Gov. Edwards meets with higher education 'stakeholders'

Edwards meets with Higher Education "stakeholders"

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Leaders in higher educations are sounding the alarm of possible consequences to the historic mid-year budget cuts that may be coming.

"$131 million, if that comes to pass, probably, institutions are going to be shutting down," said Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Joseph Rallo

It's a worst case scenario people have already heard from system presidents, who spoke last week of cutting staff, courses and hikes in tuition in the face of slashed budgets.

However, in a private meeting, Rallo talked about the ripple effect of those deep cuts to a different crowd, stakeholders that make up a kind of think tank for higher ed.

The Higher Education Stakeholders Collaborative was formed last year to discuss goals and needs for the state's education system. It's made up of business, education, and policy groups including the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Budget Project, and the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Many of these same groups are facing their own possible consequences from the budget crisis. Rallo said bringing everyone to the same table allows them to talk about concerns and ideas.

"Put on the table types of things that they're willing to live with or to support and that had not been done in the past," said Rallo.

These stakeholders also got to quiz Governor John Bel Edwards behind closed doors Monday about his proposed tax increases and their impact on education. Edwards has been meeting with different interest groups across the state to discuss his plans for the budget one on one.

"I think there was a common understanding in the room that that is a price that is too high for the state of Louisiana," said Edwards. "We cannot dismantle higher education to the degree of what would happen should we go forward with cuts like this."

According to Rallo, the stakeholders were especially interested in the governor's proposed "clean penny" state sales tax and tobacco tax increases, and how higher education would use the new revenue.

"What we would do, once again, is try to remedy some of the shortfalls in the employees," said Rallo.

Edwards again talked about the importance of the legislature working together to find a solution. Edwards said that will involve sacrifices from all sides.

The governor spent Monday morning speaking with Republican lawmakers about the budget challenges ahead.

"I just believe that the stakes are so high that the people of Louisiana are going to come together. That's going to happen in the legislature. We're not going to be Democrats and Republicans first, we're going to be Louisianians first," said Edwards.

Back at the office of the Board of Regents, Rallo is also hopeful that such a dire possible outcome for higher education will build support among lawmakers.

"It's probably going to be worse that what we're looking at right now. Unless, we can get legislatures and others behind us to work and help us to remedy some of those shortfalls," said Rallo.

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