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Four former governors intervene in higher education budget

“Lead, governor, we are prepared to follow.”
(Baton Rouge – June 11, 2009) In an unprecedented intervention, four former Louisiana governors met privately with Governor Bobby Jindal today, and then publicly stated their dissatisfaction with his planned higher education budget cuts.
LFT President Steve Monaghan called the turn of events “extraordinary,” saying that the statement “confirms the Federation’s frustration with this fiscal session and affirms our conviction that the session should have begun with a broader, bolder vision for our state.
“The fact that we have continued this far without such a vision explains why the former governors felt compelled to step forward,” he said. The LFT president added that funding for K-12 education, which depends heavily on one-time federal stimulus funds, should evoke the same concerns.
The four governors, including David Treen, Buddy Roemer, Kathleen Blanco and Mike Foster, issued a joint statement urging Jindal and the legislature to “fight for our young people and make it clear that education is Louisiana’s number one priority.”
In response, Jindal stubbornly clung to his no-tax mantra, vowing again to veto measures such as SB 335, which would temporarily suspend some anticipated tax deductions.
In their prepared statement, the four former governors acknowledged the state’s budget woes, but said that “slashing the budget of higher education is unacceptable for our students and for our future.”
Instead, they suggested a short-term, one year budget for higher education that included infusions of one-time cash accompanied by “reasonable cuts.”
For a longer range plan, the four asked Jindal to convene a summit to conduct a “formal review of function and structure in higher Education so that the system can better meet the challenges of the 21st Century and the needs of our ever improving student bodies.”
In a joint press conference with his predecessors, Jindal said that he would like to keep the higher education budget cuts under 10 percent, and stressed his desire to restructure all of higher education in the state.
A bill aimed at creating a commission to study higher education, HB 794 by Speaker of the House Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown) is now under consideration in the Senate. The bill could lead to a discussion about closing or merging colleges and universities in the state.
While the overall tone of the press conference was cordial and aimed at solving a problem rather than casting blame, the former governors’ concern was bluntly stated: “The worst that this budget can do,” they wrote, “is gut our colleges and universities, foreclosing us to a system of mediocrity, and chasing our valuable faculty and students out of our state.”

Their final statement was a call to action for Jindal: “Lead, governor, we are prepared to follow.”

To read the full statement from the former governors, please click here.

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