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Story Archives: Budget crunch hits home; Solons vow to fight for higher education
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|Budget crunch hits home; Solons vow to fight for higher education|
The University of Louisiana-Monroe faces an $8.1 million cut in state funding in 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to ULM President James Cofer.
Cofer dispatched a letter to ULM faculty and staff on Tuesday in which he informed them of the proposed cut. The 2009-2010 fiscal year begins July 1.
"It is expected that there will be no relief in fiscal year 2010-2011, and when the (federal) stimulus money is withdrawn in fiscal year 2011-2012, we could face additional revenue shortfalls at the state level," Cofer said.
Coupled with mid-year cuts totaling some $2.3 million in the current fiscal year, the additional cuts bring ULM's total budget reduction to just more than $10.5 million.
Cofer said that's not counting almost $1.5 million in mandatory spending increases, which according to Cofer, are not funded by the state.
Cofer's administration has already begun holding budget meetings, he said.
"The vice presidents, deans and the budget committees are already examining its budgets and developing preliminary recommendations," Cofer said. "Provost Steve Richters appointed a representative committee of faculty who will join the deans and develop a set of priorities for the academic areas."
ULM's annual operating budget hovers around $88 million. However, some $12 million of that is dedicated to funding retirement benefits, utilities costs and other fixed expenses.
The proposed cut in state funding for ULM was part of a $67 million cut the University of Louisiana System is expected to absorb in Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed budget for the new fiscal year. State lawmakers will entertain the Jindal budget when the Legislature convenes its regular session later this month.
The proposed cuts announced by Jindal were prompted by the administration's efforts to piece together a balanced budget amid a shortfall in revenues of some $2 billion. In all, Jindal's proposed state budget for the new fiscal year totals more than $26 billion.
In spite of the budget crunch, area lawmakers were hopeful they could minimize the impact to higher education.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth said the situation was severe.
"Hopefully, we're going to be able to find some ways to reduce that cut," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "They're going to still take a cut, but we've got some choices to make."
State Sen. Bob Kostelka said one area he expected lawmakers to take a look at was duplicated services on the administrative side of higher education.
"There's going to be a lot of things we need to look at, and one of those is ending duplication of programs between the various universities in this state," Kostelka said. "We keep diluting the educational dollars."
While that may mean a reduction in degrees offered at some schools, Kostelka said nothing is off the table, including looking at a consolidation of Louisiana's three university systems into one.
"I think that's where we need to first look before we start talking about trying to protect or unprotect certain things that are in the budget," Kostelka said.
Kostelka noted the difficulty of balancing a budget deficit of this magnitude under Louisiana's current laws.
"It's a lot easier said than done because there are constitutional protections," Kostelka said. "It is devastating, right at a time when education and workforce development is so needed."
Walsworth pointed to the state's projected $2 billion deficit in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. He said declining revenues mean the Legislature will have to make some difficult decisions.
"Unlike the federal government, which can have deficit spending, the state cannot," Walsworth said. "So we will figure out how to balance the budget."
"Hopefully, that won't be on the backs of higher education," Walsworth added.