Louisiana Higher Ed Underfunded by Trump Cabinet Prospect, Bobby Jindal
In 1989, Louisiana businessman Patrick Taylor convinced the Louisiana legislature to fund what would be called the “Taylor Plan”— payment of four years of tuition and fees for Louisiana students to attend college based upon high school GPA and ACT-score eligibility requirements– with initial program eligibility also hinging upon income requirements.
In 2008, the Taylor Plan was renamed the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS).
TOPS is funded via both general fund and tobacco settlement monies. However, the days of a fully-funded TOPS program are limited given that TOPS costs have been rising notably (e.g., 2001: $104 million; 2015: $250 million; by 2020, projected to be over $300 million).
Meanwhile, Louisiana has been facing years of budget crisis. In 2015, the Louisiana legislature voted to put a cap on TOPS funding; even Taylor’s widow agreed to the cap as a means of preserving the program. However, then-governor Bobby Jindal vetoed the TOPS cap despite the fact that he had no solution to the ever-increasing costs of TOPS and only temporary, patchwork solutions for the 2015 Louisiana budget crisis.
Even though it made a good sound byte for Jindal (who was then planning a 2016 presidential run) to say,
I made a promise to the students and families of this state that a TOPS scholarship would be available to every child who worked hard and met the performance criteria established by law — this legislation would renege on that promise,
the reality is that in spring 2016, TOPS was only funded 80 percent– and the colleges and universities had to absorb the shortfall.
Add that to Jindal’s cutting higher ed funding by 55 percent since the economic crisis of 2008, as the February 2016 Hechinger Report notes in a story originally printed in the Advocate:
When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took office eight years ago, state taxpayers provided 60 percent of the funding for the state’s public universities. …
…Large tax cuts, generous subsidies for certain industries and collapsing oil prices have led to deep annual budget cuts. And higher education funding has been among the most vulnerable targets for the scalpel, lacking the constitutional protections enjoyed by some other top priorities, like K-12 education. …
Now, taxpayers put up barely a quarter of the tab, leaving students and their families to cover most of the gap in the form of rising tuition and fees. …
In making those cuts, Jindal and the state Legislature reversed more than a decade of bipartisan efforts to raise the profile of Louisiana’s universities. …
The brunt of the financial pain of the state’s cuts has been absorbed by students. To make up for lost money, Louisiana has lifted tuition and mandatory attendance fees faster than any other state over the past five years. …
Jindal found himself short of money every year after his first, thanks mostly to an income tax break he signed off on in 2008, when the state was flush with proceeds from the Hurricane Katrina recovery.
An economic funk followed, and ever since, the state’s budget has been on marshy ground.
Louisiana spends about $25 billion per year, but close to 90 percent of that is money the state is required to spend on things like debt service, housing inmates, benefits for state workers and satisfying federal mandates.
Higher education spending has no such set-aside — it is discretionary — and it often has proven the easiest place to make cuts year in and year out. …
While the tax cuts of 2008 set Louisiana on a shaky financial path, Jindal’s national political aspirations hamstrung him further.
He was keen on getting a seal of approval from the powerful Washington lobbying outfit Americans for Tax Reform, whose anti-tax pledge he had signed. He consulted with the group frequently as he tried to balance budgets awash in red ink.
In the end, staying in the good graces of Americans for Tax Reform not only meant Jindal couldn’t pursue new sources of revenue; it also meant he couldn’t simply end costly corporate tax giveaways — even those his own administration had concluded were wasteful. …
So great was the governor’s devotion to the pledge that he threatened to lop another 82 percent from what was left of Louisiana’s support for higher education last year unless the Legislature passed his unusual tax swap.
Fast forward to the 2016-17 school year: TOPS will only be funded 68 percent, with most of the cuts hitting in the spring of 2017. As nola.com reports, students and parents can expect TOPS to cover roughly 58 percent of tuition. Fees are not figured in.
According to the College Board’s “Trends in Higher Education,” Louisiana is unrivaled for its five-year percentage increase in tuition and fees: 59 percent:
It will take time and lots of work by the Louisiana legislature and governor to confront Louisiana’s budget crisis, but something has to give.
For now, one of those “somethings” is a fully-funded TOPS program, which will further divide Louisanans into “haves” and “have nots.”
As for Jindal’s national political aspirations: His 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination was a fizzle, but he is currently being considered as the Secretary of Health and Human Services for Team Trump. But we’ll see if that lasts. Jindal once referred to Trump as follows, according to the September 10, 2015, National Review:
“Narcissist,” “egomaniac,” “absurd,” “a carnival act,” “insecure,” “weak,” “dangerous,” “unstable,” “unserious,” “shallow,” “hothead,” “small,” “substance-free,” “power-hungry shark,” “egomaniacal madman”: Those were just a few of the names Jindal called Trump in his 10 minute speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. today.
I want to say what everyone is thinking about Donald Trump but afraid to say,” Jindal said. “Everybody knows this is true.”
Other GOP candidates who have attacked Trump tried to take him down on substance. But Jindal said there was simply no substance on which to attack him.
“You can’t argue policy with this guy. . . . He has no idea what he’s talking about, he makes it up on the fly,” Jindal said.
Jindal says that Trump makes up policy on the fly, yet Jindal follows the directives of Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, who believes Trump could be more fiscally conservative than Reagan.
Jindal’s inept budgeting also wrecked Louisiana’s hospitals. And now Trump is considering putting Jindal in charge of Health and Human Services.
Watch out, America. You might be headed down the same path as Louisiana.