State leaders, agencies brace for impact while state budget mess looms

State leaders, agencies brace for impact while state budget mess looms
LSU President F. King Alexander (Source: WAFB)
LSU President F. King Alexander (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana leaders gathered at the State Capital for a Senate Finance Committee meeting Thursday, though they offered no specifics hints about how they plan to fix the state's budget mess.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told the committee there are limited options for fixing the state's $750 million budget hole.

"There's no good answers, there's no easy solutions, and there's no money to be found under the table anywhere," Dardenne said.

One option that he put off the table was raiding the reserve fund, a common practice of former Gov. Bobby Jindal.

"It's a very serious challenge that we have right now and it's a moment in time where Louisiana has a chance and you have a chance as a legislature to change the ways that we've done some things in the past," Dardenne said.

"We're probably just as much to blame as anybody because we voted for those options that were presented to us. And while we presented some critiques and criticism, we went along with it anyway. So the only way to fix it is for all of us to get together and do it as a team," said Senator K. Eric LaFleur, D - Ville Platte, the chairman of the committee.

Speaking in Lake Charles, Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke about one of the factors influencing the state's budgetary woes: oil prices.

"That industry is suffering, our state is suffering so we have to chart a path to make our way through it so we can have shared sacrifice and turn the corner and have shared prosperity," Edwards said.

While they wait for the legislature to decide how to fill the budget hole, some state agencies are left bracing for possible impact. The Edwards team has already warned state higher education institutions and the Department of Health and Hospitals that they may undergo cuts if the legislature refuses to raise taxes.

At LSU, school leaders spent part of their day cutting the ribbon on a newly renovated Honors College building. Those renovations, paid for with capital outlay funds, cost $5 million. Leaders viewed the refurbished building, with new classrooms and student spaces, as an exciting opportunity.

"Now, I'm going to be able to recruit using this building, and I'm going to be able to keep these Ivy League bound or west coast bound students here in Louisiana," said Jonathan Earle, dean of the Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College.

However, those efforts could be abruptly ended if the legislature does not approve necessary tax hikes and cuts. Budget reductions at LSU could lead to less course offerings, extra student fees, and more.

"We're doing all the right things, however we can't do that without fuel in the tank and we can't do that without resources to support these students," said LSU President F. King Alexander. "Budget reductions like this undoubtedly have substantial impact on their educational careers, the longevity of their education careers if they can't get the courses they need to go forward."

The special legislative session is currently slated to begin after Mardi Gras.

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