Last Modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:34 AM
A fight to bring transparency to a program in which state lawmakers award academic scholarships for a student from their district to attend Tulane University remains an uphill battle in the State Capitol.
In an arrangement that dates back to the 1880s, state legislators gets to dole out the scholarships, currently valued at more than $46,0000 annually, in return for Tulane being exempted from paying any state or local sales taxes and certain property taxes.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, pulled his bill that would have brought an end to the scholarship program, explaining that other private universities in the state, including Centenary College and Loyola University, receive the same tax exemptions as Tulane.
Claitor also postponed a vote on another one of his bills that would prevent state lawmakers from giving scholarship to relatives or the children of elected officials or relatives of elected officials.
A similar bill in the House by state Rep. Harold Ritchie that would have banned legislators from awarding scholarships to family members or students of family members who had contributed to their campaigns failed last week 53-44.
Ritchie has been heavily criticized for giving a Tulane scholarship for the past two years to the son of St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed.
State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, who voted against Ritchie’s bill said there’s no need to alter the program because state lawmakers are ‘‘held accountable by our constituents and our conscience.’’
Thompson couldn’t be more wrong. How can the public hold state lawmakers accountable when in the vast majority of instances they won’t release information on who received the scholarships? Without that, the constituents are left in the dark.
Maybe Reed’s son was the most qualified applicant in Ritchie’s district. But we’ll never know until state lawmakers remove the cloak that has surrounded the program for nearly 130 years.
And therein lies the program’s biggest issue. There’s no sunlight beaming on it for the public to trust that everything is on the up and up.
Posted By: Servant of the People On: 4/29/2014
Title: What about me?
I am considering running for the Lake Charles City Council. Does anyone know if the City of Lake Charles gives McNeese State University any tax breaks or "in-kind services"? If so, then I think McNeese should allow City Councilman to secretly award a 40,000 dollar a year scholarship to a college applicant the Councilman believes is deserving. What a great scam, err, I mean idea! When I go door to door asking parents to vote for me, I will ask lots of questions about their children so they will think I am considering awarding the scholarship to their child. Of course, the scholarship is going to my niece and my brother will only have to cough up 20,000 dollars cash a year, so EVERYBODY is a winner! I know what you are thinking. We should let McNeese decide who gets the scholarships and publish the names in the paper, so the recipient can be congratulated. THAT IS ABOUT THE STUPIDEST IDEA I HAVE EVER HEARD!! (There is no need to begin this program immediately. I won't be running anytime soon. I have a couple of more years left on my legislative term).