LSUE escapes heavy budget blow

By J. Anfenson-Comeau

jamieenews@bellsouth.net

Governor Bobby Jindal’s budget revision last week dealt a glancing blow to Louisiana higher education, but the worst may be yet to come, with the LSU system bracing for possible cuts of 23 percent or greater in the upcoming fiscal year.

The governor’s knife cut into higher education for $55 million for the current fiscal year, approximately half the $109 million cut recommended by the Revenue Estimating Conference last month.

LSU campuses will take a 4.6 percent cut for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, which ends June 30. For LSU at Eunice that’s almost $379,000.

“It’s still not great, but it’s better than we expected,” LSUE Chancellor William ‘Bill’ Nunez said Tuesday.

Nunez has said previously that the school will make up the current budget shortfall by leaving vacant positions open and reducing part-time faculty and staff.

The Louisiana Technical and Community College System was spared the budget-cutting knife, on the grounds that the system is vital to “workforce development”; preferential treatment which doesn’t sit well with Nunez.

“We’re proud to be in LSU, and we know we have to take our lumps with the rest of the LSU system, but in terms of economic development, we have a lot of the same impact as the LTCCS.

“It’s shortsighted to say that one entity is involved in economic development and not others,” Nunez said, noting that alone among LSU campuses, LSUE has seen an increase in student enrollment numbers in the 2008-2009 school year.

Despite that, cuts to the LSU system are spread evenly amongst LSU campuses, regardless of growth or lack thereof.

Of bigger concern, however, is the upcoming 2009-2010 fiscal year, beginning July 1, in which the state is expected to have to face a two-billion-dollar budget cut.

The bulk of that money is likely to come from health care and higher education, as most other areas are constitutionally or legislatively protected.

Nunez said that the LSU system has been told to prepare for possible cuts of 23 percent or higher.

A 23 percent cut would mean a loss of approximately 2 million dollars to LSUE’s 2009-2010 budget.

Should that happen, Nunez said that LSUE would be forced to lay off faculty and staff, and dismantle many of LSUE’s programs.

“To rebuild a program after you’ve dismantled it is dang near impossible,” Nunez said.

Nunez noted that 80 percent of the school’s budget is in personnel; the other 20 percent, primarily maintenance, “keeps the buildings heated and cooled, and keeps the lights on. We don’t want to have to cut personnel, but there’s no way you can avoid it with cuts that deep.”

“Unless very dramatic actions are taken by the governor and the Legislature, or we have an unexpected windfall, we are facing irreparable damage for the upcoming fiscal year,” Nunez stated.

Nunez said he was grateful to the governor for reducing the cut to higher education this year, and expressed hope that Jindal and the legislators would find a way to ease the burden for next year.

One option open to the governor is to use the state’s “rainy day” fund.

That fund, however, can only be touched once every two years, for a maximum of one-third the amount of the fund, which currently totals $285 million.

The governor’s top budget advisor, Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, recently said that option is not yet on the table.

Nunez said he hopes that some solution can be found to free up money in order to avoid irreparable harm to higher education in Louisiana.

“We’re really going to need creative leadership out of our Legislature and governor,” Nunez said. “We just have to get past next year, and for that we need good leadership.”

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