JBE Trashes The Legislature For TOPS Coming Short For The Spring Semester, But He Ought To Look In The Mirror

The AP didn’t even bother to interview anybody on the receiving side of John Bel Edwards’ tirade yesterday over TOPS, so all the public got was this…

Louisiana has “failed” students in the TOPS free college tuition program and risks forcing some of them out of college or pushing them into greater debt because of upcoming cuts, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.

Edwards’ comments came as thousands of students have been receiving notifications reminding them the TOPS awards will only cover 42 percent of tuition costs for the spring semester. That leaves students and parents to come up with the remaining 58 percent.

The Democratic governor had previously objected to Republican-led efforts to “front-load” the TOPS program — with near full funding in the fall semester and deep cuts to tuition payments in the spring. He used the notification of impending cuts to students to repeat that objection.

“As I said in June, the gimmick of ‘front loading’ TOPS gave students and parents false hope for the future. Today, as I said this summer, Louisiana’s budget problems are having a real impact on students and their families,” Edwards said in a statement.

TOPS would have cost nearly $300 million this school year to fully cover tuition for the more than 50,000 eligible students. Lawmakers allocated about $90 million less than that.

Edwards sought to avert cuts to the program with increased tax hikes earlier this year, but Republican lawmakers balked, passing an array of tax increases but stopping short of the dollar figure sought by the governor.

GOP House leaders pushed for the TOPS payments to be front-loaded in the hopes that more money than expected would arrive from the tax hikes they passed. That hasn’t happened, and instead, Louisiana’s budget problems have worsened.

The state faces a $315 million deficit left over from the budget year that ended June 30 and isn’t expected to meet its income projections in the current budget year, widening the shortfall. The Edwards administration is expected to present its budget-cutting plan Friday to close last year’s deficit.

Bear in mind that the state has a $27 billion budget this year, but Edwards couldn’t find that $90 million to pick up the tab for fully funding TOPS in the spring. The legislature, which was buffaloed into giving Edwards $2 billion in tax increases, had plans to fully fund TOPS; Edwards wouldn’t play. He wanted a budget crisis he could use to raise taxes even more so he wouldn’t have to prioritize Louisiana’s spending, and the leges obliged him by front-loading TOPS.

This debacle is on John Bel Edwards. Nobody else. And if he thinks hammering away at the legislature is going to get him anywhere, good luck to him – most people don’t even know who their state representative is, much less how he or she voted on the TOPS issue, and if they do it’s a good bet they’ll listen when the local lege gives his or her side of the story.

But they all know John Bel Edwards. And here’s what else they know – for all the griping about Bobby Jindal and the budget they heard, it wasn’t until John Bel Edwards came along that (1) their taxes got raised big-time and (2) all of a sudden there was no money to fully fund TOPS.

It makes Jindal sure seem like a little better governor than the John Bel Edwardses of the world gave him credit for.

Stephen Waguespack, here at the Hayride yesterday, pointed out why the state’s budget problems persist and seem to keep worsening. It’s the economy, stupid. Louisiana’s economy has been hamstrung by poor conditions in the energy sector and more burdensome federal regulations affected jobs here than in any other state. As a result, we have the third-worst unemployment rate in the country at 6.9 percent and we’ve lost 20,000 jobs in the past year. That’s not Edwards’ fault, but on the other hand he’s certainly not going to fix much of anything by jacking taxes up through the roof and driving away what jobs and capital we do have here.

And increased spending on the Department of Health and Hospitals at the expense of TOPS just means the kids who’ll be Louisiana’s next generation of job creators will get that much further behind in their professional development, because we don’t have a governor who understands the need to prioritize.

On the other hand, the TOPS shortage might send some of Louisiana’s college-aged students to community colleges, which are cheaper and can turn degrees out sooner to serious students, and maybe some of them can enter the job market more quickly with less college debt. For some, the TOPS shortage could be a blessing in disguise.

The guess is most of them won’t thank John Bel Edwards for it, though, and won’t be all that interested in his casting blame on the state legislature.

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