BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - More than half of state parks, museums, and historic sites could close next year as part of efforts to fix the budget, according to Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
Nungesser called the proposed cuts to the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism for next year "devastating" when speaking before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Currently, the tourism department is being asked to take a 30 percent cut as part of efforts to balance the 2016-2017 fiscal year budget, which is currently short $750 million.
Locally, the Locust Grove State Historic site in West Feliciana Parish and Centenary State Historic Site in East Feliciana Parish would close, as would the popular Tickfaw and Grand Isle parks.
Of the state's 15 historic sites, only four would remain open: Rosedown Plantation, Audubon, Poverty Point Historic Site and Port Hudson.
As for state parks, 10 of the current 22 would remain open under the proposed list.
- Jimmie Davis
- Sam Houston
- Poverty Point Reservoir
- Lake Fausse Pointe
- Palmetto Island
- South Toledo Bend
- Bayou Segnette
- Lake D'Arbonne
If the cuts happen, the following 11 historic sites and 12 state parks would likely close:
The proposed closures would result with a total of 111 employees losing their jobs, 22 from historic sites and 89 from state parks.
Many of the state-operated museums could also close as part of the proposed budget reductions. That includes the 1850 House in New Orleans and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.
The Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge and the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint will both remain operational but with reduced resources. The Cabildo and Presbytere Museums off of Jackson Square in the French Quarter will remain open.
Nungesser told legislators at a time when oil revenue is low, closing state parks and other destinations is by no means helpful to the economy.
"If we cut, and these cuts stay in place, and we close these facilities and people come shake the door and leave Louisiana saying the museum was closed, the state park was closed -- those are our best salesmen," he said. "Closing them is not an option in my eyes if we want to move Louisiana forward and bring more people here."
Like other agencies, tourism has seen cuts in recent years.
"We have cut, cut, cut since 2008 to the bone. There's nothing that can be cut," said Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville.
Nungesser added his office is looking at increasing cabin fees to help bring in more money to sustain state parks. They are also considering introducing private-public partnerships for things like canoe rentals.
Nungesser told lawmakers that he hope the cuts will not have to happen and that there is another special session to fill the $750 million budget shortfall. However, the notion of raising more taxes to fix the deficit did not sit well with all lawmakers looking to find alternatives.
"Things are hard on everybody, private partners may not be as available as five years ago, but we have to start somewhere," said Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall.
The official executive budget proposal is expected to be released Friday.