State treasurer encouraging support for higher education bill

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - "If they don't hear from our faculty, and they haven't heard from the faculty, they think 'Oh ok, they're making it work.'"

At a Friday meeting with Southern University's faculty senate, State Treasurer John Kennedy encouraged faculty members to show up at the Capitol and support House Bill 142. It would direct every department in state government to reduce spending on consulting contracts by ten percent. Those are contracts between the state and so-called experts to provide advice and other services.

With some 19,000 consulting contracts costing the state $5.28 billion annually, a ten percent reduction would mean $528 million would be freed up for higher education every year.

"I'm not saying that all of our consultants are bad people and they're not providing value," Kennedy said. "But when we're cutting LSU and Southern and Delgado and BRCC, we don't need to be paying a consultant - and this is a real contract - $60,000 a year to advise Hispanic citizens in Rapides and Natchitoches parish to wear their seatbelts. We don't need to paying $94,000 to a California company to come into Louisiana and analyze how our kids play at recess."

Many of the faculty members in attendance agreed that the continued cuts are driving away the best and brightest professors and students.

But this is Kennedy's third attempt to get the bill passed.

"Anytime you're taking away $530 million from an interest group like consultants, they're gonna fight," he said. "You tell me what's more important, these consultants or our universities? And we're not getting rid of the consultants, we're just saying, 'Look, reduce your spending by ten percent."

In 2013, the bill cleared the House, but missed getting out of the Senate Finance Committee by one vote. Kennedy hopes this year legislators will listen to the ones who've bore the brunt of the deep cuts to education.

"To me it's a good common sense approach that should appeal to fiscal conservatives," said SUBR Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller. "It's reducing the amount of money that's going out into contracts and it brings that money back home where we most need it."

Kennedy plans to meet with other faculty senates in the coming days, hoping this third time is the charm.

"Part of what we need to do is bring our voices to the Legislature so that we can begin to talk in dialogue," Miller said. "I think if we can do that in greater numbers with a little better organization we can join hands with the folks in the Legislature to bring some of this very common sense legislation to fruition."

Governor Jindal opposed the bill in past years, saying it would hurt the state's privatization efforts. Kennedy said he's working with the governor's staff to change their minds this time around.

"It is a disgrace when we spend $5.28 billion a year on 19,000 consultants while every day we've got faculty members at UNO, at Southern, at LSU, BRCC, they're getting phone calls from the University of Texas, the University of Alabama, and Ole Miss and the University of Georgia and Harvard saying, 'Hey, c'mon up here, we'll hire you. We respect higher education. You don't have to worry about us wrecking our universities.' This bill will fix that," Kennedy said.

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