Governor stokes fears, threatens LSU football – The Courier-Journal

12 months ago Comments Off on Governor stokes fears, threatens LSU football – The Courier-Journal

BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ talk of shuttered hospitals, college closures and a canceled football season for the LSU Tigers drew attention Friday to Louisiana’s deep budget woes, mixed with criticism that the Democratic governor was fear-mongering.

Parents and students took to social media and called their legislators, worried about cuts to the state’s free college tuition program, known as TOPS, after Edwards said it wouldn’t be fully funded this year. The governor tried to lessen the immediate concern, saying tuition costs wouldn’t be passed to students but would be absorbed by colleges.

Sports websites lit up with stories that Louisiana’s favorite sport, college football, could be canceled because of budget cuts. LSU’s powerhouse running back Leonard Fournette took to Twitter to announce, “I’m not going nowhere.”

The governor said the statewide televised speech he gave Thursday night provided the harsh reality of how bad the state’s financial troubles really are and the need for tax hikes on people and businesses to close the massive budget gap.

“We’re going to be honest. The numbers are going to be straightforward, and yes, sometimes honesty is brutal,” Edwards said.

But others suggested Edwards was resorting to scare tactics to cajole lawmakers to raise taxes in a special session that begins Sunday.

“I appreciate that he is trying to get a point across to the public and to the Legislature, but (to say that) if we don’t raise revenue … you’re going to shut down universities, shut down TOPS and shut down LSU football is a little over the top,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

Louisiana has a shortfall ranging from $850 million to $950 million in this year’s $25 billion budget, which must be closed by June 30. Next year’s budget hole is pegged at more than $2 billion.

While the governor wants new taxes, some lawmakers in the majority Republican Legislature have shown resistance to the idea, saying they want to cut government spending. In his speech, Edwards said “unimaginable cuts to vital state services” would be required without the taxes he is proposing.

And then he went on to list some of the cuts, describing widespread devastation to health care programs and higher education. He said college campuses would run out of money, forcing massive layoffs and class cancellations.

He said students “will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate and student athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester.”

“That means you can say farewell to college football next fall,” he said.

But the picture painted by Edwards is an extreme, worst-case scenario.

Both Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras said they thought the governor was truthful in laying out the depth of the state’s budget problems. But the Republican leaders also said they didn’t believe it would pan out like the governor described.

“If nothing happens, if the Legislature took no action at all, yes. But I believe the Legislature will rise to the occasion,” said Alario, R-Westwego. “I don’t see the Legislature agreeing to cut TOPS. I don’t see the Legislature agreeing to unplug dialysis machines either.”

Asked whether the speech was too harsh, Barras, R-New Iberia, said: “I might have done it in a different way, but I certainly understand his desire to communicate as quickly as he can the severity of the situation.”

Some conservatives accused Edwards of exaggerating the problems. Gene Mills, president of the Christian conservative organization the Louisiana Family Forum, said Edwards was making people worry about TOPS and the end of college football to “force the largest tax increase in the history of Louisiana.”

Barry Erwin, the leader of the nonpartisan Council For A Better Louisiana, was more muted, sayingEdwards got people’s attention but his rhetoric might have gone too far.

“I think we need to sort of recalibrate the conversation and say, ‘Look, colleges are not going to close and LSU is going to field a football team next year, but there are some serious cuts that higher education is facing,'” Erwin said.

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