Sunday, June 9, 2013

Louisiana Legislators Destroy Universities

The Death of Higher Learning
Dayne Sherman
Published in the Daily Star and elsewhere.
Words: 750

The Louisiana legislative session ended on June 6. Victory was declared by all parties, and Governor Jindal showed up for a photo op once the budget deal passed. Reports have claimed that this was only his second visit to the Legislature since he “parked” his dubious tax swap plan during his address at the opening of the session on April 8.

Despite the high-fives and celebration of alleged legislative independence, the much lauded victory is a fraud, just positive spin to keep the homefolk happy and dumb. Our elected representatives failed us this year, and the state will suffer as a result.

One important example of this failure is the continued attack against colleges and universities. Let me be very clear: your local university is dying, and this session did nothing to revive it or any other suffocating Louisiana university. 

Despite the malarkey you will hear from various well-paid sources in and out of the higher education, Louisiana schools may have been given the final blow with this year’s budget.

The best analysis comes from Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project who said recently that Louisiana higher education was slated to receive $204 million in state funds (2.7 percent of the General Fund) during the coming fiscal year.

Keep in mind that higher education received about $1.5 billion in state funding in 2009 (18 percent of the General Fund).

As Moller points out, we are funding Louisiana higher education at the lowest level since the 1950s.

The legislators are saying they ended the use of one-time money, which has hurt higher education and health care in the past through midyear cuts. But one-time money and creative accounting did not go on vacation under this year’s budget. The budget is full of hoaxes, not the least being the nitwit tax amnesty program that will do little to make funding sustainable or stable.

For higher education, expect a midyear cut. I hope I am wrong, but the budget is full of funny money.

Community colleges were given $250 million to build campuses, and they will get the money separate from the Capital Outlay Budget, an act that may harm the state’s bond rating.

It sounds great on the surface, and I am all for strengthening our anemic community and technical college system. But this is an irresponsible plan that will build “ghost campuses.” Ghost campuses are fancy buildings without adequate faculty to teach students.

Colleges need students and qualified professors. This building boom is a bust without good students and compensated faculty. Though I am sure well-connected building contractors are pleased about the newfound pork, there is no money to hire professors for the new classrooms.

In a death blow to higher education, SB 16, a retirement bill, did not pass. Thus, new higher education employees electing to take the defined contribution plan (the Optional Retirement Program), which about half of the employees choose because of portability, will get a 1.8 percent retirement “match” and no Social Security benefits beginning July 1, 2014 (1).

Louisiana higher education will have the least attractive benefits package in North America. I challenge any person to find a more paltry retirement plan at any legitimate university in the United States or Canada. This legislative failure will grossly limit recruitment of new faculty. Simply put, men and women with any intelligence will find another place to work—a place outside of the Bayou State.

The legislative session is over but the damage to higher education continues. Thank your senator and representative next time you see him or her. Both Democrats and Republicans failed to give a legitimate effort to help higher education survive.

However, Jerome “Dee” Richard, an Independent from Thibodaux, made an effort again this year to reduce state contracts by 10 percent. It failed in the Senate. In my view, only by limiting these bloated contracts and cutting back on billions in corporate welfare and tax loopholes will higher education make a comeback.

Unfortunately, we have a legislative body, a governor, and perhaps a general populace with more interest in funding foolishness than higher learning.

On positive note for many of my readers, I plan to take a break from writing newspaper columns this summer in order to prepare several fiction projects for publication. That is if I can help myself. The Louisiana political landscape is rich and tempting for any observant writer.

I think it was novelist Tom Clancy who once said the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.

In Louisiana, truth is more bizarre that fiction.

Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website is

(1) After being contacted by two Louisiana higher education advocates about SB 16, I am adding "2014" above. As it turns out, HCR 2 will stall the cut to a 1.8 percent match for a year. However, as the ORP stands right now, I challenge anyone to find a worse retirement program than the ORP at any legitimate university in North America.
Dayne Sherman, Writer & Speaker
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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Snakes at the Capitol

The Real Threat in Baton Rouge 

Dayne Sherman
Column published in the Daily Star and elsewhere.
Words: 650

Recent reports have detailed a dangerous snake infestation at the Louisiana State Capitol. This has been the fodder for jokes, but the fact remains that the slithering serpents of the Garden of Eden have invaded Huey Long’s Art Deco skyscraper (1).

On Memorial Day, my day off, I decided to go to the Capitol. My goal was to say a few words related to HB 1, the state budget bill, which will destroy universities in Louisiana by cutting funding to levels somewhere just north of zero. The Senate Finance Committee had the bill on the agenda.

As I waited in the hallway for the room to open, I heard many comments and backslaps about the snakes, but I never saw a single reptile that moved without feet. All of the reptiles I saw wore loafers.

Inside the committee room, Chair Senator Jack “I’ve Always Got Bobby Jindal’s Back” Donahue (R-Mandeville) called for a moment of silence for the MEN who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country. Obviously, he does not know that women bleed and die for our country.

After another senator corrected him about the women who did indeed die in war, he quickly said HB 1 would not be heard until later in the week.

I immediately realized my trip was a goose chase. Thanks, Senator Donahue.

For my little drive to Baton Rouge, I did get to see the Senate committee kamikaze Representative Kenny Havard’s (R-St. Francisville) HB 240, a bill that would have required legislative oversight for privatization of state services over $5 million dollars. It had passed the House with 93 votes in favor. Not bad.

But it became clear from the senators' questions that the bill was dead on arrival.

During the testimony for and against the bill, I saw Steven Procopio, a Jindal administration lackey, bloviating about the governor’s wishes. In short, he called Havard’s fiscally responsible bill a Massachusetts-based liberal union-loving leftist agenda sent from Karl Marx himself.

I was waiting for Procopio to use the words Benghazi, IRS, Solyndra, and Nancy Pelosi, but I’m certain he knew he didn’t need to bring out the big guns to defeat the bill.

Havard’s good government proposal was shot down with only two senators voting for it. I should note that Senator Mack “Bodi” White (R-Central) offered a courtesy vote in favor of his neighboring legislator’s bill—after he saw that it was dead in the roll call. How charitable of him, and Havard noted this in his banter with White.

I learned something from my Memorial Day goose chase at the Capitol. Our greatest problem is not a few snakes sliding through the building. No, our real problem is a Senate full of men and women who are invertebrates, backbones optional for all but a few.

Speaking of invertebrates, Senator Elbert Guillory (R-Opelousas) changed his party affiliation on Friday from Democrat to Republican. Guillory, a man who recently said he consulted a witch doctor for an ailment, is perhaps the American Legislative Exchange Council’s most valuable member. ALEC thinks he’s grand, so much so that they gave him plenty of campaign cash. According to reporter Tom Aswell, Guillory received “$45,200 from ALEC member corporations, $7500 from Jindal.” 

Several reports confirm that he switched from Republican to Democrat, and now he’s back to the GOP. I had a Republican House member tell me off the record that Guillory became a Democrat just to win office. 

I should start an annual award for legislative sorriness. During this session there are many good examples of breath-taking awfulness, but I think Senator Guillory deserves a lifetime achievement award.

Are there snakes at the Capitol? Maybe. But watch out for the ones wearing suits. There is no antivenom for their bite. Our only hope is to throw them out of office as soon as possible.

Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website is
1.  Yes, I know water snakes aren't venomous, but stay with me.
Dayne Sherman, Writer & Speaker
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