F. King Alexander 041317

LSU President F. King Alexander awaits his turn Thursday, April 13, 2017, at a House Appropriations subcommittee discussing financing of higher education institutions.

Advocate Photo by Mark Ballard

You can't blame LSU boosters for pouncing on the news that the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships are fully funded in the budget that lawmakers finally got around to passing last week.

Last year's 30 percent shortfall, amid a serious budget crisis, definitely shook faith in TOPS, and caused some students who'd been counting on free tuition as long as they met the middling criteria to shop around. Right after the Legislature adjourned, LSU's Alumni Association celebrated the return to normal by inviting them back into the fold.

"LSU is going to try to recruit some of those high school seniors who chose to go out-of-state because they were uncertain about TOPS," the group's blast email said.

But while their TOPS awards are safe for the 2017-2018 year (assuming there are no mid-year budget cuts to this particular line-item), there's no guarantee that the same thing will happen in 2018-2019 or beyond.

If this year's budget negotiations were tough, even more daunting challenges lie ahead. Topping the list is the fiscal cliff, the looming loss of $1.2 billion or so in temporary revenue slated to fall off the books a year from now that lawmakers had planned to address during this year's session, but didn't. They also failed to pass several proposals to restructure TOPS to slow down the growth in cost.

To believe the threat is over is to believe that the Louisiana Legislature will rise to the occasion and make the hard choices necessary to put both the budget and the TOPS program on more stable footing. Based on the past couple of years, is there anyone who would put all their money on that?

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.