Louisiana Revenue Estimating Conference

Louisiana's Revenue Estimating Conference meets on Feb. 11, 2019.

The Louisiana Board of Regents has submitted three candidates to fill one of the most influential yet obscure positions in state government.

LSU economist Jim Richardson, who has served on the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference since its inception, is stepping down in June. The Board of Regents is responsible for nominating candidates to be his successor.

On Wednesday, the board nominated Stephen Barnes and Gregory Upton from LSU and Gary Wagner from UL-Lafayette. The state House speaker, the president of the Senate and the governor’s office, who fill the other three seats on the REC, will choose the fourth member from the Regents’ list.

The REC adopts the official revenue forecasts for state government, which dictates how much money lawmakers can spend. REC decisions must be unanimous, and the academic economist is supposed to provide a non-political voice.

“It is an extremely important position,” said Regents member Randy Ewing, a former state senator. “So many times, their expertise has a big influence.”

The REC has received more attention than usual in recent months, as Republican House leaders have voted against choosing a new revenue estimate for the upcoming fiscal year, arguing waiting would allow for a more accurate number. The revenue estimate was supposed to be adopted by Jan. 1. The conference is expected to try again next month.

The Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a New Orleans-based think tank, has questioned the practice of placing an academic on the REC. Public universities are partly funded by tax dollars, so a faculty member might have an incentive to push for a higher revenue projection, the institute argues.

Barnes, an associate professor, directs the Economics and Policy Research Group at LSU’s Department of Economics. Upton is an assistant professor at LSU’s Center for Energy Studies. Wagner holds an endowed chair at ULL’s College of Business Administration.

The Board of Regents also discussed its master plan for the future of higher education in the state. According to the draft discussed on Wednesday, the goal is for 60 percent of working-age adults in the state to have a degree or “high-value credential” by 2030, which would require doubling the number of graduates.

The current proportion of Louisiana residents with a credential or degree is just over 44 percent, the plan document says, as compared to the national average of almost 48 percent.

Some of the tools the draft plan discusses to reach the long-term goal include:

  • Expanding dual enrollment and other opportunities for high school students to earn college credit.
  • Allowing students with academic deficiencies to receive supplemental instruction in credit-bearing courses rather than in traditional remediation classes.
  • Implementing the Carnegie Foundation’s Math Pathways program, meant to help students get through college-level math, which is often a barrier to academic success.
  • Addressing the ancillary costs of higher education, such as replacing textbooks with freely available “open educational resources” when possible.
  • Creating a statewide Prior Learning Assessment system to help adults returning to school apply their existing knowledge toward their degrees.
  • Expanding partnerships with other stakeholders such government agencies, nonprofits and the private sector.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.