Some recent information about and statements made by state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the only officially announced candidate for governor in 2015, may have Democrats looking for a more capable candidate if they ave actual designs on winning that race.
The leader of his party caucus didn’t fare well in a recent poll on the 2015 gubernatorial election, corralling less than 10 percent of the vote and trailing considerably three Republican names put forward. However, it’s early and the question did not indicate partisanship, which would have boosted his totals somewhat (although having the same last name as Prisoner #03128-095, for whom some segment of Democrats in the state would vote for even if it were revealed he rooted for the University of Alabama and played to best poker sites with Nick Saban and who appeared on a sub-literate reality television show, should have provided some cachet to increase John’s totals), so on that basis alone, as a standard-bearer for Democrats’ aspiration here he might do.
Unless he goes around saying stupid stuff, and he does. Witness his remarks to the Louisiana State University Baton Rouge Faculty Senate (historically not exactly the most distinguished policy thinkers in higher education or anything else) where he provided his analysis of funding policy in this area over the past several years that concluded there has not been enough will to fund higher education in the state.
With remarks that charitably can be termed convoluted, Edwards tried to argue that a greater reliance on self-generated revenues (in the case of higher education, tuition and fees) and less on state money, which he claimed was $700 million fewer since 2008, constituted a “tax increase.” The “logic” on which this is based is that roughly half of this was supposed to have been made up in revenues, but since reductions in state money were greater, then a “fee” becomes a “tax” – even though the only payers of these fees were the users of the service (or the entities backing them through scholarship and grants) and the net overall effect was to reduce the burden on the Louisiana taxpayer through a smaller commitment of their resources. If we are going to violate definitional integrity and call a targeted and related fee-for-service a tax leveled indiscriminately that bears no relationship to the service provided, if anything this produced a tax decrease to Louisianans.
But more to the point is that Edwards obviously knows nothing about the financing of higher education in the state. For fiscal year 2008-09 (essentially, the last budget before Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, who Edwards thinks lacks commitment), within the $2.878 billion spent on higher education, $1.476 billion of that came from the state general fund, $138 million from statutory dedications (which includes those tied to higher education and any from a “funds sweep” of unrelated dedicated monies), and $745 million from tuition, fees, and other sources (the last constituting for the typical college a relatively very small amount, such as licensing fees for merchandise). For the latest passed budget, $2.629 billion is projected to be spent, with $525 million coming from the general fund, $595 million from dedications, and $1.279 billion being self-generated.
In other words, over these years total spending will be reduced $260 million or about 9 percent. And while total state support (general plus dedicated funds) will have gone down $494 million, revenues will have increased $534 million. The $220 million aggregate gap actually was reduced slightly by increased federal funding (grants) and represents the decline in interagency transfers, almost all of that concerning the LSU System, which reflect largely money that had been there from the federal spending plan of 2009 foisted by national Democrats.
So in reality, when you strip out federal money both the bonus and from grant efforts, the balance of state higher education spending policy overt this time has been to increase funding to it by $40 million. Where Edwards gets his figure that total state means of finance are down hundreds of millions because of state policy is beyond anybody’s guess. And then, to add insult to injury, because of this imaginary reduction, Edwards says he would not surrender state lawmaker approval over tuition and fees because of the illusory historical claim that they would take back any revenue increase in reduced state support, when in fact this would be a very efficient means by which to price education provision properly in a state with one of the lowest rates of tuition in the country.
Get at least one opponent that would point out the emptiness of his assertions and illogical reasoning, and Edwards as a candidate starts to look at best ignorant and at worst a moron. That doesn’t disqualify you from holding office, as often was proven not so long ago in Louisiana politics, but it’s not helpful to winning elections. A few more remarks like this, and maybe wiser heads among the dwindling influential Democrats in the state might consider trying to find an alternative to contest the state’s highest office.