With the news that next year’s revenue is expected to improve by $350 million, the Legislature is officially facing a smaller budget shortfall of $650 million. On Monday, House Appropriations is meeting to determine how to spend that additional revenue in next year’s budget.
Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge) is on the Appropriations committee. He says with a number of holes in the budget, there’s plenty of places to put the money.
“Of course we’re interested in TOPS and what happens in higher education. That’s a strong priority in our area. We’ll do our best to try and provide our college students with everything we possibly can,” he said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards was required to submit a balanced budget to the Legislature. His proposal removed all of the state’s funding to the TOPS scholarship program - that’s 80 percent of the program’s total budget.
Now with this additional money, Gov. Edwards wants to put $50 million back into TOPS. Members of the Appropriations committee can vote to send even more. But Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) wants to see the money go to other areas, too, like health care and family services.
“I just can’t see looking at one program getting the majority of the money over some of the other issues we have within our state,” she explained.
Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) says with a $650-million shortfall, budget cuts will be extensive.
“Whether you believe that the TOPS program is the highest priority, or you understand that graduate medical education at LSU Shreveport and in LSU New Orleans and our medical schools needs to be funded, or you believe in the hospice program or breast- and cervical-cancer screenings and treatment. The list goes on and on,” he explained.
If the budget makes it out of the committee, it’s expected to be debated on the House floor this week.