Proposed budget cuts would hit TOPS program

BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday proposed closing a $750 million budget shortfall with cuts to the TOPS free college tuition program, safety net hospitals for the poor, colleges, and public schools.

The Democratic governor personally unveiled his recommendations to the House
Appropriations Committee with the opening statement: “I wish I had better news. I don’t. But we’re going to live in the real world.”

His proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year that begins July 1 would provide a little more than one-third of the nearly $300 million financing needed to fully fund TOPS.

The spending plan would only pay for the privatized LSU hospitals in Shreveport, Monroe, New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge, giving them each a 3 percent cut. Safety net hospitals and clinics in Bogalusa, Lake Charles, Alexandria and Houma would be left without financing, threatening them with closure.

Public colleges would lose $46 million and K-12 education would take a $52 million hit. Payments to Louisiana’s private prison operators and sheriffs that house state prisoners in their local jails would take reductions. All 11 re-entry centers for state prisoners would be closed.

Three state museums, five state parks and seven state historic sites would shutter. And a new juvenile lock-up facility in Bunkie wouldn’t open as scheduled.

Lawmakers raised taxes in a special legislative session earlier this year to lessen cuts, but it wasn’t enough to fill all gaps. They can’t raise taxes in the current regular session that runs through June 6. Edwards said he’ll seek another special session later this year to try to boost taxes further to help close the shortfall.

“Make no mistake. We do need additional revenue,” the governor said.

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