At the end of the legislative sessions of 2016, we are left with a budget that still falls $337 million short of what was necessary in order to maintain services provided last year, which means underfunding our safety-net hospitals and state aid for public schools and only funding TOPS at 70%, and continuing the short-sighted practice of investing the minimum amount in higher education just to stay afloat. This is what we are left with after 19 weeks of the somehow still standing vocal minority that some refer to as the Jindal caucus, who refuse to vote to fund these vital services and decline to partially close loopholes for the wealthiest taxpayers and for big business.
Unfortunately, these decisions and nondecisions will affect all Louisianians. It will affect our children, our young families and our elderly. And it will affect our students. A last-minute amendment was added that front-loaded TOPS awards, which will cover full tuition costs in the fall, but will leave our students with only 40% coverage in the spring without the ability to apply for more financial aid. This means that students at LSU will have to find an additional $2,133.30 halfway through the school year to continue their education, students at other colleges across the State will likewise have to find additional dollars to fund the TOPS shortfall. This amendment, along with the provision that one third of any new revenue must go to TOPS, higher education and DHH, leaves us with a budget that, although honest, is deeply flawed. This also strips the executive branch of its constitutional authority to spend funds as necessary throughout the fiscal year to carry out the appropriations made by the legislative branch.
This is a budget that ties our hands and is neglectful of so many other important considerations such as our children, families, youth services, and public safety. To further complicate matters, as we work through a Justice Reinvestment Task Force, these handcuffs will make investment and reform even more difficult to achieve in meaningful corrections activities like drug courts, re-entry programs, job training and education opportunities, as well as alternatives to incarceration.