Louisiana TOPS Scholarship Program, Amendment 1 (October 2011)

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Amendment 1
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Type:Constitutional amendment
Constitution:Article VII, Section 10.8 and more
Referred by:Louisiana State Legislature
Topic:State budgets
Status:ApprovedApproveda
The Louisiana TOPS Scholarship Program, Amendment 1 appeared on the October 22, 2011 statewide ballot in Louisiana as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment where it was approved Approveda.[1]

The proposed measure called for directing Tobacco Settlement Proceeds to the TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students) scholarship program once the balance in the Millennium Trust reached $1.38 billion.

Election results

Amendment 1 (October 2011)
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 672429 69.60%
No29375930.40%

Source: Louisiana Secretary of State, official results 10/22/11

Text of measure

The ballot question read:[2]

To dedicate funds for the TOPS programrelative to the portion of the monies deposited in and credited to the Millennium Trust each year from the Tobacco Master Settlement, to provide that once the balance in the Millennium Trust reaches a total of one billion three hundred eighty million dollars, one hundred percent of the annual Settlement Proceeds shall be allocated to the TOPS Fund to support state programs of financial assistance for students attending Louisiana postsecondary education institutions; to provide relative to the rate of tax on certain tobacco products and beginning July 1, 2012, to dedicate such tobacco revenues to the Health Excellence Fund to be used for the purposes of the fund, including providing for the optimal development of Louisiana's children through the provision of appropriate health care and providing health care initiatives through innovation in advanced health care sciences; to provide for the deposit, transfer, or credit of certain monies in the Millennium Trust to the Health Excellence Fund, the Education Excellence Fund, and the TOPS Fund.

Constitutional changes

See also: Louisiana TOPS Scholarship Program, Amendment 1 (October 2011), constitutional text changes

Amendment 1 amended Article VII, Section 10.8(A)(1)(c), (A)(2), (3), and (4), and (C)(1)4 and adds Article VII, Section 4.1.

Background

The Millennium Trust Fund

Louisiana's Millennium Trust Fund was created in 1999 by Legislative Act 1295. The legislative act also created three special funds within the trust fund: the Health Excellence Fund, the Education Excellence Fund and the TOPS fund. The funding for the Millennium Trust Fund comes from a tobacco settlement proceeds. The order was issued by the "Master Settlement Agreement" on November 23, 1998. According to the state the trust exceeds $1.2 billion.[3]

TOPS

TOPS is a state scholarship program for Louisiana state residents. Applicants must attend either one of the state's public colleges or universities, schools that are part of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System or other institutions that are members of the Louisiana Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.[4]

The program offers four awards: TOPS Opportunity Award, TOPS Performance Award, TOPS Honors Award and TOPS Tech Award. Read about each award here.

Support

Supporters argued that the amendment was imperative to securing funding for the TOPS program.[5]

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said, "We have met with the Taylor Foundation over the last few weeks to discuss how we can continue to protect the program even during times of budget reductions. This amendment will be very important to protecting the future of the TOPS program because it constitutionally protects more TOPS dollars. Currently, about $15 million is protected through the TOPS Fund –and under this constitutional amendment – that will increase to about $58 million."[6]

Phyllis Taylor, chairman and president of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, said, "I am very pleased to support Governor’s Jindal’s efforts to secure the permanent funding for this vital program."[6]

The Council for A Better Louisiana announced their support for the proposed amendment in early May 2011. "We believe this constitutional amendment will strengthen funding for TOPS, provide a cushion to the state general fund as adjustments in tuition are made through the performance requirements of the LA GRAD Act, and help mitigate further cuts that might otherwise come to higher education or other areas of the budget," said the council.[7]

Note: As of September 2011 there was no organized support or campaign effort.

Donors

According to the state campaign finance database, there were no registered committees (PACs).

(last updated December 2011)

Opposition

Opponents argued that the amendment would stall earnings for the Millennium Trust and would dedicated funds to TOPS at the expense of other funds like the Education Excellence Fund. Additionally, opponents argued that it was unnecessary to add the cigarette tax to the state constitution.[8][5]

Note: As of September 2011 there was no organized opposition or campaign effort.

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Donors

According to the state campaign finance database, there were no registered committees (PACs).

(last updated December 2011)

Media editorial positions

See also: Endorsements of Louisiana ballot measures, 2011

Support

  • Houma Today said, "A small part of the amendment would keep alive a 4-cent-per-pack sales tax on cigarettes. The Legislature passed a renewal of that tax, which generates about $12 million a year, but Gov. Jindal vetoed it, claiming it would amount to a new tax. This amendment would renew that tax, dedicate money to TOPS and open up a new stream of revenue to the program. It deserves the voters' support."[9]

Opposition

  • The News-Star said, "The TOPS program is established in statute, and it is up to the Legislature to fund it each year. The governor opposed renewing the cigarette tax, calling it a tax increase. Funding for TOPS should be made available by the Legislature as money is available, and the Legislature should renew the cigarette tax statutorily and override a gubernatorial veto to maintain it."[10]
  • The Times-Picayune said, "If costs are a problem, and they seem to be, the state should look at ways to streamline the program. Even with this amendment, TOPS would have to rely on General Fund allocations to meet its current obligations. Finally, the cigarette tax, which is currently set by statute, should not be enshrined in the Constitution."[11]
  • The Daily Iberian said, "Amendment No. 1 adds a tax on tobacco products and steers the revenue to the TOPS college scholarship program. The tax goes away if not included here, though it's already in place so is not a "new" tax. Gov. Jindal has reportedly said he's voting "no" to this. It's a questionable effort, but who is against TOPS? And the tax is really a renewal."[12]

Path to the ballot

See also: Louisiana legislatively-referred constitutional amendments

If 2/3rds of the members of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature voted in the affirmative, a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment could be placed on the statewide ballot.

The Senate voted 31-5 (3 absent) on May 17, 2011.[13] And the House voted 93-10 (2 absent) on June 20, 2011.[14]

The proposed measure was sent to the Louisiana Secretary of State and Governor for referral to the ballot on June 23 and June 24, 2011.

Timeline

Calendar.png

The following is a timeline of events surrounding the measure:

Event Date Developments
Senate vote May 17, 2011 Senate voted 31-5 in favor of referring the measure (3 absent)
House vote June 20, 2011 House voted 93-10 in favor of referring the measure (2 absent)
Certified June 23-24, 2011 Referred and certified for the 2011 ballot

See also

By Bailey Ludlam
Ballot measure writer

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