Higher ed commissioner meets with stakeholders; DHH warns of deep cuts

Higher ed commissioner meets with stakeholders; DHH warns of deep cuts

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A top higher education official made the rounds in New Orleans on Tuesday, meeting with college students and university leaders and trying to explain what's at stake in terms of the budget crisis.

"The least amount of money that we're going to have to lose is $70 million and it can go all the way up to $232 million, so depending upon where the cut falls, that will determine the types of things the campuses have to do to make up the shortfall," said Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Joe Rallo.

Rallo participated in a higher education forum Tuesday at the LSU Health Sciences Center's Human Development Center.

"You're talking about three months left for the budget year, and if you have to come up with even $70 million, there are going to be something things that if not closed, certainly curtailed, they're talking  about not having graduation in May, summer school may be canceled," Rallo said.

The deficit for the current fiscal year is $1 billion, and because of that, state-funded colleges and universities brace for more funding setbacks.

"If classes have to be canceled, that means students would receive an incomplete grade. That means athletes who want to play sports in the fall have to receive a grade - if they have an incomplete grade, they're not eligible for fall sports," Rallo said.

As Rallo was in New Orleans, representatives of the Department of Health and Hospitals appeared before the House Appropriations Committee at the State Capitol. Health care services funded by state dollars face the budget scalpel, too.

"We'll start that process this week, and we'll start making these reductions so we can get to the end of the year with this savings of $64 million," said Jeff Reynolds, Under Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals.

"It saddens me that we are in this situation. That puts me in a mindset that I don't want to be in," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

Some worry that private hospitals that now partner with the state to provide health care services may begin backing away.

Gov. John Bel Edwards proposes raising some taxes to help the budget situation, but some Republicans vow to block the tax increases. On the Senate side of the Legislature, measures advanced in committee that will allow for the use of $200 million in non-coastal BP funds to plug holes in the budget, and for the use of $128 million from the state's rainy day fund.

"I think it's sort of a stuttering step. I think you see moments where things move very quickly, and you see moments where things move very slowly. No matter what pace you're running, the race ends in three weeks," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, who chairs the senate committee that considered the measures.

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