Against the backdrop of the Lod Cook Alumni Center, Gov. Bobby Jindal introduced LSU junior Sierra Crump on Thursday as a reason to vote for the first constitutional amendment on the Oct. 22 ballot.
Crump is a first-generation college student studying public relations at LSU through the merit-based TOPS scholarship.
TOPS grants financial aid to students based on grades and test scores. “TOPS has been an incredibly successful program, one that has encouraged students to stay in school,” Jindal said.
Constitutional Amendment No. 1 would dedicate more tobacco settlement dollars to TOPS, formally known as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.
The amendment is among five proposed changes to the state constitution on the October ballot.
• Dedicating an increasing percentage of state surpluses to ensuring that the state retirement systems are fully funded.
• Forbidding legislators from paying the state’s expenses with money from a fund designed to lower medical malpractice insurance costs.
• Fixing a flaw in the state’s “rainy day” fund, also called the Budget Stabilization Fund, to prevent an automatic repayment when money is withdrawn during rough economic times.
• Keeping intact an exemption for New Orleans regarding tax sales. The amendment is necessary because New Orleans’ population diminished after Hurricane Katrina.
The TOPS amendment that Jindal highlighted Thursday includes a hitchhiker.
Jindal vetoed the renewal of a 4-cent state cigarette tax. Legislators revived it by tacking it onto the TOPS amendment. Unlike regular bills such as the state’s operating budget, constitutional amendments do not cross the governor’s desk, preventing him from purging the proposal before it reaches voters.
The governor said he still wants the constitutional amendment to pass even though it will mean renewing the cigarette tax.
“I’m personally going to be voting for the amendment,” he said.
Jindal said the amendment initially would generate an additional $48 million for TOPS by capping the amount of money that flows into the Millennium Trust Fund from the tobacco settlement. Any funds in excess of $1.38 billion would go toward TOPS. The state receives about $58 million a year from the tobacco settlement, 75 percent of which goes into the Millennium Trust Fund.
Phyllis Taylor, the widow of the man for whom the TOPS program is named, said the scholarship program creates opportunities for young people.
“It is vital that we continue to keep this program,” she said. “This election is equally important with any and all others.”
State Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City, said the amendment would shore up TOPS for generations to come.
“You need to remind people who are out there who really aren’t paying attention,” she said. “They need to go to the polls.”
Jindal also declared Friday as Lod Cook Day in recognition of his career and the contributions made by Cook and his late wife, Carole, to LSU and the alumni association, as well as his contributions to the community and the state.
Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden will present Cook with a key to the city at the luncheon for university officials and donors at the Lod Cook Alumni Center.