BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With cuts right around the corner, the president of LSU warned Louisiana lawmakers Wednesday that his university cannot handle many more budget reductions.
"Another cut to higher education furthers the dire straits that we're in. I don't know how much more efficient we can become," President F. King Alexander told the House Appropriations Committee.
For the 16th time in nine years, LSU is once again preparing for the legislative knife.
"It's endless, it's like Ground Hog Day," said Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall.
In order to fix the state's $313 million shortfall left over from last year, higher education will like have to endure another multi-million dollar cut. Back in November, the governor proposed about $18 million in cuts to higher education overall, with more than $8.5 million from LSU. Those could be enacted through executive order. Any changes to that plan could be announced Thursday, at which time legislators could also vote to increase cuts to education.
Over the last decade, LSU has cut back on courses while freezing faculty salaries time and time again, according to Alexander. Meanwhile, competing universities have lured away their LSU faculty by offering them better pay. Overall, Alexander said budget cuts have led to a net loss of 500 faculty members over ten years.
"We would take notice if we were losing football coaches," Alexander told the committee.
With regards to how much the university spends per student, LSU currently ranks near the bottom. The school is 46th out of the 50 flagship schools across the country and 12th out of the 14 SEC schools, according to Alexander.
"This day is the worst day of hearings every year because we talk about what should be the hope of the future of our state, and then we talk about how dramatically we've dis-invested in it over the last nine years," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
Added to that, the shortfall is holding up maintenance projects. The LSU system current has a backlog of $750 million in upkeep projects that cannot be completed under current budget restrictions. About $500 million of those projects are on the main campus.
When it comes to TOPS, which is only partially funded in the spring, Alexander said it is unclear how it will impact enrollment. His bigger concern, he said, is next fall and beyond.
"The uncertainty of all this has the potential to drive the best and brightest out of the state," Alexander said.
Meanwhile, things do not look to improve any time soon. On Tuesday, December 13, economists projected the state could be facing a shortfall for this fiscal year of anywhere from $260 million to $460 million. That could mean even more cuts for universities.
State higher education is currently asking for a 20.5 percent boost in funding next year, or about $188.8 million. That would be enough to fully fund TOPS, as well as increase funding for the Go Gr ants that provide need-based assistance. With the current budget crunch, however, that may not be possible.