Jindal Budget Links College Financing To Uncertain Proposals

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget hasn't eased concerns that Louisiana's colleges could face steep cuts next year because the proposal relies on financing plans that appear far from certain to gain passage with lawmakers.

         Much of the funding Jindal proposes to pay for higher education, $372 million, is dependent on the scale-back of certain tax break programs, which would need legislative approval. Businesses already are pushing back on a sizable portion of that recommendation.

         Another slice of financing totaling $211 million would require lawmakers to sift through a list of money-generating ideas that aren't included in the budget or offer other ideas of their own. The dollars would need separate legislative approvals.

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         If lawmakers and the governor don't settle on ways to raise annual revenue streams, higher education faces a worst-case of losing up to $583 million in state financing next year — more than 63 percent of the state general fund money it receives this year.

         Jindal and lawmakers are grappling with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall next year, so they need to drum up new sources of cash if they want to continue paying for many of the state's programs and services.

         College system leaders greeted the release of Jindal's budget proposal on Friday with differing reactions, some seeming more worried than others.

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         Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, called the inclusion of ideas for generating new revenue to help colleges "encouraging."

         "I am optimistic that collectively the administration, the Legislature and the higher education leadership will find budget solutions," Sullivan said in a statement.

         LSU System President F. King Alexander described the threat of "historic" and "significant" cuts in his statements after the governor's budget was unveiled. But he also said he appreciated Jindal's willingness to consider possible solutions to offset the gap.

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         The budget proposal leaves higher education leaders in a precarious position, uncertain of how much money they'll have to spend in the fiscal year that begins July 1 while trying to decide class schedules and program offerings for students.

         Colleges haven't been given assurances they won't face cuts, but lawmakers say they want to find ways to keep those reductions as minimal as possible. Negotiations will continue until a final version of the budget is written in June, and higher education officials are offering their own ideas to generate more money for their campuses, like fee hikes and tuition increases.

         "The only manageable scenario is zero cuts," Southern University System President Ronald Mason said in a statement. "We are hopeful and will continue working with the governor and the Legislature to come up with solutions to ensure the survival of public universities in Louisiana."

         Jindal did include full funding in his budget proposal for the state's free college tuition program called TOPS. The program is slated to cost $284 million next year to cover more than 55,000 students, an increase of $34 million.


         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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