Monday, March 17, 2008

Leges Short Colleges

Posted by on Mon, Mar 17, 2008 at 2:51 PM

By: Jeremy Alford

Bobby Jindal, a Republican, threw higher education a bone via an $80 million line item, but lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee nipped $5 million from it last week for a rural roads fund. It was a last-minute change, offered by Rep. Jim Fannin, a Democrat from Jonesboro who chairs the panel, as a way to appease rural lawmakers who felt left out of the session’s spending bonanza. The administration did not oppose the amendment. “We just found out about it last night,” Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis said following the hearing. Many lawmakers wanted to know which projects were on the deferred maintenance list, but Davis and others told them the official catalog wasn’t ready for viewing. Queries to the Board of Regents revealed the 2008 list was still being updated into last weekend, which Davis confirmed. So, where did the $80 million figure come from? “It’s all just a balancing act,” Davis said, adding that this year’s surplus was split up as evenly as possible. While some of the needed repairs are minor — leaky roofs, new windows — the total backlog has some $300 million worth of “currently critical” maintenance projects. Southern University in New Orleans is one example. Crescent City lawmakers rallied behind a push to channel $30 million of Jindal’s proposal to the school, which is still operating in post-Katrina trailers. “That is a travesty,” says Rep. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, whose district includes SUNO. Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, a fellow New Orleans Democrat, added that the issue wouldn’t be able to escape more scrutiny when it’s debated this week on the House floor. “The facilities we count on for our students to learn in are failing us,” she says.

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