Tuesday, 06 March 2018 11:34

Louisiana Gov. Edwards blames Speaker Barras, Republican House session failure

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jbe fiscal failAn obviously dejected Governor of Louisiana faced the news media Monday afternoon after failing to bring the forces together to fix what is commonly called the Fiscal Cliff problem of roughly a billion dollars that faces the state due to the expiration of temporary sales taxes and other measures.  It was second straight legislative session and the second straight defeat.

 

Governor John Bel Edwards put the failure of the special session at the feat of the Republican House of Representatives and its Speaker Taylor Barras. The Republican opposition, however, claims that Edwards's solution to the problem is spending rather than cutting and that he failed to get the support of his own Democratic forces, mainly the Black Caucus. The Speaker is a Republican and that party controls both bodies of the legislature.

With the failure of another special session, the burden falls upon the Louisiana legislature to fashion cuts starting next week when the regular session meets. Since that legislative session is not a fiscal session, no revenues can be raised, only cuts. Thus, if the Republican legislature is going to approve taxes and other revenues, it will need to agree upon them during another special session starting towards the end of the regular legislative sessions.

Some Republicans contend there is no crises at this time since the revenues that are projected now by the Revenue Estimating conference are too remote as to what the budget might look like for July 1. The argument is, only at that time will the state really know the full depth of the budget hole, thus, a fiscal session to raise taxes, while not desired, would be more appropriate and accurate.

Below is the post-session transcribed statement by Governor John Bel Edwards. The transcription does not include a Q and A session with the media that occurred at teh conclusion of the governor's remarks.

Below is the video of the entire press conference.  The above remarks end at the 14:09 mark on the video. 

I think it's probably an understatement to say the special was the special session was not as productive as it could have been or that it should have been. Unfortunately we reached a roadblock and I will tell you it's a disaster but not a complete disaster because House bill 10 by Representative James passed which is incredibly important to make sure that flood loss victims, and thank you very much Ted, can access tax relief from the federal government without having to amend their returns to the state and actually pay more to the state.  Also House bill 27 by representative Pat Smith made some necessary changes with respects to telecommunication taxes so that folks who are hearing-impaired can access those services. 

But that's it.  That's not why we came here.  You know we tried to build consensus around ideas. I met with leaders in the House and the Senate rank-and-file members Republicans and Democrats and independents over and over and over over the last several months, spend a lot of time with the speaker, the president, and I said then--have great flexibility as to how we fix the cliff, but not whether we fix the cliff.  They're simply too much at stake. And I think it's instructive because much of the information out there has been less than accurate and less to complete about what the cliff actually is.  Of 1.38 billion dollars in revenue that falls off the books come June 30th, the cliff is 994 million.  So maintaining 994 million dollars would fix the cliff even though one point three eight billion dollars of revenue would expire.  Obviously that is a net tax reduction, a net reduction of the tax burden I should say on the people of Louisiana.  And this is something else that people failed to mention, even at 994 million dollars, it would still require more than a hundred million dollars in cuts to next year's budget.  That is why the standstill budget that the legislature voted for last year, I think unanimously, would actually cost a hundred and fifty million dollars more in state general fund than the nine hundred and ninety four million dollars that I was trying to maintain. 

And by the way the nine hundred and ninety four million dollars comes from the REC (Revenue Estimating Conference).  That is the difference in the current state general fund forecast for this year and the current state general fund forecast for next year.  And what we heard the other day, I think it was Friday night, well y'all should just take what we can get.  No.  That should not be our approach. Louisiana's better than that. I would say we should do what we must in order to adequately fund our critical priorities and I know that this is a hard task, I know that it's unpleasant, everybody prefers to govern in times when there are plenty of plenty of revenue but that's not the situation that we find ourselves in. 

it's essential though that people when necessary summon the courage to fix the problem-- that did not happen, and I hope now that the young people, really all people watching, won't give up on Louisiana because I'm certainly not going to do that, in fact I'm gonna work harder than ever before to achieve consensus and move forward and fix our problems and I'm encouraging everyone to do that especially our legislators.  You know we have high school seniors right now debating where they're gonna go to college next year

they don't know, they can't know what portion of the TOPS might be funded if there gonna be eligible for tops.  You have those who are already in higher education maybe they're sophomores or juniors for freshmen wondering if tops is going to be available to them next year.  And of course their parents are at least a little bit interested in that question too. 

You know ,what about the single mom working two jobs out there, in a rural area and she gets sick and needs to go to the hospital--she's not interested in the political party of the doctor she wants to know the doors gonna be open when she gets there.   

