The Revenue Estimating Conference meets Friday to put an official number on the mid-year budget shortfall and start the wheels moving on cuts – which are expected to exceed $300-million. Where will the axe fall?
“Because Higher Ed and parts of health care are not protected, I believe that once again, sadly, we’re going to take a large part of the burden," says Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo.
He appears unruffled by the spectre of another financial blow, even as he lists the sobering facts.
“If we take another budget reduction mid-year, it will be the 13th budget reduction in 13 years,” Rallo says. “We have lost well over half of our budget over the last six years. And we are 50 out of 50, on the bottom. We are the least-funded, along any of the measures, by a significant amount.”
But there’s a fire in the Commissioner’s eyes, as he talks about a new report being drafted by the Board of Regents, outlining higher education needs and possible solutions.
“We can no longer assume that we’re ever going to get money back, so we have to right-size our budget initiatives against what we have.”
Some of the options being proposed include making TOPS a scaled award – 80% tuition for freshmen, moving up to 100% for those in their junior and senior years – and requiring heavier course loads for students to keep the scholarships.
There’s also a twinkle in Rallo’s eye when he talks about one of the ideas.
“One of our recommendations is to look at naming rights for TOPS,” he says, in all seriousness. “For example, ‘TOPS scholarship brought to you by…’ and the name of a corporation. They would pay for that opportunity.”
A desperate measure? Perhaps. But he says these are desperate times.
“Everyone indicates that Higher Ed is a priority, but priorities – to me – are funded.”