Our Views: Jindal’s math a shell game

In no area does Gov. Bobby Jindal stretch the truth more in the assertion — usually delivered via aides, to avoid responsibility for his false position — that he has been a supporter of higher education in Louisiana.

Just look at the latest budget proposal, which is a potential catastrophe for state colleges and universities. From Jindal spokesman Sean Lansing comes the emollient assurance that “the governor’s proposal does not include any cuts to higher education funding, and there are no reductions to campuses.”

That is too much even for Jindal’s tame Board of Regents, which runs higher education, after a fashion, in this new era of damaging cutbacks. Before this year’s budget proposal, the Regents’ figures show a $625 million cut in higher education funding, only about half of that made up by tuition increases.

Leave aside that the cuts do continue in the new budget: Another Jindal falsehood is that tuition increases are state aid to higher education. While those dollars are accounted for in the state budget, they are not from the state general fund and represent de facto cuts in state appropriations to support for higher education.

“Funding challenges in higher education are a national trend, and we are appreciative of the administration for making careful decisions on our behalf,” Regents Chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry. “However, we are concerned about such a large portion of our funding being allocated from the Overcollections Fund, and that higher education is the only agency whose proposed budget is built on these contingencies.”

This is too mild by half, especially from Rasberry, a usually outspoken Shreveport civic leader.

The “overcollections fund” is a device to allow one-time windfalls of money to be used in the operating budget, and to shift money from other accounts — recurring or not — into a fake general fund. We say “fake” because it is inherently unstable, the opposite, as Rasberry noted, of the actual general fund.

You name the controversial funding expedient, it’s there in Jindal’s shell game — as if the poor rubes who run or teach in state colleges are children fooled by sleight-of-hand.

The facts, despite Jindal’s statement through Lansing: “The Overcollections Fund includes revenue from sources such as the New Orleans Convention Center, anticipated property sales, and pending lawsuit settlements to name a few,” the Regents said. “These funds are considered nonrecurring and contingent sources of revenue. The Executive Budget specifically states that should any of these fiscal year 2013-2014 funds not materialize, the budget for higher education would be reduced by that amount.”

While Jindal might not admit it, this is a recipe for another midyear budget cut in higher education, as there are so many of these budgetary games being played that it is virtually impossible for the administration to bat 1.000 for all these contingencies.

One of the reasons that Jindal’s statement, through Lansing, is so misleading is that the statement is narrowly focused on the fiscal year 2014 budget now before the Legislature.

As Jindal does not appear willing to do, let’s look to the future. The Legislative Fiscal Office also questions the use of the contingent funding, but “even if all come to fruition, there is still a concern for FY (fiscal year) 14-15 and future years.”

Concern? You bet there is concern.

Unless the governor and Legislature raise some more revenues, or drastically cut other areas of the budget by some means, higher education is headed for a fiscal crash that could be even worse than the last five years of declining state aid and midyear budget cuts.

Louisiana higher education is suffering, drastically, from Jindal’s neglect of higher education funding. Let Jindal and his aides paper it over with press releases and budget games. The reality does not change.

Careful decisions, indeed.