Gov. Bobby Jindal wants economic development projects to receive roughly $80 million freed up by a recently passed TOPS constitutional amendment.
Nearly 70 percent of voters agreed last Saturday to change the state constitution to direct more tobacco settlement dollars to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS.
Using tobacco settlement dollars gives TOPS a new avenue for funding, freeing up some of the taxpayer dollars that are spent each year on the popular college scholarship program.
Jindal did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The governor spent part of his day cutting the ribbon at a new hotel on Bluebonnet Boulevard. He then traveled to Lafayette to attend a fundraiser for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Jindal’s spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, said the governor will ask a legislative budget committee to approve money for economic development projects as needed from the $80 million.
When the Legislature meets next year, the governor will ask for the balance of the money to be deposited into an economic development megafund, Plotkin said.
The megafund is designed to provide incentives for businesses building large projects in Louisiana.
State Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego and sponsor of the constitutional amendment, said using the money for economic development is a good investment. “That will pay dividends,” he said.
Legislators initially wanted $27 million of the freed-up money to go the Louisiana Go Grant and the Louisiana Early Start programs.
Louisiana Go Grant provides need-based financial aid for college tuition. Louisiana Early Start is a pre-kindergarten program.
Legislators included the appropriation in the current year’s state operating budget. Using his line-item veto power, Jindal stripped it out, saying legislators should not base funding on the passage of the constitutional amendment.
“This item is a contingency,” Jindal wrote in his veto message.
State Rep. Jim Fannin said Thursday that he is concerned about the impact another constitutional amendment could have on the state’s pocketbook.
Fannin, D-Jonesboro, is chairman of the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee.
Voters rejected an amendment involving the state’s rainy day fund, or Budget Stabilization Fund. The amendment would have cancelled a lawsuit filed after legislators took $198 million from the fund two years ago without replenishing it.
At the time they took the money to deal with a budget shortfall, legislators said a recent state law prevented a repayment until an extremely high benchmark of revenue collections was achieved. The lawsuit’s plaintiffs disagree with that argument.
If the state loses the lawsuit, which now is being revived, legislators could be forced to deposit $150 million to $200 million into the rainy day fund. The problem is that money already is earmarked to pay the state’s expenses.
Fannin said the $80 million freed up by the TOPS amendment may be needed to pull the state out of a hole.
“One amendment frees up money for another amendment,” he said.