Bradford—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Jennifer Conway—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Bridget Devlin—chief operating officer: $110,000;
  • Hannah Dietsch—assistant superintendent: $130,000;
  • Lisa French—manager: $104,500;
  • Joan Hunt—executive counsel: $129,800;
  • Rebecca Kockler—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Rebecca Lamury—director: $100,000;
  • Diana Molpus—educational director: $103,000;
  • Kunjan Narechania—assistant superintendent: $159,500;
  • Catherine Pozniak—assistant superintendent: $140,000;
  • Jan Sibley—fellow: $100,000;
  • Jill Slack—director: $126,500;
  • Melissa Stilley—liaison officer: $135,000;
  • Dana Talley—liaison officer: $130,000;
  • Francis Touchet—liaison officer: $130,000;
  • Alicia Witkowski—fellow: $110,000;
  • Jamie Woing—fellow: $110,000;
  • Jacob Johnson—executive director: $100,600;
  • Shan Davis—director: $135,200.

And there was Vicky Thomas, listed as a “confidential assistant,” making a cool $91,800 per year.

Yet, with all those high-powered appointees with the important-sounding titles, a $17 million error in the crucial MFP was apparently allowed to slip through the cracks and no one in the legislature across the street could think of a single question to ask—because they were too busy considering recess, concealed carry in schools, granting payday loan companies interest rates of 167 percent, renaming highways, and…well, you know: important matters.

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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.

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