BATON ROUGE, La. -- Higher education leaders brace for what could be another round of budget cuts, and this one will come immediately.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said he'll announce his recommendations Friday for how to cut the current budget.
The Revenue Estimating Conference said Wednesday, the Louisiana budget will have to be cut by $319 million dollars in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"It's not anyone's fault," said Southeastern President Dr. Paul Crain, "but the timing is very poor, because we're so far into the fiscal year, most of our funds are spent or obligated."
Dr. Crain was in Covington Thursday to hear Jindal speak to the Northshore Business Council. Jindal told reporters, in his recommendations he'll try to minimize the cuts to higher education. "We're going to be very careful to make sure they don't have to make any ridiculous or disproportionate reductions in the current fiscal year," Jindal said.
The governor outlined the problem in his speech to the council.
"Right now, we've got a crazy situation in the state's budget," Jindal told the audience at the Tchefuncta Country Club. "Over 60 percent of the state's budget is non-discretionary."
$3.9 billion of the state budget is locked up, which is why health care and higher education consistently feel the brunt of budget cuts. In an effort to fix that, Jindal is proposing five constitutional amendments designed to give the state more budget flexibility.
"Over the years, Louisiana has locked up more and more of it's budget," Jindal said. "That's wrong. It hurts health care. It hurts higher education. We're proposing legislation to fix that in this current session."
"I hope that that is a flexibility that the state gains," Crain added.
That flexibility will not in the immediate budget crunch.
Jindal repeated Thursday, the state will not raise taxes.
His options are limited. According to Crain, layoffs would not help much because workers must be given notice and paid their accrued leave time, and the state only has roughly ten weeks to make up the budget shortfall.
Crain said, if the process remains the same as with previous budget cuts, his school will be given a dollar amount to cut, then it's up to school administrators to decide where to make those cuts.
Furloughs have been used around the state in previous budget cuts. A furlough is forced time off without pay. "Furloughs are really bad," Dr. Crain said, "particularly the number of days we might have to furlough people, depending upon how much of this shortfall we have to absorb. It's just really tough because people have to make their mortgage payments and pay their bills."
Some workers, according to Crain, cannot be furloughed for contractual reasons.
"I don't think furloughs generate recurring savings, so I don't think that's really what we need to do to shrink the size of government," Jindal said.
Another possibility is tapping into the state's rainy day fund, which has about $175 million available. Jindal wouldn't rule out the possibility of using the Rainy Day Fund Thursday, but said, "You've got some legislative leaders that feel like they can do that. We're going to hear their arguments in the days to come. I still have concerns about using the rainy day fund because it could cause problems for the state in the near term."
The governor will lay out his plan Friday. He said he has been meeting with legislative and higher education leaders. Because the legislature is in session, he'll propose a supplemental appropriations bill, which the legislature will then have to approve.
He said he'll also offer amendments to balance a $244 million shortfall in the 2011 budget. That budget, he said, will be 18 percent smaller, with 6,000 fewer funded government positions, and no additional cuts to higher education.