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Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween on the Bayou

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 10:57 PM

The 1978 “slasher” film classic Halloween tells the story of a young boy who killed his sister, was committed to an asylum, and then escaped years later to stalk and slash babysitters — and his family. In Louisiana politics, we could write a companion series based on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s approach to the higher-ed budget — Bayou Halloween: Jindal’s Curse.

In the original, the slasher is driven by madness to kill members of his family. In Louisiana, Jindal is driven by a political madness to slash budgets rather than lose his “tax virginity.” For Jindal, an Ivy-Leaguer and Rhodes Scholar, cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from higher education is the fiscal equivalent of killing one’s family.

You would think that a highly educated governor would make higher education the LAST budget to be slashed. Of course, that would require that he put higher education ahead of his political ambitions and “tax virginity.”

Here’s Jindal’s record on state support for higher education:

• He has cut public colleges and universities by $208 million since 2008.

• This past week, he received plans to cut another $35 million from higher ed in the current fiscal year. Most of those cuts will come from the LSU system, which, coincidentally, provided the impetus for his parents to emigrate from India. His mother attended LSU as a doctoral student.

• In the coming fiscal year (the one that starts next July 1), colleges and universities are bracing for another $290 million — or more — in Jindal-ordered cuts.

That’s a total of more than half a billion dollars in cuts to higher education from a guy who arguably is the best-educated governor Louisiana has ever had. It just goes to show that the value of a good education isn’t what it used to be. Not, at least, when it collides with personal ambition.

In the Halloween movie series, the killer wears a cheesy mask that, it turns out, was the result of a low budget for the original film. It became a hallmark of the slasher character. In the Louisiana version of the horror tale, Jindal wears a mask as well: that of a disciplined budget reformer who’s determined to “hold the line against taxes.”

I’m all for holding the line against taxes. But slashing higher-ed budgets disproportionately is hardly a show of fiscal discipline … or responsibility. While it’s true that constitutional and statutory provisions limit the areas in state government that can be cut — mostly to higher ed and health care — it’s equally true that tough times require a governor to have the boldness to chart a more responsible fiscal course.

Jindal has many wonderful qualities, but “boldness” is not among them. His reaction to the coming fiscal crisis is to ask others to come up with ideas. He offers none of his own.

In a touch of great theater, the student body president of LSU recently penned a letter to newspapers in New Hampshire, Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa asking that our governor return home to take care of his own state. Jindal traveled to those states recently to raise money. Coincidentally, those are all key states in the GOP presidential primary process — the one Jindal claims he’s not interested in.

“On behalf of the students whose hopes for a brighter future will soon be crushed, I beg you to return to Louisiana and fix your state’s serious problems,” wrote J Hudson, a senior in political science and communications. “You’ve neglected your constituents long enough.”

Just as in the original Halloween movie, a member of the slasher’s own “family” has to find the will to pull of his mask.

To be continued.

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