Last Modified: Friday, November 01, 2013 6:16 PM
A state lawmaker says he plans to try to end the cozy relationship between the state Legislature and Tulane University that has resulted in free scholarships to the university in exchange for tax breaks.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the agreement that allows all 144 state legislators to award an annual scholarship to a student from their district to attend Tulane “doesn’t pass the smell test.” In return, Tulane does not have to pay sales or property tax to the state and City of New Orleans in a relationship that dates back to the 1880s.
Absent fully dismantling the program, Claitor said he will push for more transparency and stricter rules, and may even require that scholarship recipients perform some service requirement following graduation.
Controversy bubbled up again recently when news reports cited several state lawmakers selecting children of elected officials or campaign donors to receive the annual scholarship, valued at more than $43,000.
“When you’re giving your scholarship to the campaign manager’s kid, that doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Claitor. “When you’re giving it to the DA’s kid, that doesn’t pass the smell test. And I think everyone knows what I mean.”
Added state Sen.. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie: “I think clearly there is at least the perception of problems. ... I think we should probably just get rid of the silly thing and get the taxes from Tulane. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.”
The perception woes worsened late last month when the clerk of the state House of Representatives denied a request to release documents relating to the scholarships. Alfred “Butch” Speer rejected a request by the New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV to gain access the one-page form that a scholarship recipient is required to fill out. On the form, recipients are asked if they are related to an elected official.
Speer originally said the forms belonged to Tulane, but after the university provided the forms to the Legislature, he deemed they were not public record, saying that they were only shown to state lawmakers if they requested to see them and that the student recipients have an expectation of privacy.
This flies in the ruling from the 1990s by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that all records related to the contract and awarding of scholarships are public records.
Speer’s stance took another blow when New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu released the forms for all 20 scholarship awards that he has made during his five years in office.
Claitor is right. This deal doesn’t pass the smell test and is overdue for a thorough cleansing.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.