If the Louisiana Legislature isn’t able to fill the $750 million hole it faces in the current state budget by June 30, then higher education institutions will face a $131 million hit — about half of that at LSU alone.
In a budget update on Friday, LSU President F. King Alexander said the university has been asked to submit a plan that anticipates a $65 million cut in the current fiscal year — just in case lawmakers are unable to bridge the budget gap.
“Remember, these cuts have not yet come to fruition, but the numbers don’t lie — we are in for a long legislative season that will generate troubling news stories,” Alexander writes.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne met with Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo, Alexander and other leaders on Wednesday to discuss the state’s looming fiscal crisis. Beyond the current budget year, a $1.9 billion shortfall is anticipated for the budget that begins July 1, but Alexander said his immediate concern is the challenges that the current shortfall would create if budgets are slashed in the coming months.
Edwards is expected to call a special legislative session Feb. 14 to address the current year’s shortfall, as well as the gap in the coming year.
This week, Edwards’ administration offered up a series of tax proposals for state lawmakers to consider.
To resolve the current year’s shortfall, Edwards’ administration has proposed pulling $128 million from the state’s “rainy day” funds and $200 million in one-time coastal oil spill settlement funds, as well as making some cuts to discretionary statutory dedications in the budget that are not constitutionally protected.
But it’s unclear whether those oil spill settlement dollars will be available. The Associated Press reported this week that the plan may conflict with a two-year-old legal settlement the state reached in a lawsuit over the rainy day fund.
Edwards also has proposed a 25 percent increase in the state sales tax — from 4 cents to 5 cents — to pump new revenue into the current budget year.
His administration estimates that proposal would bring in about $216 million by the time the budget ends June 30.
During a conference call Friday afternoon, Alexander said LSU leaders are putting together a plan for how they would implement the cuts to the current year if legislators are unable to come up with additional funding to plug the hole. He said everything is on the table, including potentially not holding summer session this year.
“It’s going to mean hundreds, perhaps thousands of layoffs throughout the state,” he said. “These are catastrophic cuts if we don’t make the right societal choices.”
Edwards’ administration, meanwhile, stressed that it is urging lawmakers to work together during the special session to come up with a plan that will avoid the cuts.
“These are the kinds of historic and painful statewide cuts that Gov. Edwards does not want to see visited on any of Louisiana’s students, parents or professors, the kinds of cuts that the governor hopes to avoid in the future by structurally repairing the budget long-term,” said Julie Baxter Payer, a spokeswoman for the administration.