BATON ROUGE - Today, Governor John Bel Edwards signed the supplemental appropriations bill, House Bill 69 from the 2016 Second Extraordinary Legislative Session, and vetoed two items within the bill. The first veto concerns an appropriation that would have taken away $250,000 in necessary funding for Early Steps, a vital program for children 0-3 years of age with developmental disabilities. The second veto eliminates a provision that directed a “conditional appropriation” of any potential new revenue that comes in next year be split evenly between TOPS, the Board of Regents, and the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).
“From the beginning of my administration, I have made it clear that I will budget openly and honestly with the people of Louisiana,” said Gov. Edwards. “Providing for a potential appropriation of money on the mere hope that new revenues will be recognized is a continuation of the tricks and gimmicks of the previous administration. I presented a plan that fully funded TOPS, LDH, and higher education. The Legislature chose not to follow this plan or present a plan of its own, and is instead relying on this provision to give false hope to the public, while limiting our ability to pay down the state’s debt or adequately respond should disaster strike our state. This is another example of dishonest budgeting, and the days of fiscal mismanagement of that magnitude are behind us.”
In this message, Gov. Edwards explains that, even though he has serious concerns about the TOPS “front-loading” language, he believes that vetoing this language would likely lead to litigation that would cause significant uncertainty and chaos mere weeks before the fall semester begins. Therefore, Gov. Edwards did not veto this language.
While this “front-loading” language requires all of the HB 69 TOPS funding ($68 million) to be put towards the fall semester, the remaining TOPS funding the Legislature raised in HB 1 of the regular session amounts to only $149 million. When that amount of remaining TOPS funding is split between the two semesters, that leaves $142 million total for TOPS in the fall semester and $74.5 million for TOPS in the spring semester. Typically, TOPS is funded at more than $150 million each fall semester, with TOPS costing $300 million for the full year.
“While the language in HB 69 states that ‘the monies appropriated herein shall be used to fully fund the TOPS award for the fall semester,’ this is a mathematical impossibility, and it is disingenuous for anyone in the legislature to tout this as having fully-funded this program,” said Gov. Edwards. “Students should be prepared for cuts to TOPS awards in the fall semester and an even larger cut in the spring semester. While I had a plan that would have fully-funded TOPS for the entire academic year, the legislature did not raise enough revenue or identify enough spending cuts to fully fund the program, despite having had the opportunity to do so in two special sessions.”
The governor also signed an executive order today aimed at operating state government more efficiently and guarding against Louisiana suffering a budget deficit in fiscal year 2016-17. The executive order implements a freeze on the ability of unclassified employees within the executive branch of state government to receive salary increases. A copy of that executive order can be found here.