By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is one of the most beautiful states with some of the best food in the South, I believe. You simply can’t beat the scenic bayous, cypress swamps, colorful azalea gardens, and the piney Kisatchie forest for natural scenery. The smells of shrimp boats, seafood gumbo, spicy boiled crawfish, and sugary fried beignets waft throughout the state. The music in our state is legendary: jazz, blues, zydeco, country, rock, you name it – we’ve produced superstars here.
Seems like paradise.
Seems like we ought to be rolling in the dough. But, we aren’t.
Governor Jindal is meeting with legislators and working out details in his new budget and the reports are grim. According to LSU President Dr. F. King Alexander, the university is preparing for an 82% state budget cut:
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed state spending plan for the next fiscal year takes more than $500 million away from state colleges and universities to help plug a $1.6 billion budget hole.
That’s an $80 million cut in state funding for LSU. Dr. Alexander said that could force LSU into bankruptcy, leading to faculty layoffs, tuition increases and 2,000 classes being canceled.
“These are all disheartening and very concerning issues that we’re dealing with on a daily basis,” Alexander said. “With our graduation rate being as high as it’s ever been and our numbers being higher than they’ve ever been, our reward for succeeding in such a fashion is to look at the largest budget reduction in the history of LSU or the history of any state.”
It’s a doomsday scenario to be sure, but with Louisiana dealing with one round of higher education cuts after another, they have cut to bare bones already. Another round could indeed be a fiasco to our flagship university system and higher education institutions across the state.
It’s not just higher education that is falling under Jindal’s ax, either: heath care is looking at major cuts as well.
Jindal’s budget for the Department of Health and Hospitals is dependent on funding that isn’t guaranteed; his plan requires twelve separate pieces of legislation must be passed and the odds of that happening are not good. Jindal’s public-private hospital system is in jeopardy:
On Wednesday, we learned just how bad the health care crisis looms for the state. Louisiana is at a healthcare meltdown. For one, the governor’s public-private hospital reform is for now, so uncertain and poorly funded, its future hemorrhages daily.
Meantime, the opening of the billion-dollar-plus University Hospital in New Orleans has been postponed because the cash well is dry. The state’s healthcare industry is on the warpath.
All of this is the result of years of balancing the budget by juggling money from one pot to the other, all funding that is not guaranteed from one year to the next. Now when all the pots are empty the whole game comes to a crashing close.
As Louisiana looks forward to new leadership, we are going to need a governor and a lieutenant governor who are fiscally responsible and can capitalize on the great assets of this state.
Jindal came in with great promise; he’s a brilliant man, but for too long his sights have been set on the national state rather than the job at home. He’s spent as much time out of the state as in it and he has squandered opportunities. He still has his fans and supporters, and personally, I remain certain that his future will lie in a cabinet position in Health and Human Services.
In the meantime, we hope our higher education systems can hang on and our population doesn’t make a mass exodus for the Texas border.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.