Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal threatened to veto the entire state budget if it relies on what he views as a “tax increase” — including one that depends on a temporary suspension of some tax credits.
“I’ve told the Legislature that I will veto the budget if it is balanced using revenues from tax increases,” he told reporters during a briefing in his State Capitol office Thursday. The remarks are among his firmest statements yet in the fight over how to address Louisiana’s looming $1.6 billion funding shortfall in the coming year.
Jindal said he expects significant movement on budget-related bills in House committees next week but still described the process of cobbling together a spending plan for the budget that begins July 1 as “a lot of moving parts.”
“We know there are a lot of ideas,” Jindal said. “I think you’ll see a number of ideas advance next week.”
Jindal’s strict anti-tax stance has left legislators looking for other options to fill the gap. Jindal, in a similar reporter briefing last week, said people shouldn’t be surprised that, even as the state faces a potentially devastating budget crisis, he won’t consider revenue-generating proposals he sees as tax hikes.
This week he said he met with House and Senate leaders and has made his position firm.
He said he believes that the Legislature will continue working to pass “as many vehicles as possible,” so that there are more options for piecing together a budget.
“There’s a lot more work to be done,” he said.
Jindal has proposed rolling back the state’s refundable tax credits, which he has begun calling “corporate welfare,” to keep money in the state’s coffers.
“We view that as spending — somebody’s getting a check above and beyond their actual tax liability. That kind of spending should be on the table,” he said of being open to changes in that tax credit program.
Higher education leaders have warned that without some significant budget solution, colleges and universities face an 82 percent hit in state funding, which could lead to academic bankruptcy and even campus closures, in some cases.
But Jindal’s executive budget plan calls for full funding of the state’s generous TOPS scholarship program, which has seen ballooning costs after multiple tuition hikes in recent years. That program costs the state about $250 million a year. By comparison, the “doomsday scenario” that campuses have been preparing for calls for just $123 million in direct state support to be divvied among college campuses in the coming year.
That’s led some legislators to eye efforts to rein in expenses related to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.
Despite Jindal’s objections to the proposal, one such bill passed a key Senate committee this week.
“We view that as a cap on TOPS,” Jindal said Thursday, reiterating his stance against Senate Bill 48, which seeks to establish a base amount that students can receive through TOPS. Supporters of the legislation, including TOPS advocate Phyllis Taylor, who has been a key Jindal ally, say they see the proposal as a way to protect the tuition assistance program for the future. It would require legislators to set the TOPS award each year, opening the possibility that the amount of any new tuition increase might not be covered.
“This helps manage the growth of TOPS,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, a Mandeville Republican and sponsor of the proposal. “The baseline stays, and each student gets at least the same amount of money they got the last year.”
But Jindal said he won’t support any legislation that could prevent students from getting full tuition covered.
“We’ve made (TOPS) a priority every year,” Jindal said. “We will continue to do that.”
Donahue has coupled his legislation with a bill that would give college and university systems tuition-setting authority. Currently, tuition can be increased only with a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature. Donahue said he won’t pursue the tuition-setting legislation unless tuition is uncoupled from TOPS, otherwise, tuition hikes would just further increase TOPS’ costs to the state.
While he doesn’t support TOPS changes, Jindal said he would back legislation to give schools more autonomy.
“We are supportive of that,” he said.
Jindal also briefly noted his op-ed published this week in The New York Times in support of the proposed “Marriage and Conscience Act,” a bill that seeks to add protections for people and businesses who oppose same-sex marriage.
House Bill 707 has been sent to the Committee on Civil Law and Procedure for consideration, but a hearing has not yet been scheduled on it.
“I’m hopeful it will get fair consideration and debate,” Jindal said.