LSU AgCenter faces potentially devastating budget cuts

LSU AgCenterFaced with what they call potentially devastating cuts to research and educational programs, Louisiana State University AgCenter leaders have called on constituents to contact their local lawmakers and educate them on the importance of these programs.

In a call-to-action letter to supporters, AgCenter leaders outlined the dire financial situation they face as a result of the state’s $650 million shortfall. The current budget, along with billions of dollars in state taxes, expires June 30.

“Explain that further budget reductions will cause the elimination of parish-based Extension services, termination of valuable research initiatives, closure of research stations and reduction in teaching programs,” the letter states.

To undo health care cuts the House had approved, the Senate Finance Committee unveiled a “pretend budget” that imposed across-the-board cuts, including more than $96 million in general fund cuts to higher education as well as to TOPS, or Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. TOPS provides scholarships to students attending one of the state’s public universities, colleges or vocational/technical schools.

Under this scenario, the AgCenter could face cuts of more than $10 million, according to the letter. This comes on top of the $20 million, or 18 percent reductions, the AgCenter has endured since 2008.

It is unclear whether the full Senate will go along with this proposal.

At a recent hearing, Commission of Administration Jay Dardenne testified that reductions of this magnitude were not offset by revenue-generating measures, such as renewing the state sales tax, the cuts could devastate AgCenter programs.

The House has struggled to pass any bills that would help Louisiana avoid deeper budget cuts. House members haven’t been able to agree on what taxes, if any, should be approved to replace the ones that are expiring.

During last year’s legislative session, the House also rejected all tax bills, and members did the same thing during a special session earlier this year.

“There is, and has been, much controversy among legislators on taxes,” the AgCenter letter states. “We do not know what currently will actually be palatable when the final vote comes.”

All tax bills, by law, must pass first the House, so the Senate has not had a chance to consider taxes to fix the budget shortfall.