Bills filed to rein in TOPS costs
BATON ROUGE - Lawmakers and the widow of Patrick F. Taylor, the architect of TOPS in Louisiana, said Wednesday they planned to introduce legislation which would put some limits on the popular state scholarship program's costs and awards.
Senators Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) and Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) pre-filed a bill which would require any increases to the amount of money awarded through TOPS after then 2015-2016 school year to be first approved by lawmakers. Right now the program automatically increases the award whenever tuition rises.
"We've got to control the exponential growth of costs so it doesn't become vulnerable to a future governor or a future legislature who wants to get rid of it," said Appel.
Phyllis Taylor said Wednesday she supports the legislation, which is intended to rein in the costs of the popular program. "This legislation will give assurance to students and families, that at least a set amount will be available for four years tuition," said Taylor.
State fiscal experts estimate TOPS could cost the state $285 million this year, and $387 million by the 2018-2019 school year.
The popularity of the program has made changing it a challenge for lawmakers. Previous efforts have all failed, and Governor Bobby Jindal made it clear he doesn't plan on touching it despite the $1.6 billion budget hole the state must fill in the upcoming session.
The governor's office said Jindal would oppose any hard caps to TOPS awards, but said they were reviewing this proposal. Roy Martin, chairman of the Louisiana Board of Regents, insisted the bill establishes a "floor" instead of a cap, since lawmakers could increase the award totals.