Louisiana higher ed braces for cuts as part of state budget fix

Louisiana higher ed braces for cuts as part of state budget fix

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Lawmakers called on university leaders Tuesday to come up with "big ideas" to deal with the state's budget shortfall.

"You have to plan like you can't get it. You can't sit here and plan like we are, you have to plan that you're not getting it," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.

As it stands right now, higher education will likely see a cut in the 10-percent range during the 2016-2017 fiscal year in order to help fill the $750 million shortfall.

That amount could be reduced if lawmakers alter how they appropriate funds next year or if they raise more taxes during a second special session. Schroder said before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education that he does not believe lawmakers are willing to increase revenue any more.

"My crystal ball doesn't think there's going to be any more coming," he said.

Some lawmakers and university leaders pushed back at Schroder, saying that the legislature needs to allocate more money to school. Joe Rallo, the state commissioner of higher education, complained that the state spends more per inmate than per student.

"If you're going to go out there and graduate students to meet these demands, it cannot simply be done if we keep saying do more with less," Rallo said.

"We'll just wallow in mediocrity, and if that's what we decide to do, I guess that's what you do in survival mode," said Rep. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, a former member of the State Board of Regents.

Many university leaders, including LSU President F. King Alexander, said that one option may be to make the schools more autonomous from the state, allowing them to have more control over things like tuition and fees.

"I'm asking you to A) help fund real performance, B) if you're not going to do that, cut us free," Alexander said.

LSU, which already took a roughly $10 million hit this year to cover TOPS expenses that the state could not afford, could face a $12 million cut next fiscal year at the main campus alone.

Alexander told lawmakers that LSU already spends 35 percent less per student than the average SEC school.

"Our competition is not within this state, it is to become the best flagship research institution," Alexander said.

The head of LSU's Health Science Center in New Orleans took things a step further, surprising many lawmakers. Chancellor Larry Hollier called for increased independence from the state to help deal with the budget shortfall.

"I would like to move toward privatization of the health sciences center in New Orleans," Hollier said.

That would, in effect, help him curb costs for retirement benefits, which he said are "much higher" than those for employees outside of the school system.

The updated executive budget proposal, which takes into account the taxes raised during the special session, will not be released until next Tuesday.

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