On Wednesday night, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved HB 754, which would help ease long-standing LSU AgCenter funding concerns. The bill passed with one nay vote and now heads to the state’s Senate Finance Committee where proponents hope to see action before the end of the legislative session in June.
According to William Richardson, Chancellor and Chalkley Family Endowed Chair at the AgCenter, an amendment to the bill – offered by Rep. Jim Fannin -- would “provide dedicated funds to the AgCenter to help offset the more than $19 million in reductions that we have experienced since 2008.”
In the run-up to the vote, a Louisiana Farm Bureau statement said “This has been a long time coming; especially with (Louisiana’s) deficit and the continued cuts to agencies like the AgCenter. Eighty-five percent of its budget comes from the state's general fund with no money from tuition. This is important to all of us.”
Shortly before the vote, Richardson told Farm Press that Fannin’s amendment would dedicate “some sales tax rebate income that (the state hasn’t) been collecting to support the LSU AgCenter ($10 million), the Pennington Biomedical Research Center ($4 million) and Southern University Agricultural Center ($1 million). These are the three institutions in the state that do not have access to tuition revenue in order to balance their budgets.”
What kind of shortfall is the AgCenter looking at? How much would that $10 million cover?
“It would put us close to break-even” said Richardson. “If the bill passes it would basically stop the bleeding. That would be good news considering where we’ve been for the last three years.”
Asked about the Senate Finance Committee’s role, Richardson said“we’re already working with the members of that committee.
“If they keep it intact without changes, it will come back to the House for concurrence and go to (Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal) for a signature. We think the politics are in place to pass it although I’m sure there will be attempts here and there to amend it. We’re quite optimistic and it would be a godsend.
“As I understand it, the funds would be recurring. What we don’t know is if the pool of money increases that means we’ll get a larger amount.”
As for federal funding of land-grant universities in the future, Richardson says the institutions are largely “in the dark, right now. Personally, I don’t think there will be any movement on the farm bill during this election year. I think we’ll see a continuing resolution of some type that will kick the can down the road.
“I expect in 2013 – once we have a new or re-elected president – that the farm bill will get enough attention and we’ll see how they address our issues. We’re just hoping to get federal funding for another year and then get some help when the farm bill is renewed.”