In New Orleans, we celebrate three seasons: Carnival, crawfish and football. But we’re becoming accustomed to a new one — budget crisis season. As the state’s largest city, New Orleans is affected more by these cuts than others. We count on our public universities for education and research necessary to build an innovative economy and to solve the health disparities faced by our citizens. Cutting higher education and health care runs counter to those needs and ensures that we will struggle to keep our city and region moving forward.
Numbers do not lie — our budget shortfall is significant. But a state cannot grow by destroying its future. The present crisis is about whether LSU can keep pace with the lowest state-funded colleges and universities in the nation. Success in these terms is hardly worth celebrating, but it must be achieved before we can turn our attention to building a stronger LSU. A competitive and nationally recognized university not only attracts business to our state, but it also keeps homegrown talent right here in Louisiana.
LSU alone has a research-intensive flagship, two medical schools, a biomedical research center, and an agricultural research and outreach center. It represents an economic impact of $3.9 billion to our state, of which $888 million in sales and $391 million in earnings are felt right here in New Orleans. And to top it off, LSU is a great investment. For every dollar the state invests in LSU, the university provides a return of more than $5.
In terms of health, our citizens face a daunting challenge. Not only does Louisiana have disproportionately high rates of cancer, diabetes and other diseases, but we also face a projected shortage of doctors and trained medical professionals. Cutting the schools that conduct the research to improve our health and train our physicians simply does not make any sense.
The politics of the situation are overwhelming. No one wants to pay higher taxes, but you would be similarly hard-pressed to find anyone willing to sacrifice their children’s future to balance our budget. There has to be a better way to handle our state’s finances, and our legislators need to find a way to ensure that budget cut season does not become another Louisiana tradition.
Tough choices lie ahead for our elected officials, but we need to let them know that LSU can’t be on the chopping block anymore. New Orleans needs LSU, and LSU needs our support.
A. Kirk Gasperecz