Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cuts to higher ed cost jobs down the road

This from Ronnie Ellis in the Glasgow Daily Times:
Jobs, jobs, jobs – listen to Kentucky politicians from either party and you quickly learn his or her “top priority is good jobs and more good jobs.”

Gov. Matt Bevin
Jobs are the rationale used by Republicans who support right to work legislation. They are the justification offered by Democrats and Republicans who fall over one another to offer tax incentives for business or industry.

Jobs and the economy are also at the top of voters’ concerns in polls.

Hardly a week passes that I don’t find in my inbox an email from the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin proclaiming some expansion or re-location to Kentucky by an employer. The same was true for his Democratic predecessor Steve Beshear.

If one of those announcements pertained to your community it’s almost certain you saw a photograph in your hometown newspaper of local officials and state lawmakers celebrating (and of course, taking credit for) the announcement.

So imagine what the General Assembly would do if a Kentucky employer announced the company was eliminating nearly 800 jobs.

Lawmakers went to great lengths to offer help to western Kentucky aluminum smelters a couple of years ago. They have tried for several sessions to help A.K. Steel make upgrades to prevent the permanent loss of about 600 jobs. We’ve approved incentives for the Bourbon industry and the Ark Park (the last equal to this year’s additional 2 percent cuts to higher education).

Shouldn’t we support new or continued employment of several hundred people? For now, let’s dispense with arguments about the efficacy of incentives. No one wants to see their neighbors without work.

But this week when the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Linda Blackford reported the imminent loss of nearly 800 jobs, I didn’t hear a peep from our governor or most legislators even though those 780 or so jobs are spread throughout nearly every corner of the state.

Preserving those jobs wouldn’t require special legislation or incentives from state government. The jobs aren’t victims of foreign competition or declining markets. In fact, demand for their services has never been greater.

No, those jobs are disappearing because the governor and lawmakers continue to cut funding for universities and community colleges – despite a decade of preceding cuts and, for the first time in years, forecasts of state revenue growth.

And unlike jobs whose workers answer consumer calls or make auto parts or distill spirits, these soon to be out of work employees develop our future workforce, which would seem to benefit future job creation.

Heretofore the impact of declining state funding for higher education was borne almost entirely by students and their parents in the form of annual tuition increases. But after a decade of tuition hikes, the rising cost is pricing a college education out of reach for significant numbers of prospective students.

The easy justification lawmakers and Bevin use for this is the need to pour money into the state’s troubled pension plans. That need is absolutely real; but there was sufficient money to do that this year and still maintain funding for higher education at last year’s levels.

But there also appears to be a growing antipathy among some Republicans, including Bevin and several key Republican senators, toward higher education.

Of course their argument is bolstered by the excesses of some leaders in higher education.

Revelations of the over the top compensation for the immediate past president of the community college system and the president of the University of Louisville provide justifiable targets.

But the real victims of those abuses and the dwindling state support for higher education are today’s students – who just happen to be tomorrow’s workforce and taxpayers.

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