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|Tough times for higher ed|
The eight universities that comprise the University of Louisiana System were officially informed Tuesday that the universities must cut $67 million from their budgets heading into the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
The University of Louisiana at Monroe, La. Tech University and Grambling State University belong to the UL system.
ULM is staring at $8.18 million in cuts; Tech faces $8.26 million in cuts; and Grambling must grapple with $4.88 million in less revenue.
The 2009-2010 fiscal year begins July 1. When the Legislature convenes its regular session later this month state lawmakers will begin the long process of hammering out a spending plan for the state to follow during the new fiscal year.
Gov. Bobby Jindal recently unveiled a more than $26 billion budget for lawmakers to consider for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Jindal's proposed budget contains the $67 million in cuts for the UL system.
It should be noted that Jindal's proposed budget features more than $1 billion in less revenue than the state had at its disposal in the current fiscal year thanks to a decline in tax collections amid a lackluster economy. More specific, a slow down in the oil and gas industry contributed greatly to the decline in tax collections. Remember, severance taxes paid by the oil and gas industry play a major role in financing state government.
Some 60 percent-70 percent of all state appropriations are dedicated by law, though higher education and health care in Louisiana are not dedicated, or protected, by law.
A majority of the state budget is dedicated by law because that's the arrangement the people approved when they signed off of a new state constitution in the early 1970s. Over time, the Legislature proposed amendments to the constitution, which dedicated more state revenues for expenditures that the people desired. And the people approved the amendments at the ballot box.
Thus, higher education and health care stand alone, awaiting a budget-cutting knife, at each and every turn when the Legislature must cut back on the amount of money the state spends.
That's a fairly simplistic explanation of the budget crisis the state -- notably higher education and health care -- faces today.
It is the truth, though.
In the meantime, let us recall that the Legislature approved a host of tax cuts last year. Some of the tax cuts were advocated by the governor. One of them, a roll back in state income taxes, will begin to affect state revenues during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
In all, the 2008 tax cuts total some $700 million.
We suspect our friends in the higher education community and beyond either blame or soon will blame their financial woes on the tax cuts state lawmakers approved last year.
Our friends in the higher education community and beyond would be wrong.
Instead, higher education -- and health care, too -- are staring at deep budget cuts because too many state expenditures are dedicated by law, and those dedications concerning state appropriations need to be lifted as soon as possible. That would give a governor the breathing room to spread around proposed budget cuts in tight economic times such as we are witnessing today.
Yet, we were encouraged not long ago when a Jindal administration official acknowledged the problem the state faces because of dedicated appropriations. Moreover, we were enthused to hear the Jindal administration official say the Legislature may be asked to address the problem during the upcoming regular legislative session.
The administration, though, will have a difficult time selling any proposal aimed at undoing the dedication of state appropriations.
The reality is that too many people in Louisiana do not appreciate higher education. Sadly, they would prefer that the state spend more money on non-essential expenditures such as boat ramps, wildlife refuges and the like.
And that would help explain why Louisiana remains one of the most uneducated and most impoverished states in the Union.
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