NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards' plan for erasing the $304 million budget shortfall does not propose more cuts to higher education in the state or the popular TOPS program. That is good news for college students anxious over the latest state budget crisis.
"Why constantly cut back from something that's benefiting us, you know?" said Glenn Sylvan, a student at the University of New Orleans.
Even though the governor's outline for solving the budget mess spares state-funded colleges and universities as well as K-12 schools, that is no guarantee that state lawmakers may not propose reductions.
"One of the major things that this state needs to learn is not only that you have to invest in other infrastructure, but education is really important. And from where I come, that is very lacking and our country is really backward," said Gunjan Ghimire, another UNO student.
Edwards proposes to use $119.6 million of the state's Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.
Cuts he wants include almost $128 million from the Louisiana Department of health; $8 million in excess funds from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor set aside for a new office building; almost $4 million from the attorney general's escrow account balance, along with reductions in statutory dedications related to the AG and the State Department of Transportation and Development.
"I think making use of the Rainy Day Fund makes an awful lot of sense. We then get to avoid about $120 million in cuts that without the Rainy Day Fund we would not be able to protect our critical priorities to the extent we can by utilizing those funds," the governor said Monday about his budget reduction plan.
"What this administration has done, unfortunately, it's the same thing that the previous administration has done is they take some of our most vulnerable citizens and taxpayers and use them as bargaining chips to force members to do things that they wouldn't ordinary do," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who is chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Some Republicans in the Legislature are not convinced that a special session is needed and argued that the governor could have cut enough from the budget without calling lawmakers back to the state capitol early. And many oppose the idea of dipping into the Rainy Day Fund.
"We've raised about $2 billion since John Bel Edwards has been elected in tax increases, in fees, given his administration is actually quoted as saying $ 2 Billion isn't enough money, I think my constituents and the majority of people who live in this state say that $2 billion is more than enough," said Henry.
And college students said regardless of the outcome of the special session they are sick and tired of higher education being threatened by spending cuts."
"I see the governor is backed into a corner, too, so I don't know how they are going to do it, Ghimire said.
Rep. Henry said the overall cuts to higher education in recent years have not been as much as some may think because many campuses fees have increased to offset state cuts.
The special session begins on Feb. 13 and must end by midnight on Feb. 22.