Letter: We must save universities

This is in response to Dayne Sherman’s letter on June 13 wherein he charges that Gov. Bobby Jindal and the legislators are “deliberately killing LSU and other state universities”.

This writer can’t believe that the governor and legislators would intentionally destroy the state’s best asset. However, one has to wonder what happened to the Bobby Jindal who wrote in a 2007 campaign for governor brochure: “LSU must be supported so that it can compete with the other leading research universities around the country.”

Five years ago, the governor and legislators took the easy way out by embarking on a policy of benign neglect of LSU and the other state universities.

The policy of benign neglect has resulted in a 60 percent reduction in state appropriations to the universities from the state general fund in the last five years. No other state has reduced funding of their universities by that large a percentage over the same period.

Lawmakers cry that, “Our hands are tied; the only items we can cut are higher education and health care.” Voters should not let legislators get away with this big falsehood.

Legislators have the power to amend, repeal and enact laws. That’s their job. They could easily untie their hands, but they chose not to.

Politicians plead the state’s poverty as another excuse for the drop in funding. Another falsehood. Louisiana has a higher per-capita income than many of the Southern states who do a better job of funding their universities.

There are $3.5 billion in state money tied up in statutory dedications that the Legislature could reduce/cut by a majority vote. There are $5 billion or more in tax exemptions that the Legislature could reduce/cut by a majority vote.

Why can’t the lawmakers cut by a small percentage at least some of the $8 billion in statutory dedications and tax exemptions in order to provide Louisiana with quality universities? The answer is that legislators first have to obtain permission from the business, industry and petrochemical groups that are the real political powers in exploited Louisiana. So far, the answer from the political powers has been no. The legislators called fiscal hawks can attest to that fact.

The neglect of the universities will continue until former governors Roemer, Foster and Blanco meet with Gov. Jindal and ask him to stop. The former governors have earned the trust of the people and are the only governors since Gov. Huey Long to make higher education a real priority. The three can convince the governor that neglecting the universities is a big mistake that is damaging Louisiana’s future and will be hard to rectify.

Howard Franques

retired lawyer