Gov. Edwards begins special session calling on lawmakers to fix fiscal crisis

Gov. Edwards begins special session calling on lawmakers to fix fiscal crisis

Governor John Bel Edwards opened the 2016 special Legislative Session Sunday addressing a budget shortfall for the ages.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - "Today, we face the largest budget deficit in our state's history," said Gov. Edwards. Lawmakers must close an over $900 million immediate shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30 and a $2 billion deficit for the fiscal year after.

The governor wishes to close the deficits on his terms by raising over $800 million in new taxes.

"It's time for fiscal responsibility in this state," said Gov. Edwards.  "No more smoke and no more mirrors."

The governor touched on the future of the TOPS scholarship program. It's $28 million short of being fully-funded.

Sunday, 9News learned over 37,000 students would lose TOPS if proposed cuts go through.

"Are these 37,574 children going to graduate from college," Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, asked the LA Office of Student Financial Assistance.

"I can't answer that right now," replied LOSFA Executive Director Dr. Sujuan Boutte.  "Right now, if those seniors are asking us if they're OK, we really cannot answer if they are or not."

Higher Ed leaders also say it would be harder to earn a scholarship.

TOPS money would go to all students who score higher than a 28 on their ACT tests. Right now, TOPS is being awarded to students with scores as low as 17.

"17 is a tough number for most to get," commented Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, a former public high school teacher.

For students who score a 28 but come from families with higher-incomes would miss out on TOPS money. That goes for students whose families can afford to spend $73,000 or more toward their education.

The governor also stressed lawmakers have just over three weeks to work together on the immediate deficit before the regular session begins the middle of March.

"There is a sense of urgency both with respect to the time that we have within which to work but also just the enormity of the challenge and how important it is that we get this right," said Gov. Edwards.

Day two of the special session begins Monday at 9 a.m. 9News will have complete coverage throughout the day.

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