Unpacking the budget



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Annie Goodman, News Editor

After a long battle over how to fill a nearly $1 billion fiscal cliff, state legislators have passed a bill that will fully fund higher education through 2025. 

When Governor John Bel Edwards was elected to office in 2016, the state was already facing a large budget shortfall. According to Communications Director for Edwards Shauna Sanford, Edwards had to deal with a $1 billion shortfall within his first three months and a $2 billion shortfall the next year. In response to this, Edwards enacted a temporary one-cent sales tax and formed a committee to evaluate nearby tax systems and propose a restructuring of Louisiana’s tax system. The sales tax expired this year leaving legislators with yet another fiscal cliff to solve. 

Since Edwards was elected, he has called seven special sessions, all to discuss the budget according to Sanford. The cliff would cause cuts primarily to higher education and health care. However, after three special sessions this year, House lawmakers voted 88-7 to retain 45 percent of the one-penny sales tax, which expired when the fiscal year ended on June 30.

The tax fills a $32.8 billion budget for the 2019 fiscal year.

“Had funding not been secured by renewing a large enough portion of the one cent sales tax, there would have been sizable cuts made to state support for higher education,” said University President Dr. John L. Crain. “Southeastern has already endured 18 reductions in state funds over the past decade.”

Crain further explained how the state’s budget affects the university’s budget.

“Although state funding does not impact higher education budgets remotely as much as it did a decade ago when it accounted for nearly 70 percent of total funding, it still provides 18 percent of Southeastern’s total enterprise budget,” said Crain. “The remaining 82 percent is generated via such means as tuition, student fees, auxiliaries such as student housing, athletics, Southeastern Foundation support and grants.”

Crain is grateful that students will not have to suffer the effects of a cut to higher education.

“Thankfully, our students can focus on their studies without having to worry about significant increases in costs or decreases in services in order to make up for significant cuts to Southeastern’s operating budget,” said Crain. “The renewal of .45 of a penny in state sales tax provides for relatively stable funding this next fiscal year.”

This temporary tax provides stability for higher education for the next seven years.

“Since the tax renewal extends through 2025, higher education also should be less at risk for future funding reductions,” said Crain. “And of course, since TOPS will be fully funded next year, our TOPS scholarship recipients no longer need worry about having to pay an extra cost of attendance due to reduction of the scholarship amount that was promised to them.”

Crain urges students to be involved with the state’s legislation.

“Students are always encouraged to be aware and engaged in the legislative decisions, which impact the continued success of Southeastern,” said Crain. “The ROAR Network, maintained by our Alumni Association, is an excellent resource for keeping up with the goings-on in Baton Rouge during legislative sessions.”

ROAR stands for Reach Out, Advocate, Rally and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization aiming to educate legislators and government officials on issues concerning higher education according to their website.

“Those who register have access to legislator contact info, bill monitoring and messaging that identifies specific legislation that could either positively or negatively impact Southeastern,” said Crain. “The goal is to keep everyone informed so they may contact legislators if they choose to do so. There’s no cost to register. Go to www.ciclt.net/southeastern to sign up. Our SGA is great about providing opportunities for students to get involved and, when appropriate, let legislators know how their votes will impact the lives of students who make up the citizenry of the future.”