Since my last campus update on April 9, the legislative session has gotten under way, and as anticipated, numerous bills are being considered that could significantly impact higher education.

In fact, there literally are hundreds of such bills, and while I won't attempt to describe them all, I will provide an overview of the types of bills being considered and their potential impacts.

Of course, the predominant issue we face is the state budget shortfall for next fiscal year and related potential cuts for higher education. Accordingly, there are a multitude of bills which, if enacted, would impact the state budget. Many of these bills would have the effect of increasing state revenues, and include various measures such as eliminating current tax credits and exemptions (e.g., eliminating the state tax credit that reimburses businesses for local ad valorem taxes on inventory), outright tax increases (e.g., increasing the cigarette tax) or changing how corporate and/or personal income taxes are calculated (e.g., eliminating the personal state income tax deduction for federal taxes paid).

Other bills would grant additional autonomies to higher education. Generally, these provide either: 1) autonomy over tuition and fees, or 2) autonomy over certain operational decisions that might allow institutions to reduce operating costs.

As I indicated in my previous communication, I believe multiple measures will be required to resolve the shortfall associated with next year's budget. This task is exacerbated by two things. First, the magnitude of next year's shortfall, which for the state is pegged at $1.2 billion - higher education alone needs $608 million in order to receive the same funding as the current fiscal year. Clearly, these are huge numbers. Second, the Governor's "no new tax pledge" makes it exceedingly difficult for the Legislature to adopt measures necessary to generate new revenue without these being perceived as tax increases, which the Governor has pledged to veto. Without finding highly creative methods of generating new revenues in a "tax-neutral" manner, the Legislature could well end up facing the prospect of attempting to override a gubernatorial veto.

The good news is that my ongoing discussions with legislators continue to reveal a strong determination to resolve the budget challenge and protect higher education from further cuts. Even more importantly, we are beginning to see key pieces of legislation move through the process in support of this goal.

Yesterday, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed a series of revenue measures that could generate as much as $670 million in new revenues. This package of eleven bills included reductions in tax credits, exemptions and rebates as well as a 32 cent increase in the cigarette tax. Approval of these measures was an extremely important early step in the process of resolving the budget crisis, and I am very grateful to the House members who voted for these measures in support of higher education.

As I have been for the more than six years I have served in this role, I am humbled by the opportunity to lead our great university. Make no mistake, it's greatness is clearly attributable to the commitment of so many faculty and staff who continue to diligently serve the interest of our students despite difficult challenges. I am honored to serve with you, especially in these challenging times.

As always, I will continue to update our campus community as these issues evolve.

John L. Crain