Jinda spares higher ed at a price

Is Gov. Bobby Jindal now trying to pit university and college presidents/faculty against state workers?

That certainly seemed to be the case recently when he dangled a $100 million carrot before state college system presidents (and certain legislators), promising that state colleges would share an extra $100 million on the condition that lawmakers pass his state retirement system package during the upcoming legislative session.

This is a new tactic for the governor, who appears to be playing on the fears of college/university presidents concerned their institutions might take large hits as the result of yet another anticipated $900 million budgetary shortfall.

Jindal Chief of Staff Stephen Waguespack said the governor’s executive budget, unveiled to lawmakers Thursday, keeps higher education funding at its present level in the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Waguespack told the higher education officials if the Legislature approves Jindal’s proposal to overhaul the retirement system for thousands of state employees, the $100 million saved through cheaper retirement costs at universities would stay with the campuses and would not be used to stop cuts elsewhere in state government.

Jindal’s suggestion is intended to build support for his proposed retirement changes among lawmakers with colleges in their districts. The changes would, if approved, increase rank-and-file state employee contributions by 3 percent, shrink benefits and push back the age for collecting retirement payments. New state employees would shift from defined benefits to defined contributions, similar to cheaper 401(k) type accounts.

The $100 million college deal is in direct contrast to Jindal’s plans to funnel the 3 percent increase from state employees in every other agency directly into the state’s general fund.

The governor’s proposed budget claims that 6,371 state jobs will be eliminated this year – 2,837 of those in higher education. But when pushed for an explanation by legislators during the Joint Committee on the Budget at which Jindal’s executive budget was formally introduced, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater admitted during questioning that “only a handful” of jobs would actually be lost in higher education. He explained that most of the eliminated jobs would be already vacant positions.

Lawmakers did not ask and no one from the administration explained how the elimination of vacant positions would create a savings as Jindal claimed.

For example, a PowerPoint presentation by Rainwater asserted that “122 vacant positions” in the Department of Children and Family Services would be eliminated “at a savings of $6.2 million.” The details went unquestioned