Under what leaders are calling a “doomsday scenario,” Louisiana’s public universities and colleges would get about $123 million in state funding to split among their campuses next year — about an 82 percent cut from their current funding level.
That’s the budget the state Board of Regents has instructed college leaders to start preparing for, though officials are hoping that the funding outlook will improve dramatically during the legislative session.
“It’s just not possible,” Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo said during a recent meeting with The Advocate’s editorial board.
To put that worst-case scenario into perspective, the state would spend about $600 per student on direct campus funding. It would spend an additional $267 million on the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, which provides tuition assistance to Louisiana high school graduates who meet certain academic benchmarks and attend college in the state.
Rallo, who took on his duties as higher education commissioner just three months ago, has been on a media blitz, appearing on local television programs, meeting with newspaper editorial boards and courting support from business and community leaders.
His theme: Higher education needs to be funded at least at its current level, about $1 billion, in the state budget that starts July 1.
He said it’s up to the Legislature, which begins its 2015 session on April 13, to figure out where the money comes from but that colleges and universities need a “significant and sustainable” funding stream.
“We need to move away from patchwork, one-time dollars,” Rallo said.
Under the preliminary funding recommendation that the Board of Regents has adopted, nearly 500 positions would be eliminated on college campuses.
Rallo said he has been in contact with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration every day. School leaders and members of the Board of Regents also have been meeting with Jindal’s office and state legislators.
LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander and “five of the most influential” members of the LSU Board of Supervisors recently met with Jindal to stress the devastating impact that deep cuts to higher education funding would have on the university.
“This budget reduction is so large we’d have to furlough everybody for the entire year,” Alexander said during a meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club. “We want people to know what this may feel like at the end of the day.”
The state’s higher education leaders seem to agree that the Jindal administration and legislators are looking for ways to address the issue and lessen the blow to colleges and universities in the coming year.
“The administration is very, very focused on keeping us whole,” Board of Regents Chairman Roy Martin said during a recent meeting.
But it remains unclear what that plan could look like.
“Whatever it is, I don’t think we’ve seen it yet,” said Kevin Cunningham, a legislative liaison for Southern University.
The Southern University System received about $47.1 million in the current state budget.
Under the “doomsday scenario,” the system would receive just $7 million, said Kevin Appleton, Southern University’s vice president for finance and business affairs.
On top of that, higher education will face additional costs in the coming year, tied to auditing, health insurance and other mandated expenses, Appleton said.
“All of those would have to be absorbed in addition to the $40 million cut,” he said.
Jindal’s executive budget recommendation would fill part of the gap by increasing cigarette taxes and eliminating some tax credit reimbursements, while creating a new tax credit that would shift to students.
But parts of that plan have met staunch opposition — particularly a proposal that would affect tax credits for the state’s inventory tax. No bill has been prefiled to implement that proposal.
“That has not set well with a number of people,” Cunningham said.