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Higher Ed Help: Autonomies and Audits

In the worry over a potential 82 percent state funding cut for higher education, there has been a recurrent theme: more autonomy.

“One of the things we’ve asked for are autonomies,” Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo has said on several occasions. They would allow us — whether it’s audits or procurements — to go out there in the marketplace and get some competitive bids.”

A bill that would grant some of those autonomies, HB 766 by Gretna Rep. Bryan Adams, was heard in House Education Tuesday afternoon.

It says as long as a college or university has three years of past clean audits to show, it is eligible to contract for outside services, without getting legislative approval first. That would also have included hiring outside auditors, until Metairie Rep. Cameron Henry offered an amendment to remove that provision.

“We have a legislative auditor,” Henry said, as reason behind his amendment.

Gov. Jindal’s policy advisor Stafford Palmieri intervened, saying, “This is something that higher education felt was very important to them, and it’s why it was in the bill. The Legislative Auditor obviously has a problem with this.”

Palmieri added, by way of explanation, “The primary issue is not the excellent job that he does. It’s the amount of money that he charges for his service.”

“If we all agree that it’s important to save money wherever we can — particularly in this particular session — why would we make that concession, regardless of who has a problem with it?” New Orleans Rep. Wesley Bishop asked his fellow committee members.

That was enough for Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, who then came to the table to set the record straight.

“By constitution, I am charged with auditing the state of Louisiana. The universities are a part of that. I must render an accountant’s opinion on their financial statements, which I cannot do if I have not done the audit,” Purpera stated.

He also told the committee outside auditors have been tried before, which ended up with some universities having their accreditation put in jeopardy.

As for the cost, Purpera laid the blame back on the higher education institutions’ doorsteps.

“The way they can save on their audit costs is do a better job right up front,” Purpera said.

The amendment was approved, so outside audits are out. The amended bill now heads to the House floor.