Governor-Elect Talks Budget, Higher Ed Needs

Dec 16, 2015

Credit Wallis Watkins

Industrial leaders in the Houma-Thibodaux area heard from Governor-elect John Bel Edwards Tuesday. He began the luncheon speech by advising them the state budget crisis is not going to be easily fixed.

“The relatively easy stuff was done years ago. The low-hanging fruit’s been picked,” Edwards said.

He also warned them some of their business tax breaks could be going away.

“We may need to achieve some savings by reducing or eliminating tax expenditures that we then reallocate to higher priority items like higher education.”

Edwards then turned his attention to the more than $700-million in cuts dealt to Louisiana higher education systems over the past eight years.

“Our kids are paying about 100% more in tuition and fees than they did eight years ago. That is not a sustainable path forward,” the Governor-elect told his audience. “It jeopardizes our state as a whole. That’s what makes the TOPS program unsustainable, because the cost of tuition – if it goes up – the cost of that program goes up.”

Edwards has been clear about his intention to cap the TOPS program, but also said he intends to find funding to make the WISE program work as intended -- letting business interests invest in the education of those who will be their future workers.

“It’s a great program. It makes a lot of sense,” Edwards said. “But we are not investing in it properly.”

Noting that the state invested next to nothing in WISE this year, Edwards also pointed out WISE funding for the previous year ended up being unusable.

“Of the $40-million the state came up with, less than $20 million were state General Fund recurring dollars. The rest were Capital Outlay and Community Development Block Grant money, which we found out can’t be used for that purpose,” Edwards told the business and industry leaders from the Nicholls State University area. “And so, while we leveraged that money to get some private sector investment, we’re sitting there with the private sector money. We can’t spend it, because we can’t match it.”

Edwards, who is announcing more of his cabinet members this afternoon, takes office January 11th.