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Louisiana budget gap could shut down LSU football

What's one way to get state lawmakers to consider tax legislation? Threaten to effectively shut down one of its top college football programs.

That's exactly what new Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards did.

LSU stadium lightning strike_SIWireThe Louisiana governor's budget warning has hit the state like a bolt of lightning. He says that without tax increases, there could be no LSU football this fall. Click image to view the SI Wire video report via Campus Rush.

Edwards, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Bobby Jindal, took to the airwaves last week to outline the state's economic woes before the Louisiana legislature convened Feb. 14 for a special session.

Facing up to major budget woes: The Pelican State has a budget shortfall this year of up to $950 million. The budget gap for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, is an estimated, and record, $2+ billion.

Edwards has proposed a package of cuts and tax hikes, including increases to sales and personal income rates. If lawmakers don't follow Edwards' plan or fail to come up with a budget of their own, the state will be forced to make cuts instead, including to Louisiana State University (LSU).

Here's some of what Edwards had to say about the budget crisis:

"If the legislature fails to act and we are forced to proceed with these cuts, the LSU Ag Center and parish extension offices in every parish, and Pennington Biomedical Research Center will close by April 1st and the LSU main campus in Baton Rouge will run out of money after April 30th, as will the Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and LSU Eunice. There is no money left for payroll after those dates. The Southern University System, and University of Louisiana System, and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System are in the same boat: without legislators approving new revenue this special session, some campuses will be forced to declare financial bankruptcy, which would include massive layoffs and cancellation of classes."

That's right. Colleges across the state could close their doors. Major research facilities will shut down. Health care and other public services also face drastic cuts if lawmakers can't come up with the funds by this summer.

Calling a budget audible: But it's what will happen beyond the shuttered classrooms that has LSU faculty, students, alumni and especially football fans freaking out:

"If you are a student attending one of these universities, it means that you will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate and student-athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester. That means you can say farewell to college football next fall."

A college football season starting with no LSU Tigers, a team that has won three national college football championships, taking to the field? That's sacrilege in the highly touted Southeastern Conference (SEC).

Will that happen? Not likely.

Football focal point: Although Edwards swears that his words "are not scare tactics; this is reality," they certainly sent shivers down the spines of sports fans.

He's also hoping pretty sure that his incendiary words will get the legislature to focus on the tough choices it must make.

You'd think that a governor wouldn't have to go to such extremes to get lawmakers' attention. But regardless of where we call home, we've all seen how our political representatives at all levels of government too often refuse to face what must be done.

By invoking LSU football, Edwards has made sure that Louisiana lawmakers know their constituents, and much of the rest of the sports world, are now closely watching how they will resolve this fiscal matter.

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