James Buchanan aptly defined public-choice theory as "politics without romance." With higher education much in the news lately, I was reminded of this timeless anecdote from law professor Andrew Spiropoulos.
My last year working for Todd Hiett, then state speaker of the House, I was involved in budget negotiations with Senate Democrats. We had massive revenue surpluses. Our priorities were cutting taxes and increasing transportation funding. We asked Senate Democrats to tell us their first priority.
What do you think that was? Pay raises for hardworking and lowly paid state employees? Aid for the poor? Nope. It was more money for higher education. We were floored. Then we thought about it. Senate Democrats were facing a deserved political exile at the hands of the voters. They needed a cushy place to land and knew that higher education was insulated from political control. We are cursed with an antiquated and absurd higher education governance structure put in place to hamstring the Alfalfa Bill Murrays. This structure prevents the governor and Legislature from controlling the state regents’ budget. The soon-to-be ex-politicians and their senior staff decamped for the regents, where they are still on the public payroll.