The following is an opinion article, and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.
When oil prices began to free fall earlier this year, most people with a car rejoiced. Now, however, as the price of oil has fallen below $50 a barrel, Louisiana is beginning to face the harsh reality of cheap oil.
For every dollar drop in the price of a barrel of oil, the state loses $10 to $12 million in yearly revenue. Combined with the fact that the state is already facing a budgetary shortfall, the outlook for the Louisiana budget is bleak, with an estimated $1.6 billion shortfall for next year alone. The budgetary crisis is leading to mid-year cuts which Gov. Bobby Jindal plans to introduce on Feb. 6. The bigger battle will come later in the year, however, when the budget for the next is set. There is one clear aspect of the budget that will lose its battle later this year: higher education.
In January, the Jindal administration told higher education leaders to expect a cut of between $200 to 300 million to their funding from the state next year. While the cuts will likely not directly affect Tulane, the impact of the cuts to Louisiana’s public universities, community colleges and technical schools cannot be overstated.
The amount $300 million is roughly one-third of LSU’s entire operating budget, including the Alexandria campus, and is equivalent to the entire public budget of Louisiana’s community and technical colleges. Unfortunately, cuts to these schools have become an annual tradition as of late. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington-based think tank, Louisiana has cut higher education spending by 43.2 percent, or $673 million since 2008.
A major reason for the cuts to higher education comes from the structure of Louisiana’s constitution. With certain provisions of the budget protected from cuts, higher education and the Department of Health and Hospitals remain mostly unprotected provisions of the state budget, meaning they are among the first to be cut when facing a budget shortfall.
In the short term, the state’s universities and colleges can absorb cuts to their budgets and adjust long-term outlook. The volume and continuous presence of cuts, however, have left the status of Louisiana’s higher education in a critical condition.
Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley expressed serious concern after Jindal’s latest announcement. He said the cuts could set Louisiana back not just years, but generations.
To be competitive economically in the future, Louisiana needs investment in higher education, not continuous cuts. The state can no longer solely rely on the hope that medium and high paying oil and gas industry jobs will support the workforce; the state needs investment in jobs that require higher education, and this must be fostered through state investment in its public universities and colleges.
Restructuring the constitution to reduce protected provisions, increasing tax revenue through progressive tax policies, and reducing wasteful spending must all be on the table in the next six months to deal with the crisis. Failure to do so will result in an untenable future for Louisiana’s higher education leaders.
Brendan Lyman is a senior at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org