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Governor wants TOPS reinstated

By Regina Pergola
On February 21, 2017

Governor John Bel Edwards has plans to better fund higher education programs such as TOPS. However, this is a long term strategy that cannot be completed overnight.
Regina Pergola/The Lion's Roar 

Richard Carbo, the Communications Director at the Office of the Governor and Shauna Sanford, the Press Secretary at the Office of the Governor took questions from student media on behalf of Governor John Bel Edwards concerning higher education budget cuts. 

“Where we are right now, is the governor has made his proposal to the legislature to solve the $304 million shortfall,” said Carbo. “He’s in regular conversation with members of the legislature on how we’re going to do that if they object to his own plan. And recognizing that this is a very short-term solution to a long-term problem, the governor and the legislature that was led by the Republican taskforce over the last year or so are getting to a point in April where they can try and make some structural budget reforms that will kind of minimize the blow that some of these institutions and budget items feel every year.”

Edwards has advocated on behalf of education, and the plan he has proposed does not call for any more financial education cuts. 

“Obviously, this governor, if you’re not familiar, is highly invested in education, and not just K-12, but higher education,” said Carbo. “It’s been a priority of his to turn the page in Louisiana and put us in a position where we can reinvest in higher education.”

The governor called the legislature together for a special session to discuss multiple matters including higher education. Edwards has proposed a plan at this special session to take money out of the Budget Stabilization Fund fund to apply to higher education for the easing of the financial burden on universities and students. 

“He came into office with a real budget crisis that’s kind of limited what he can do in the short term, but knowing that there is a long-term strategy in place to try and put us in a position to reinvest, not just in higher education but also in the TOPS program,” said Carbo. “That’s where we are right now.”

The governor is willing to address the issue of the vulnerability of the education funds, but with the current set up of the law, he would have to revamp the entire state budget and the laws protecting specific programs. 

“I think part of that long-term strategy is stabilizing the budget first, but the only way to really do that is by making some structural budget and tax reforms, eliminating where some funds go within the budget,” said Carbo. “For example, if the legislature wasn’t in special session right now, the only place they could cut would be higher education, healthcare, the Department of Corrections or DCFS, which handles child abuse prevention and foster care and things like that.” 

Edwards is aware of the common student’s struggles and plans to follow through with his plan to restructure the budget.

“What the strategy is for this regular session that starts Apr. 10 is to just do a complete overhaul of the tax code, an overhaul of the structural budget problems that we have right now that will allow us to bring in enough revenue to fund the programs in the state, that you know, a lot of people consider to be priority,” said Carbo. “Because those funds right now are just tied up in tax expenditures and just other areas of the budget. Because it hasn’t been done in so long, the state budget has been a mess with where funds have to go for statutory dedications and everything.”

After this, Carbo believes the governor is confident that adequate funding will be easier to come by. 

“He thinks you’ll bring in sufficient revenue to fund programs like TOPS and higher education, but right now the state’s hands are kind of tied, given that he came into office with two large deficits and then he’s only going mid-year cuts which you have to do,” said Carbo. “The plan that the governor has right now for the special session it does not include cuts to higher education and that’s something he’s really proud of.”

The Press Secretary, Sanford, encourages concerned citizens, specifically students, to get involved and talk to their legislators, through writing letters, calling them or even going to the state capital to speak face to face with them.

“I think you need to be consistent with your involvement, with your educating your peers,” said Sanford. “I think that when session is in, be here, come up here, talk to the legislators and the lawmakers. Make your wishes known. You have to keep doing it, you cannot let up because the situation is what it is and you want to affect change and sometimes change takes time, but you have to keep pressing forward.”

Unfortunately, another plan was proposed by the House of Representatives Republican Leadership to withdraw less funds from the “rainy-day” fund, and cut education more to account for the rest of the financial shortfall. This bill, proposed by Republican House of Representative member Cameron Henry, was scheduled for debate on the floor of the house on Feb. 20. The special session is scheduled to conclude no later than Feb. 22.

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