NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It's not what many college students around the state wanted to hear as they headed for their Christmas break. On Thursday, state lawmakers approved a nearly $12 million funding cut to Louisiana's higher education system because of the ongoing state government budget crisis.
"Our education is basically the building blocks to the whole advancement of our society, and if emphasis on that is not being placed, then what does that say about our priorities in general?" asked Wyatt Pottorff, a sophomore at the University of New Orleans.
A joint legislative budget panel voted at the state Capitol to slash higher education funding by $11.9 million because of the deficit stemming from the fiscal year that ended on June 30.
"I have to be honest with you, it's not getting higher ed out of the woods a month from now," said Jay Dardenne, commissioner of Administration and Gov. John Bel Edwards' budget chief.
Another student also expressed concern over more cuts.
"I have to come out of pocket for a lot, and it's kind of hard to go to school and then have to work, and I don't have a good-paying job because, you know, I can't get a high-paying job because I'm trying to get an education so I can get a better-paying job," said UNO student Kimberly Williams.
Initially it was proposed that higher education could lose $18 million to help resolve the latest budget crisis.
"I think the universities have decided that when you spread that over the university systems, it's not going to be as painful as it could be," said State Sen. President John Alario, R-Westwego.
"We reduced that number to $12 million by looking at some additional monies through overages and collections and things along those lines. It kind of kicks the can down the road a little bit," said State Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.
The TOPS Scholarship program, which already is not fully-funded for the spring semester, was spared more cuts. But some other areas of higher education will feel the effects of the budget trimming.
The Board of Regents, which sets standards for the state's colleges and universities, will have its funding reduced by more than $360,000; the LSU System by $5.5 million; the Southern University System almost $700,000; the University of Louisiana System, which includes the University of New Orleans, will be cut by $3.4 million; and the Louisiana Community and Technical Colleges System by over $1.8 million.
LSU's leader told lawmakers a day earlier that the state's flagship school is losing professors over the constant financial uncertainty.
"We would take notice if we were losing football coaches," LSU President F. King Alexander said.
And unfortunately, the current fiscal year's budget is not in great shape.
"I think there's a better chance of Leonard Fournette coming back for his senior year than there is of us not having to recognize a shortfall about $300 million in a month from now," said Dardenne.
Tax revenues are not as robust as anticipated, in part because of an economic slump.
"Our problem is the unemployment rate. We're the second-highest in unemployment in the nation, and the main factor driving that is oil and gas companies have laid off a lot of people," Alario stated.
"Without raising additional revenue, you'll see a situation where we're facing those kinds of cuts both for last year, this year, and unfortunately potentially for years to come," said Bishop.
And some university leaders as well as college attendees are concerned that the ongoing money problems could encourage more students to seek education outside the state.
"People are going with what's best affordable for them," said Williams.