On This SUNO-UNO Merger Fiscal Note

The current objection being raised to the merger of SUNO and UNO is that to do so the state would have to spend an estimated $3 million over the next two years – which is why the merger bill in the House of Representatives had to pass not just the Education Committee but the Appropriations Committee as well.

The way this is being spun by SUNO’s defenders – that the bill is a fraud, that the money spent on the merger proves taxpayers dollars will be wasted, and so on – is pretty typical.

It’s disingenuous as can be.

What constitutes that $3 million?

The Times-Picayune has something of an itemized list. Ask yourself whether these expenditures will be ongoing five years from now…

Anticipated costs associated with the merger include $570,000 for the University of Louisiana System to hire lawyers and consultants to deal with seeking accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; another $490,000 would be needed to pay for a variety of other consulting services, including the search for a president to lead the new university.

Other transition costs include $1 million to $2 million to integrate SUNO and UNO’s computer systems with the University of Louisiana System.

In other words, they’re transition costs. After they’re spent, the savings of not paying many of the six-figure administrators who have presided over an eight percent (or five percent, depending on who you talk to) graduation rate at SUNO will kick in.

Oh, but we can’t do this, goes the lament. We’ll lose $4 million in federal funding for black colleges!

SUNO’s budget is $40 million a year. As an adjunct to UNO, you’re probably saving half that much. That $4 million is a drop in the bucket.

This entire exercise has the feeling of a desperate, throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-’em effort on the part of SUNO’s defenders.

The measure needs a two-thirds vote in both houses to become law. I expect it’s going to get the 70 votes in the House it needs, but that’s going to be close.  To get 26 votes in the Senate will be a very heavy lift; you can tenuously expect it will get the 23 Republicans (I’m not positive about that, but I’ll go with it for now) and then you’ve got to find three Democrats to come along as well. It will be interesting to see which three the measure’s backers will be able to reel in; at first blush I’ll say they’re going to come up short by a vote or two.

But given that polling on the issue indicates the merger idea has a lot of support – the Southern Media and Opinion Research survey out last week said it was favored 43-42 by those polled, but some of the opponents of the merger could well have been people who actually want SUNO shut down rather than merged with UNO, and in other polls the merger has run as high as 65-70 percent support – if it fails and it’s an election-year issue it could well be a cudgel against those Democrat opponents in legislative races this fall. Meaning, of course, that we’ll be right back into the issue next year with a legislature more predisposed to carry a merger bill through to final passage.

Particularly if some of the weak defenses offered by the supporters of the status quo aren’t improved upon.



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