BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - An estimated 2,000 students from state-funded colleges and universities rallied on the steps of the Capitol against more possible deep cuts to higher education as the state wrestles with the worst budget crisis in its history.
The rally happened a day before the state House is expected to begin voting on tax proposals that Gov. John Bel Edwards has put forth along with some budget cuts to address the budget crisis.
The Southern University band entertained the students and higher education leaders before speeches began at noon. Students came from all parts of the state to "Bring the Heat" as the rally was called.
"We have one name and that is students, students that have been failed by the state of Louisiana," said Joy Ballard-Oliver of UNO.
Edwards showed up, too.
"We can stop these devastating cuts to higher education," he said.
The deficit for the state budget year that ends June 30 is $1 billion. The money shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is twice that amount.
"I want you to know something because there are a lot of folks out there who will twist my words," Edwards said. "I do not want to cut higher education. I know that we cannot continue with annual double-digit tuition increases. I do not want to end TOPS."
But the governor has said without additional revenues, higher education could face as much as $200 million in cuts over the next four months.
Students said it is an unfair possibility.
"Everybody deserves to get an education. It's imperative that I get my education and get my degree," said Miron Green, a student at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
Edwards cut $21 million in spending for state government on the day the special session began and called for a total of $160 million in cuts that could be made by state lawmakers. He also proposes tax increases that would bring in more than $300 million.
"We're going to fix this problem before we go home," the governor said to loud cheers.
After the rally, Edwards met with leaders of the college and university student government associations.
"I did not want to start office as your governor, and here I am I think in my six weeks asking for new revenue or proposing painful cuts," he said.
Many Republicans oppose higher taxes, and on Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee backed $87 million in additional cuts to state spending, cuts that would affect K-12 public education, an area the governor hoped to shield from spending cuts.