State higher education commissioner Jim Purcell. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, April 04, 2013 6:16 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget proposal would leave colleges with shaky and uncertain financing next year and create cash flow problems at the schools, Louisiana's higher education commissioner said Thursday.
Commissioner Jim Purcell told the House Appropriations Committee that he's troubled by the governor's budget recommendations for public colleges, which would strip state general fund money from the schools for a sixth straight year.
Jindal's spending plan would plug $490 million in patchwork funding into colleges — dollars that are tied to leases, property sales, legal settlements and legislation that haven't yet happened.
If the dollars don't show up, higher education would take a 19 percent cut in the 2013-14 fiscal year that begins July 1.
"How do you plan, how do you project, how do you hire faculty when you have contingent funds and non-recurring funds in a budget?" said Purcell, head of the Board of Regents.
"At the minimum, I would like to have some of this risk redistributed across all state agencies," he told lawmakers.
Barry Dusse, director of the governor's Office of Planning and Budget, said the Jindal administration is confident the dollars will show up for spending.
"I've been told by those in the executive branch that they're going to be there, like you heard today. Personally, I don't think that's going to happen," said Regents Chairman Clinton "Bubba" Rasberry.
Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, questioned whether the dollars would arrive quickly enough to keep the colleges with enough money in the bank to make regular their regular payroll and meet their ongoing expenses.
"It is a concern strictly from a cash flow issue," said Barbara Goodson, Regents deputy commissioner for finance and administration.
Dusse said the colleges could get "seed" money to help them upfront until the one-time dollars come in, essentially borrowing from other state funds.
College system leaders echoed Purcell's worries.
The governor and lawmakers have slashed annual state funding for higher education by $650 million since 2008. Tuition increases have only closed part of the gap.
"As we look at the appropriations bill, there's a lot of reasons to be even more concerned than we have been in the past," said Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
In addition to the patchwork financing, Jindal's budget proposal would strip more state dollars from higher education. The governor's office says tuition increases will cover the lost state funding.
But higher education leaders and a House budget analyst noted that the tuition hike isn't a dollar-for-dollar swap because there are hardship waivers and needs-based aid for students that shrink the amount of tuition actually collected.
May said the tuition estimates used for his college system this year, for example, were $8 million higher than what will be collected.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, asked why nearly all the patchwork funding was plugged into higher education, rather than spread across several agencies.
"What's your philosophy here? Why are we picking on higher ed?" Schroder asked Dusse.
Dusse didn't directly answer the question, but repeated that the administration expects all of the money to arrive as projected.
The budget hearing came as several GOP lawmakers have accused Jindal of trying to pressure the Board of Regents to fire Purcell, because he disagrees with the governor on how to characterize the budget cuts.
Jindal's office has said that decision is up to the board — but Jindal has named all appointed members.
Suggestions that Purcell's job was at risk came up at Thursday's budget hearing.
"I certainly don't want to get you in any more trouble than you might already be in," Schroder told Purcell at one point.
In another part of the discussion, Purcell talked about his reasons for coming to Louisiana to take the job and said, "I plan to spend a long time here if all goes well."