TOPS Task Forced 3 020718

State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, chaired the TOPS Task Force, which held 12 meetings since September. Morrish's plan to make the most popular form of TOPS a $4,000 per year stipends was one of nine forwarded to the full Legislature.

Advocate Photo by Mark Ballard

Disappointing, a political push, sidestepped votes, clear as mud, dodged remake, avoided recommendations, kicked the can down the road — all of these words and phrases have been used by headline writers and pundits to describe the work of the TOPS Task Force and all, in my opinion, are unfair and misleading descriptions of the work of the diverse and bipartisan task force.

I authored the resolution which created the task force in an attempt to begin a serious discussion on how to salvage the program. I fully support TOPS and would like nothing better than continuous full funding, but growth in the program coupled with state budget realities is making that harder and harder to do. The resolution required the task force to study TOPS, “including a review of the program’s purpose and history, the role of the program in relation to tuition and fees, and other institutional, state, and federal financial assistance programs, and a way to ensure the program’s long-term viability.” I believe the task force fulfilled its purpose. We were not charged with finding agreement among ourselves on a master plan to save TOPS. So what did we do?

Split on almost all proposals, TOPS changes too thorny to strike agreement, lawmakers say

After four months of committee hearings, countless hours of staff research and extensive expert testimony, the task force approved 18 proposals aimed at reforming the operation of TOPS to be included in the report to the full Legislature. Some are technical changes. Others are more substantive and controversial. Not all of the task force members support all of the proposals and some take entirely different approaches to reforming TOPS than others. Despite that lack of consensus, we all believed it was important for the full Legislature and the public to have the opportunity to examine the various proposals for addressing issues with TOPS and moving toward a sustainable program. There are no easy or simple answers, and we on the task force did not expect such.

I encourage citizens to learn more about the TOPS Task Force recommendations and to follow the Legislature’s consideration of any proposals that may move forward.

Dan “Blade” Morrish

state senator