State budget committee votes to fully fund TOPS, cut health care

(WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards said a budget approved by the majority House Appropriations Committee Monday "is not worth the paper it's printed on."

The committee passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that fully funds TOPS but cuts state-funded health care.

On local college campuses, there is renewed concern about how large the TOPS scholarships will be for the new school year.

"It actually motivates students to go to college, and it's like, it's hard, we need money," said UNO student John Mathis.

He and Orlando Smiley are both engineering majors at UNO.

"It really pays for most of my tuition, so if they start cutting TOPS, it's really going to affect me. I had to actually get a job to pay for the rest of school," said Smiley.

Members of the House appropriations Committee approved HB1 after the majority Republican committee voted to amend it to fully fund TOPs for the 2018-2019 school year. It would be paid for out of the additional $346 million the state is to realize from higher state income tax revenues.

"Now since students are making decisions, to send a message to our students that it's our priority to fully fund TOPS and Go-Grants moving forward," said Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge.

"We've already been through a special session where if we wanted to send a message to the students of this state, we would have generated revenue sufficient to be able to do that. But we didn't," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans and House speaker pro tempore.

Leger said fully funding TOPS would leave only $100 million of the extra revenues for other areas facing cuts.

"You are aware that there's $656 million in state general fund cuts to the Department of Health?" said Leger to Foil.

"I am aware that the Department of Health's budget is short," answered Foil.

After the House panel's vote the governor issued the following statement:

"In rushing to pass amendments out, the House Appropriations Committee proved what we've been saying all along – there simply isn't a way to fashion a budget that adequately funds our state's pressing needs. TOPS is absolutely a priority and should be fully funded, but so should higher education institutions, health care for our seniors and those with disabilities, funding for medical schools in Shreveport and New Orleans, and our partner hospitals. Now we can see that it's not possible to do that without replacing more of the revenue that is expiring.  This budget document is not worth the paper it's printed on, and gives nothing but false hope to students and parents who want to attend a Louisiana university or community and technical college. What we saw today from the House Appropriations Committee was not a serious attempt to tackle the problems we face.

And private companies running state-owned hospitals said recently if they do not get adequate funds from the state there will be hundreds of layoffs and services will be affected. Some put the Edwards administration on notice even that they will pull out of their agreement to operate the facilities.

"If these hospitals are not open for the purpose of being our partners then I think what you'll probably see is a return to the mad rush to emergency rooms where they can't be turned away," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, a Republican.

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