Gov. Edwards doubts budget cuts can be avoided, but agrees to delay them

Gov. Edwards doubts budget cuts can be avoided, but agrees to delay them

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday that none of the cuts he has proposed to erase the deficit are what he wants to do, but he believes they're necessary given the ongoing financial crisis.

Edwards was to sign an executive order Friday that would trigger hundreds of millions in cuts, but he granted a request by a legislative panel to delay the planned cuts for 30 days in hopes that higher education can be spared.

Allison Chrisman is a math and criminal justice major at Southern University New Orleans. She hates hearing about more planned higher education cuts.

"Instead of some of the things they do put money in favor for, like streets and stuff, I think it should go to education," said Chrisman.

FOX 8 News spoke to Edwards about the cuts that would affect state-funded higher education institutions.

"There's not a single cut on the page that I think is best for the people of Louisiana, but it's just what we have to do," he said.

During the spring and summer of this year, a majority of the Republican-controlled state Legislature rejected portions of the tax packages that the Democratic governor proposed. Edwards said at the time that if passed, the deficit for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, as well as the shortfall for the budget year which starts each July 1, would be resolved. Now the deficit for the previous fiscal year numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We've got to find a lot of money, $313 million out of cuts that we've already done is devastating," said State Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans.

Edwards' budget chief spelled out the administration's plan for erasing the deficit before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee at the state capitol Friday.

"The governor has the unilateral authority to cut up to three percent of the state general fund from a budget unit, and he can do that by executive order," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.

The cuts by the governor would total $276.8 million. Dardenne said the remainder, $35.9 million, would have to be approved by the Budget Committee. Edwards' list of cuts includes nearly $20 million to the higher education system.

"That $18 million cut is significant, but in light of the fact that this year we actually did not cut higher education, in terms of state general fund support from year to the next, they are starting in a much healthier position than they did before. But that's little consolation. It is not what I want to do," Edwards said.

New Orleans has a number of higher education institutions

"Any cut is too much particularly in light of what we've experienced over the years and you know whenever we talk about cuts unfortunately health care and higher education are at the top of the list," said State Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.

During the Budget Committee meeting, lawmakers urged the administration to delay the cuts for 30 days.

"To give us more time to digest the numbers and consider an opportunity to work with you all between now and then," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

Still, the governor is not optimistic cuts can be avoided.

"No, no, I mean there's not, I wish there were. That's just not the reality of the situation, and in fact, the situation is much more likely to get worse before it gets better," he said.

And from the governor on down, there are persistent concerns that college students who have other options will leave the state.

"I'm always concerned about that. Over the last decade, tuition increases in Louisiana have been higher than anywhere else in the country. State general fund cuts to higher education have also led the country. Not a recipe for success and so we are trying to break out of this cycle," said the governor.

"We have other universities from other states that who are coming and competing for our kids here, but there are other ways to keep our kids here, you know," said Bishop.

"Education is more important than anything," Chrisman stated.

And the governor said the current budget is not off to a good start as tax revenues flowing into the state's bank account are less than robust.

"In the current fiscal year, the revenue has not rebounded as was projected either," he said.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.