TOPS

gov.louisiana.gov

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the legislature, my fellow Louisianans:

Good afternoon.

Today, I’m going to be brief.  The time for politics and partisanship is over.  The time for solutions is now.  No more excuses.  The citizens of this state have waited long enough.  They deserve results – now. 

I’m not going to bog you down with the numbers and figures that have been in front of us for more than two years. We don’t need to rehash the tale of how we got here – we all know that by now.

The final act of this year’s special session trilogy is less than a week away, with the administration and many legislators scrambling to find some extra cash for programs like TOPS, which is facing a 30 percent cut. House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry says the Department of Health is one place the state should look if it wants to plug the budget gaps.

 

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Higher Education in Louisiana is about to get pushed off the fiscal cliff. The state will enact severe budget cuts to the T.O.P.S. program and university budgets unless there is a deal to raise more revenue or realocate funds to higher education. 

T.O.P.S. eligible students would only receive 70% funding for tuition. Students at the University of Louisiana Monroe could see a $1,736 out of pocket cost increase  per year to make up for the 30% cut in T.O.P.S.

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Students who had the GPA, but were a few points shy of qualifying for TOPS in high school could get another shot at the scholarship under a bill that is almost to the governor’s desk. The legislation would allow students who scored 17, 18, or 19 on the ACT, but have a 3.2 GPA after two years in college to collect TOPS for their last two years. New Orleans Senator Wesley Bishop is the bill's sponsors.

 

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The regular legislative session is at the halfway point, with issues like TOPS reform, gun control, and gambling expansion mostly dead, while new sexual harassment policies, tougher hazing laws, and medical marijuana expansion have received broad support. Political Analyst Bernie Pinsonat says the session has been bogged down by one issue.

 

 

The yearly attempt at altering TOPS hit a brick wall on the house floor, and Pinsonat says at this point legislators should just give up trying to change the universally popular program.

 

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The chairman of Senate Finance has no desire to approve the budget the House passed last Thursday. Ville Platte Senator Eric LaFleur says he can’t support a spending plan that would kick 46-thousand elderly and disabled people from nursing homes.

 

LaFleur says, "I will never vote for this budget. I will not allow for a thousand people to be thrown out into the streets. I'd be embarrassed, and I'm not even running again for office."

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Governor John Bel Edwards says the proposed budget that was approved by the House is a non-starter, and if it reaches his desk, he’s not signing it. The budget maintains higher ed, and funds TOPS at 80 percent, but includes steep cuts to healthcare that could shutter public-private hospitals that care for the poor. Edwards says it’s a budget unworthy of the people of Louisiana

 

Edwards says, "The types of cuts that I just described to you do not happen in the state of Louisiana.The state is better than this. They deserve better than this."

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The House narrowly passed a budget that would fund TOPS at 80% and maintain higher ed funding, but would implement deep cuts in healthcare funding, potentially ending public-private partnership hospitals that care for the poor. House Appropriations Chairman Republican Cameron Henry says the state cannot afford to maintain its current healthcare spending.

 

Henry says, "The growth at which Medicaid is expanding is a rate we cannot attain. This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue; this is a math issue."

 

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The House Appropriations Committee is expected to approve a budget today for next fiscal year that will contain 648-million dollars in cuts from the current fiscal year. When the budget process started, lawmakers had a nearly billion dollar budget deficit, but an increase in tax collections has led to a much smaller fiscal cliff. Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry says his committee wants to use that newly recognized revenue for TOPS.

 

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The revenue shortfall the state is facing has declined from 994-million-dollars to 648-million-dollars, as a result of the state collecting more income taxes due to the federal tax overhaul. House Speaker Taylor Barras says the extra money would likely go for higher education and the TOPS program.

 

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