TOPS could become even more vulnerable as state deficit becomes clearer

TOPS could become even more vulnerable as state deficit becomes clearer

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Lawmakers say the TOPS scholarship program may be more vulnerable than ever, as the state deals with a budget deficit estimated at between $300 and $500 million.

A legislative committee will update state officials on the mid-year budget situation Friday, and it looks like a special session is a strong possibility.

"Tops is extremely vulnerable this year. You're looking at 30 to 40 percent cut, but going forward we have to account for what we have, and right now we can't afford TOPS," said State Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans).

On Friday, the Revenue Estimating Conference will update lawmakers on a state mid year budget deficit expected to be as high as $500 million, and more cuts will likely be placed on lawmakers' table in a special session for mid February.

"I think it's imminent," said State Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans).

Last year, the state filled a nearly $1.5 billion deficit, in part, with temporary taxes. The governor could enact cuts himself, but he has indicated he will call lawmakers in to help.

"It's prudent to bring the Legislature in, because we could spread those cuts to other departments," said Morrell.

If the session is called, Morrell believes lawmakers will look at more than just cutting departments.

"Whenever I talk about raising revenue, it's not taxes it's getting rid of credits and exemptions," Morrell said.

Lawmakers say if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act without finding a suitable substitute, the situation in Louisiana will be even more dire.

"If Congress repealed the Affordable Care Act, it would implode the budget of Louisiana," said Morrell.

"When you talk about the tens of thousands who won't be covered anymore, where do they go?" asked Carter.

That's a situation that keeps Medicaid recipient and cancer sufferer Ricky Myles up at night.

"It's scary. I think about it all the time. It's scary," he said.

Myles depends on insurance through the Affordable Care Act to treat cancer of the lungs, liver, and lymph nodes. But the  impacts of Obamacare cuts could also affect employment.

"There have been tens of thousands of jobs created in the insurance industry to manage the Affordable Care Act. If that's repealed, all those people lose their jobs," said Morrell.

And that could make a troubling state budget even worse.

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