Last Modified: Friday, June 15, 2012 5:59 PM
Vic Stelly has amassed an enviable record.
A former teacher and coach, he became a successful insurance agent before turning to public service, first as a member of the Calcasieu Parish School Board, then as a state legislator.
So when Stelly announced earlier this week that he was stepping down from his latest position as a member of the state Board of Regents, primarily because of the gutting of higher education budgets in Louisiana, it’s tantamount to a variation on the E.F. Hutton commercials: people should listen.
Stelly said $500 million has been cut from higher education budgets since 2008. Ironically, that was the year the state’s higher eduction fund level reached the Southern average, thanks in large part to a push by former Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco.
How has that affected McNeese?
Stelly said state funding for the university where he once was an assistant football coach has shrunk from $41 million in 2008 to the current $22.8 million. Some of that loss has been up by higher tuition fees, but the university’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be nearly $6 million, or 9 percent less, than in FY 2007-2008.
Cuts for University of Louisiana system institutions from the current year to the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 range from 8.4 percent at the University of Louisiana-Monroe to 3.1 percent at Louisiana Tech. McNeese President Dr. Philip Williams will be dealing with $4.7 million less in the upcoming year, a 7.2 percent cut.
Higher ed cuts for the entire system total $66 million.
Meanwhile, Sowela Technical Community College has also seen its state funding drop from $7 million in 2007-08 to $5.8 million for the coming year.
Stelly lays the blame at the feet of Gov. Bobby Jindal. He said higher education is not a high priority for the Jindal administration.
It’s gotten so bad that University of Louisiana System President Dr. Randy Moffett has called for a temporary suspension of the GRAD Act formula used to fund state university.
‘‘Instead of rewarding performances like the GRAD Act that provides for tuition increases when measures are met, the formula shifts state funding from one institution to another,’’ said Moffett. ‘‘The is compounded when state monies for higher education are dedicated to specific institutions or purposes, as this reduces funding available to all campuses.’’
The irony here is that the state wouldn’t be in such a bind had not the Stelly Tax Plan, named after the former Moss Bluff lawmaker, been repealed. Stelly launched a one-man campaign to increase the state income tax paid by middle and high income earners while cutting out the state sales tax on food and utilities. State lawmakers and voters agreed and the plan was implemented in 2003.
State lawmakers repealed the income tax increase in 2008, but did not add back the sales tax on food and utilities, costing the state nearly $400 million in revenue.
In his address to his fellow lawmakers prior to passage of the tax swap in 2002, Stelly likened his colleagues to a football team.
He talked about the team’s uniforms and asked rhetorically who among them were playing for the emblem on the helmet and who were playing for only their individual names on the back of the jerseys.
It remains a valid question today, one that Gov. Jindal should seriously ponder.
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, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.
Posted By: Jackie Tisdell On: 6/16/2012
UL System President Randy Moffett did not call for a suspension of the GRAD Act. He called for a suspension of the Board of Regents funding formula that distributes state monies. The GRAD Act allows campuses to raise tuition in return for meeting performance measures.