Dig Baton Rouge

Cashing In

By CODY WORSHAM
Editor-in-Chief

State Treasurer John Kennedy is “not the goose that laid the golden egg,” according to LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope, “but the person with the account book for the coop.”

Kennedy, a Republican but often a vocal critic of the Jindal administration, addressed Dr. Cope and his fellow University faculty Monday, and shared with them this latest finding from those books: a potential $528 million golden egg for LSU.

Kennedy spoke to the gathering about House Bill 142, which would generate more than half a billion dollars for the state’s contribution to higher education by cutting spending on consulting contracts by 10 percent.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Dee Richard of District 55, is nothing new for Kennedy, who has pushed a similar measure for two years running. Both times it passed the House unanimously but got hung up in the Senate Finance committee. In fact, in 2013, it appeared to pass that penultimate barrier with a 4-to-3 vote, but Chairman Jack Donahue pulled a shrewd political maneuver to kill it.

“We had a 4-to-3 vote to get it out of committee, and I think if we can get it out of committee, the Senate will pass it,” Kennedy said. “The Chairman decided to vote – normally, Chairmen don’t vote – and rendered a 4-4 tie, which killed the bill.”

Kennedy is still fighting, however. This year, he’s added specific language to appropriate the savings from consultation reduction to higher education, which has seen a 67% reduction in funding since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in 2008. Jindal and his administration have argued the state doesn’t have the money to fund higher education, but Kennedy isn’t buying it.

“If we didn’t have the money, that would be one thing,” he said. “But we do. I know you’ve heard otherwise, and what you’ve heard otherwise, in my opinion, is not accurate.”

On the contrary, Kennedy said higher education funding – or lack thereof – is about the location, rather than the availability, of dollars.

“The problem, in my judgment, isn’t that we don’t have enough money,” he said. “It’s just that we’re spending it in the wrong places.”

Some of those wrong places, Kennedy argued, include the following contracts:

  • Pay for Play: Contract #672113, worth $94,000, provides a program that will assist students to learn valuable social skills through organized play on recess and lunch periods.
  • Cash Strapped: Contract #708691; to inform and educate the Hispanic communities in Rapides and Natchitoches Parishes about seatbelt usage.
  • Monkeying Around: Contract #681869, providing state sponsorship of Chimpanzee Discovery Day, involving observation of chimpanzees in spacious forestry habitat.

The faculty laughed at the comical contracts (whose titular nicknames have been provided by this writer), but Kennedy, sadly, wasn’t kidding.

“I’m not saying these aren’t good things to do,” he said. “What I am saying is each one of these contracts should be judged by this test: Is it as important, or more important, than our universities?”

HB 142 will be heard in the House Appropriations Committee in the next week, and Kennedy is confident it will move through the House to the Senate. But to overcome that hurdle, Kennedy believes it’s up to the public to make its will on the matter heard.

“I wish it wasn’t this way,” he said, “but the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Nobody in our legislature wants to hurt higher education. I don’t believe that for a second. But I don’t think they know the extent to which we run the risk of doing irreparable damage we can’t fix.”

And to those who are politically apathetic – or, rather, consider themselves “too smart for politics” – Kennedy issued one final warning.

“Maybe you’re thinking you’re too smart to get involved in politics, and I understand that,” he said. “But if that’s what you think, you’re destined to be governed by people dumber than you are.”

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