The possibility of another budget cut to higher education hangs in the balance while the Louisiana Legislature meets for their third special session in a year to solve the $304 million budget shortfall.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan does not propose any more cuts to higher education and instead proposes the use of $119 million from the “rainy day fund,” or the Louisiana Budget Stabilization Fund.
However, some legislators, mainly House Republicans, see Edwards’ proposal as a short-term Band-Aid for the budget crisis and prefer deeper, long-term cuts, meaning yet another cut to higher education.
“Not using the [rainy day fund] would inflict more pain upon Louisianans than is necessary or advisable,” Edwards said in his opening speech to the Legislature on Feb. 13.
Edwards’ communications director, Richard Garbo, met with Student Government Association presidents and student media representatives from Louisiana universities to discuss the future of higher education in the state.
Northwestern State’s SGA President, John Pearce, was among the university presidents who met at the Capitol on Feb. 14. He spoke to SGA in a meeting at NSU the previous day to discuss possible questions for the governor.
“Our funding has been cut by 40 percent; the national average is 20 percent,” Pearce said at the meeting. “We also lead the nation in most incarcerations, and our country is the incarceration capital of the world, so just think about that…They’re putting more resources towards prisons than education.”
In addition to sparing higher education, Edwards’ plan would spare K-12 education, prisons and some other areas, while cutting funds from health care and the Legislature’s own budget. Authorization to use the rainy day fund requires approval from two-thirds of the Legislature; their decision must be finalized by midnight on Feb.22.
House Republicans tried to negotiate with Edwards with a plan that uses only $50 million of the rainy day fund, but makes cuts to higher education by $12 million, K-12 by $6 million, incarceration facilities by $9 million and health programs by $44 million.
Garbo said the reason higher education and health care are easy targets for budget cuts is they are not protected by the state’s constitution. Instead of changing the budget through the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, Edwards had to call a special session to shield higher education from further cuts. Garbo said the governor plans to propose structural budget reforms during the special session in April to stop this recurring problem.
“Edwards understands that, while he didn’t create this problem, it’s his obligation to fix it, so he puts forth a plan in hopes that we can make some real changes in April,” Garbo said. “And I think there are just some legislators who don’t wanna do that. And when we say legislators…there is a small minority, but a very powerful minor that we call the ‘caucus of no.’”
Edwards’ press secretary, Shauna Sanford, said that consistency is key for students who want to make their concerns known to legislators.
“When the session is in, come up here; be up here,” Sanford said. “You have to keep pressing forward if that is what you really, really want and you’re concerned. There’s power in numbers. We’ve seen that.”