Colleges in Louisiana could be facing significant cuts next year because Governor Bobby Jindal’s budget relies on financing plans that may not be guaranteed passage by state lawmakers.
Jindal proposed $372 million to pay for higher education, coming from the scale-back of tax break programs in the state. However, this is dependent on legislative approval, and businesses across the state are already up in arms over the idea.
An additional $211 million of the funding would ask lawmakers to look into a number of money-generating ideas not included in the budget or to offer their own ideas. That funding would also need separate legislative approval, writes Melinda Deslatte for The Town Talk.
If lawmakers are not able to come to an agreement with the governor pertaining to how to raise annual revenue streams, higher education could face a decrease in state funding of up to $583 million. That amounts to over 63% of the state general fund money received this year.
The state is already dealing with a budget shortfall of $1.6 billion next year, so new sources of revenue may be needed.
College system leaders had differing reactions to the proposal, with some worrying more than others.
According to Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, the idea of finding new revenue sources for higher education is “encouraging.”
“I am optimistic that collectively the administration, the Legislature and the higher education leadership will find budget solutions,” Sullivan said in a statement.
For now, higher education leaders are left uncertain of the amount of money they will receive from the state on July 1. At the same time, they are at work deciding on class schedules and program offerings for students.
While the future remains unclear in terms of budget cuts for higher education in Louisiana, lawmakers have said they would like to find a way to keep any cuts as minimal as possible. A final version of the budget will not be released until June, with negotiations on the issue continuing until then. In the meantime, higher education officials are being asked to put in their own ideas concerning how to create money for their campuses, including fee hikes and tuition increases.
“The only manageable scenario is zero cuts,” Southern University System President Ronald Mason said in a statement. “We are hopeful and will continue working with the governor and the Legislature to come up with solutions to ensure the survival of public universities in Louisiana.”
Jindal’s proposed budget did include full funding for the free college tuition program in the state called TOPS. The program, which is estimated to cost $284 million next year, will help 55,000 students attend college. The cost is an increase of $34 million from last year.