A proposed 5 percent cut in the state higher education and health care budgets has LSU at Eunice Chancellor William ‘Bill’ Nunez seeing red.
“LSUE is responsible for education and health care,” Nunez said, referring to the college’s highly rated nursing program. “So, which arm do you want to cut off? Which half of the body don’t you want?” “I’m actually demoralized about the whole thing,” he added.
The state budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, contains no increases beyond mandated ones, such as for merit pay and rising health care costs.
In addition, two House budget panels recommended last week that an additional $101 million be cut from health and education spending.
Those recommendations will be considered by the Appropriations Committee later this month.
Should the cuts go through, state universities will need to reduce their spending by 5 percent.
Nunez said that 81 percent of his approximately $19 million budget is devoted to personnel, and if the budget cuts pass, personnel will have to be cut.
“It’s just nuts. There’s no way in the world that we would be able to operate our budget without cutting personnel. It’s a people budget,” Nunez said.
LSU System President John Lombardi suggested last week that the Baton Rouge campus would have to raise tuition to absorb costs, but Nunez said that isn’t feasible for LSUE, because the school is already at the maximum it can charge for tuition.
This is especially painful to the LSUE chancellor coming at a time when the state has a budget surplus of over 1 billion dollars, and when LSUE has seen a 4.5 percent increase in enrollment.
Governor Bobby Jindal has urged that the one-time surplus be used to fund non-recurring expenses, such as capital improvements and infrastructure.
“We’ve got a billion and a half, maybe two billion surplus; can someone explain to me why we’re cutting the budget? Maybe I’m missing the story,” Nunez said.
The tax revenue boom in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and rising petroleum prices is not expected to last, and the budget cuts have been proposed as a way of paringspending in anticipation of an expected economic downturn.
Nunez said that states which have turned their economic prospects around have done so through investment in higher education.
“So we just get ourselves up to the southern average, and now we’re cutting ourselves below the average again? This is the Louisiana two-step; one step forward, one step back.”
State representative Mickey Guillory said he also feels this would be a difficult situation for LSUE to be put in.
“Handling a 4.5 percent student increase is going to be difficult with a 5 percent budget cut,” Guillory said.
Guillory said that negotiations are still going on, with the possibility of raising the tuition cap if the budget cuts go through.
“A lot of people are very concerned about cutting the education budget, because it’ll have an impact all over the state,” Guillory said. “So the budget cuts are still up in the air; it’s not a done deal yet.”
In addition, the state’s budget woes have also hit LSUE in the form of the proposed Continuing Education building to be constructed on campus.
LSUE has been in line for a $9.8 million capital outlay appropriation for the building, based on the original estimate, but since then, the hurricanes have caused an increase in material and labor costs, requiring another $1 million to complete the project as originally planned.
Jindal has announced that enrolled projects will be funded but that no extra funds are available for cost increases, and that the projects will have to find a way to work with the original funding.
The project has been in the works for the past 15 years. “Now, just at a time when we’re ready to launch it, we’re finding out that the cupboard is bare,” Nunez said.
Nunez said that the school has been working with the original architect to find a way to scale down the project.
Alternately, the elimination of “pork” projects, projects which do not benefit the state as a whole, might result in increased funding for the continuing ed building and other “true” state projects, Nunez said.
“This is still up in the air, and all these things are possible solutions.