Specifically, our illustrious governor has decided to rehash his attacks on the TOPS program as the current iteration of the Washington Monument Strategy he never ceases to employ amid the state’s budget battles.
What’s the Washington Monument Strategy? For the unwashed, the term derives from an old national political tactic whereby politicians who’d rather raise taxes than cut spending will focus on the most publicly painful items possible in order to magnify the effect of those budget cuts and so build public support for tax increases.
John Bel Edwards knows very little else but the Washington Monument Strategy. And TOPS is his favorite mule to whip. Which brings us to today…
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is telling lawmakers that if they can’t come to a solution on a pending billion dollar revenue shortfall, then they better be prepared to explain to their constituents why there’s no more TOPS college scholarship program.
The governor is set to present a state budget later this week that shows what would happen without that billion dollars.
Lapolitics.com publisher Jeremy Alford says when TOPS was slashed two years ago, “lawmakers saw engagement just kind of go off the charts, whether it was text messages, social media, email, phone calls, lawmakers were just swamped with calls from parents and students.”
Alford says the governor seems to think the prospect of repeating that scenario could prompt lawmakers to re-start negotiations on replacing an expiring one-cent sales tax with a permanent revenue stream.
As we’ve discussed before, there is a specific reason why he’s going after TOPS. Edwards and his people believe, and they’re likely correct, that the majority of the parents of college kids in Louisiana who use TOPS are Republican voters, and the profile they fit is that of suburbanites and/or upper middle class people who shell out big bucks for private school for their kids, in the thinking that when Junior goes off to college they’ll finally get a break because Junior’s grades will be good enough to earn a TOPS scholarship to LSU or Louisiana Tech. And that if you can threaten those parents with the loss of that TOPS scholarship you’ll put them in enough of a financial bind that they’ll call their local legislator and scream at him to vote for a tax increase.
It’s a really immoral and dishonorable bit of politics he’s playing, but he’s played it at every opportunity he’s had so far. Not that it’s worked all that well – Edwards got his sales tax increase back in 2016, but TOPS still got cut and the Republican legislators weren’t completely beaten down by the debate. One imagines the Law of Diminishing Returns will likely kick in here.
But TOPS is Edwards’ go-to victim for budget cuts, and with his budget plans due out on Friday you can bet TOPS is likely to be the most prominent item on his chopping block. He’s hoping to unleash those phone calls from parents in Shenandoah and Old Metairie and River Ranch on Republican legislators in his latest power play for tax increases. The question is whether at some point this gambit backfires on him.
Here’s hoping it does. TOPS is a tiny piece of Louisiana’s budget and there are hundreds of millions of dollars far more unwisely spent than by incentivizing high achievers among graduating high school seniors to attend college in Louisiana with cheap tuition. That ought to be what powers Louisiana’s budget decisions, not political scheming to make higher taxes more palatable.