The chancellor of the LSU Agricultural Center said Friday the institution “likely” will declare a state of financial emergency next month.
Chancellor Bill Richardson blamed $26 million in direct and indirect budget cuts in more than two years — without having the ability to increase tuition — for the financial problems.
Such an emergency, called exigency, would allow more freedom in laying off tenured faculty, cutting research programs and community outreach services.
The LSU AgCenter last declared exigency for a period after Hurricane Katrina. Exigency declarations made in the past had the effect of scaring away faculty and researchers.
The upcoming exigency request would be presented at the August meeting of the LSU Board of Supervisors and would run through June 30 if it is approved. The current fiscal year began July 1.
“If I don’t get any pushback, we’re going to go ahead with it,” Richardson said Friday.
“We’ve looked at this every which way we can” Richardson told LSU Board members. “We just can’t continue to operate in this fashion and maintain quality.”
In April, the AgCenter announced the permanent phase-out and shutdown of its Calhoun Research Center near Monroe, the Rosepine Research Center in Vernon Parish and the Coastal Area Research Station in Plaquemines Parish, which used to be the citrus station.
Budget cuts played a part, Richardson said at the time, but the “skeleton staffs” at the stations made it logical to shut down three of the AgCenter’s 20 stations and, eventually, save about $750,000 in overhead.
Richardson said the AgCenter has eliminated 328 positions — 27 percent of the work force — in three years, although some of the jobs eliminated were vacancies. That includes 82 people who stepped down through incentive retirement plans.
But not knowing who will retire does not make for strategic planning, Richardson said, so any exigency declaration will come with detailed budgetary and strategic planning.
Richardson likes to emphasize that the LSU center is much more than “plows, sows and cows.” Research and services include everything from crop production to fighting coastal erosion to biotechnology research with chickens for pharmaceutical development, he said.
The AgCenter has received $15 million in direct budget cuts thus far, lowering its total budget to about $97 million, counting self-generated revenues in fees, contracts and grants.
But the AgCenter also lost another $11 million in “unfunded mandates” that the state sometimes funds in areas like insurance, health-care and retirement cost hikes.
LSU System President John Lombardi said he is unsure whether financial exigency is required. But he said he is “certain” the AgCenter can no longer afford to function with large levels of research and community service programs.
Bob Keaton, LSU System special budget assistant, said he does not see any of the problems easing next year either.
“Next year will be a challenge for everyone based on the fact there’s a lot of one-time money in this year’s (state) budget,” Keaton said.