Jindal pushes university funding budget

Gov. Bobby Jindal is proposing a $24.9 billion state budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year as well as looking to increase college and university funding across the state, a change from five years of consecutive cuts to higher education institutions.
The increase to higher education within the billion-dollar budget includes approximately $142 million, with roughly $90 million derived from student tuition increases. Jindal is proposing state colleges and universities keep the additional tuition revenue rather than using the funds to offset budget cuts.
President John L. Crain said the announcement of Jindal’s support for further higher education funding is welcome.
“While we are very early in the process, and many things could change over the course of the legislative session, the funding for higher education expected to be included in the Executive Budget is welcome news and much appreciated,” said Crain in a campus budget update.
Of the roughly $142 million, about $90 million comes from tuition increases and self-generated fees. Of that $90 million, approximately $87 million in tuition hikes are only allowed through the GRAD Act, which was enacted in 2010.
Jindal also announced his support for the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy program, which is designed to situate higher education with the state’s job market, and proposed that higher education leaders support the initiative as well.
If legislators were to support the WISE plan, according to Crain, it would result in $40 million of reoccurring new funds for higher education. Crain said the allocation of that $40 million to state institutions would take into account many factors, including degree production in various disciplines aligned with critical, current and projected, state workforce needs.
The roughly $52 million in additional higher education funding from the state general fund would be paid for by the elimination of over 1,000 state government positions, along with an increase in state workers’ health insurance premiums.
Furthermore, after six years of continuous, mid-year state budget cuts, less revenue being generated than projected and the state once again having a shortfall of funds, it was announced weeks ago that mid-year cuts would not be triggered.
Crain said the announcement by Jindal hopefully indicated a “swing of the pendulum” for the state and higher education funding altogether.
“As everyone is aware, the current fiscal year is the first in several that Louisiana colleges and universities did not face mid-year budget reductions,” said Crain. “It is my sincere hope the absence of a mid-year cut, in combination with the Governor’s announcement, represent a long-awaited ‘swing of the pendulum’ for Louisiana higher education.”
The overall $24.9 billion state budget includes a $624 million decrease in overall state spending from the 2013-14 fiscal year, as well as a $99 million decrease in state revenue and a $524 million reduction in federal money. According to Jindal’s administration, the budget would not raise any taxes in the state.
Now that the budget has been proposed, it awaits approval by legislators during the 2014 Louisiana Legislative Session which begins March 10 and ends June 2.