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|Walsworth leery of restored budget cuts|
State Sen. Mike Walsworth said the Senate would look closely at budget cuts the House of Representatives restored when the House approved the state's operating budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
Late last week, the House approved a more than $26 billion budget, which restored some $100 million in cuts for the state's colleges and universities. Earlier this year, Gov. Bobby Jindal unveiled a 2009-10 fiscal year budget that called for some $219 million in cuts for higher education.
Walsworth said the Senate must make sure the sources of money the House used to restore cuts, particularly for higher education, were "real and legitimate."
"Those are the two challenges on the funding side, to make sure the $100 million is real money and to find additional funds to undo these cuts," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "On the cuts side, the challenge is to higher education to work with the Legislature to provide real changes to the way higher education works for Louisiana."
Walsworth also cautioned against using one-time revenues, or non-recurring monies, to restore budget cuts because those solutions are not permanent.
"That's a dangerous thing for us to do, and we're very cautious going down that road again," Walsworth said. "But we thought the cuts were unbearable -- to the point of closure of some of our colleges."
Walsworth said the only long-term fix for higher education funding would entail significant changes to the state's higher education system.
"There is no doubt that higher ed has to change," Walsworth said. "These are just bandages on things that have got to be fixed."
Walsworth stressed that lawmakers were not "picking on higher education" with the budget cuts, but that the funding reductions were due to a "much larger problem."
"When you look to think that you may have to cut one-third of your state general dollars, that's a big time cut and things have to change," Walsworth said. "And, at the end of three years, we may have cut more than one-third of our state general fund."
Current budget projections show Louisiana will have to reduce spending by more than $4 billion in the next three years. The 2009-10 general fund is currently projected to top $9 billion.
While the House fell short of restoring all of the $219-million budget cut facing Louisiana's colleges and universities, Rep. Frank Hoffman said House members worked hard to find almost $100 million to offset cuts proposed by the Jindal administration.
Hoffman said he was pleased the House restored almost one-half of the cuts Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed for higher education earlier this year.
The Jindal administration's budget proposal contained a number of cuts in order to cope with a projected $1.3 billion deficit in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Hoffman said lawmakers were creative and came up with a number of revenue sources to replace the cut funds, including utilizing some federal stimulus money to offset the education shortfall.
"We did some redirecting and, I'm very proud to say that we're still hoping to do a lot more," said Hoffman, R-West Monroe.
Hoffman noted some of the restored funds utilized one-time money, or funds that are not recurring from year to year.
"There are some stimulus dollars in there," Hoffman said. "The overall budget was helped tremendously by that."
Meanwhile, the Legislature approved a measure that would require Louisiana restaurants to inform customers of the source of catfish.
State Rep. Noble Ellington sponsored the measure because he said it would give area catfish farmers a much needed boost in restaurants without harming those establishments.
"It just requires the country of origin of the catfish to be disclosed," Ellington said. "If they are going to serve catfish from outside the United States, they have to tell the people buying it."
State Sen. Francis Thompson shepherded the measure through the Senate agriculture committee on Tuesday.
Thompson, who chairs the agriculture committee, said the bill "levels the playing field a bit" for Louisiana catfish producers who have to compete with cheaper, foreign fish.
"Louisiana producers have to continue to secure a larger share of the market," said Thompson, D-Delhi. "If they're competing with a cheaper product, it puts them at a disadvantage."