Rep. Gene Reynolds, District 10, participated in a panel discussion Tuesday with the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, and officials with higher education are worried about further cuts to their already dwindling budgets.

He said education officials are looking for stability in their schools’ finances.

“I don’t blame them,” he said. “Everybody is scared about the budget, and I don’t blame them. I think we need to come to a point where we can say, ‘You’re going to get a certain amount of money each year.’ This way, they can plan what they’re going to do each year, and have the autonomy to set their tuitions where they want to.”

He said there are likely some cuts in the budget for higher education, but with the budget already in the hole $400 million, he has no idea what they will be.
“It’s really too early to say there are going to be cuts next year, because we really don’t know,” he said.

The revenue estimating conference will begin in May, and with temporary sales taxes set to roll off in another year, Reynolds said they are going to have to find a way to fix the budget to stop the cuts. At the same time, legislators will have to work to close the $400 million gap for the coming fiscal year.

With this year’s session set as a fiscal one, Reynolds explained the process by which the final budget will be adopted. Gov. John Bel Edwards will present his budget proposal, and it will then go to the appropriations and House ways and means committees.

“It depends on what comes out of those two committees as to what we vote on on the House floor,” he said. “Some plans will be presented, and appropriations and the ways and means committees – those two will be the pressure points. Those two committees will be the ones who do the majority of the work, so we’ll have to wait and see what comes out of there.”

As for higher education, one of his focuses will be on TOPS, the state’s college scholarship program.

“I’m going to check into TOPS and see if there’s some eligibility for TOPS,” he said. “A lot of times, students will go to school for one semester, quit and go to work, and if they’re in good standing, then they have that eligibility. If you decide to come back at 24 or 25 years old, then TOPS will still be there.”

The regular session begins April 10 and is expected to end in June.