More cuts for higher education
Louisiana’s leaders of higher education are preparing to cut another $85 million from their budgets after receiving word from the Jindal administration.
Although Gov. Bobby Jindal said he intends to spare colleges from more cuts this coming year, lower than expected tax collections may force lawmakers to hedge on their earlier promises.
February’s revenue and sales tax collections were much lower than anticipated by state economists. Economists’ projections are used to build the state budget.
Davis, the state commissioner of administration, said more will be known in April once March’s revenue numbers are in after being “perplexed” by February’s figures.
Southern University System interim President Kassie Freeman said additional budget cuts to colleges would be tough to sustain late in the spring semester.
“Certainly it’s very complicating and difficult at this time,” said Freeman, who added she was informed of the potential new cuts late Wednesday night.
Colleges have seen their state funding slashed by about 20 percent during the past 15 months, including $83.9 million slashed in January.
But Jindal also announced late Thursday afternoon via a news release that legislation for proposed constitutional amendments will begin being filed today to divert funds out of state education and tobacco settlement trust funds to better fund education and health care directly, at least in the short term. Such amendments would need two-thirds support from lawmakers and then voter approval.
Typically, higher education and health care are most vulnerable to budget cuts in the state because they are not constitutionally protected.
Although he did not have specific numbers yet, state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine on Tuesday said his budgets need a “prayer.”
Jindal stated he wants to reduce required annual deposits to the tobacco settlement fund, called the Millennium Trust Fund, to free up possibly an extra $30 million for health-care services.
Jindal wants another constitutional amendment to help public schools and colleges dip further into the Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund for budgetary aid. The money comes from a federal oil and gas settlement. The fund is called “8g” money, which stems from the amendment that set it up.
Jindal also wants to try again to allow state government to cut dedicated state funds by up to 10 percent — instead of 5 percent now — so cuts could rely less on schools and hospitals. A similar effort failed last year.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen sent an e-mail to college system presidents late Wednesday asking them to prepare for $84.4 million in possible additional cuts for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Estimated breakdowns Clausen gave were $34.15 million in cuts to the LSU System, $4.4 million for the Southern System, $22.3 million for the University of Louisiana System and $10.1 million for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
LSU System President John Lombardi declined comment on the possible cuts, citing their pending status, noting in an e-mail, “The information on any shortfall remains speculative at the moment, and the tools available to the state to address a possible shortfall are many.”
But Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said he is concerned the possible cuts will become a reality.
The added concern from higher education officials is that cuts will worsen more in 2011 when nearly $290 million in federal stimulus dollars keeping colleges afloat are expected to run dry.
Jindal also has proposed the “La GRAD Act” to give colleges the authority to increase tuition by up to 10 percent per year initially if they meet certain performance standards such as increases graduation rates.
Jindal contends tuition increases will help offset state budget cuts to colleges.