Unfortunately because of some obstructionists in the house the legislature has failed those students.  Failed those parents, failed that single mom and countless others across the state of Louisiana. Again I'm going to continue to do everything I can as governor to get us to where we need to be. And to every legislator, who worked in good faith, to reach a true compromise who made difficult decisions to resolve our problems as responsibly as possible, please know that I respect and appreciate your efforts and I say thank you. 

Please keep that spirit alive I pray that it becomes infectious and that other people will catch it because we have to build on it. It is terribly unfortunate though because the next several months we're gonna have so much uncertainty in the state of Louisiana that we could have and should have avoided.  Now I know that a majority of legislators want to walk, work across the aisle, to fund Louisiana's critical priorities.  Simply put the failure of this special session as a result of a total lack of leadership and action in the House of Representatives.  A spectacular failure of leadership in the house.  We all knew that it wasn't going to be easy.  Bold reform requires courage leadership and compromise. The definition of compromise is you willing to accept some things you don't like in exchange for getting some things that you do.  That's what makes it hard but because it's hard and essential that's why leaders have to be there pushing people molding that consensus was totally absent in the House of Representatives.

you know the speaker's proposal to me on February the 5th, was that he would support and deliver 40 Republican votes in the house for 572 million dollars in that revenue we needed to maintain, plus the revenue to come from the fiscal reforms which was additional 302 million dollars.  That itself was 120 million dollars short of the nine hundred ninety four million dollar fiscal cliff but there were other instruments and options available to us to close the difference--and I really thought it represented a good-faith effort to come together and move forward and fix the cliff.   I then met with the speaker again at the end of that week, and the President of the Senate to confirm each and every one of his proposals and his support for them and his pledge of Republican votes, 40 of them to pass. 

Them I then sat with the speaker and the president and drafted a call making sure that every single revenue proposal that he had indicated he supported and every budget reform proposal was included in the call.  Unfortunately, the session started two weeks ago and it didn't take long for the speaker to go back on his word.  The very first day--he then said he was only willing to raise an amount of revenue that was 220 million dollars less than he had previously told me.   

Of course, he continued to assist on the budget reforms which were always conditioned upon fixing the cliff-- and as a result , even the most casual observer of the way the house has conducted itself over the last two weeks can only conclude that it was totally dysfunctional.  Just go back in your mind and relive the countless recesses, the inability to make a decision to move forward, to bring people together, to do the hard work that is necessary to reach compromise and so as a result for the second time, in as many years, just go back to the fiscal session last year when we should have fixed these problems--not a single bill to address the cliff moved out of the House of Representatives for consideration by the Senate.  

Completely unacceptable.  We have to do better.  So it's back to the drawing board but I guess not really because the problem isn't going to change.  We know what it is is we've been facing it for a while.  The options aren't going to change they're going to be the same ones that we had last year and this year.  But we better change.  We better get serious and collectively summon the courage necessary to address this problem. 

And I guess in the meantime this will be the opportunity for those in the legislature who insist, that the state of Louisiana can simply cut its way to solving the cliff, they get a chance starting next week to show us how they would do that.  We'll see if they can pass a budget with 692 million dollars less in state general fund next fiscal year than we have this year.  I don't believe it's possible I've said that before.  I know it is impossible to budget responsibly and to adequately fund our most critical priorities at that level because the cuts will be horrendous and they will be deep, even in our most critical priorities especially health care but also higher education and across the state budget. 

As a result I've already asked President Aalario and Speaker Barras to adjourn the regular session in mid-May--doing so will allow us to have a special session that would conclude by June the fourth which is the scheduled adjournment day of the next regular session, so that the taxpayers wouldn't have to worry about any additional cost of that special session, and also so that we can get this problem resolved fully with almost a month before this fiscal year ends so the state agencies higher education and all of the people across Louisiana will know what to expect come July 1st of next year. 

I'm hopeful we can do it.  We need to do it.  It's clear that up to now there's been a lack of sense of urgency, I think that will change as we get closer to July first.  But I think it'll also be instructive is legislature legislatures wrestle with the budget and actually see the choices that they're going to have to make to try to fashion a budget with 694 million dollars less and States general fund then they have this year.  And when you include matching federal dollars it's in the billions of dollars less than we have this year.  So I am as committed as ever, as dedicated as ever, we must fix the cliff in a way that promotes fairness predictability and stability.  We can do it.  We must do it.  If the state is going to maintain the momentum that it has right now on so many fronts unemployment, job creation,, economic development whence the stability we have finally created in higher education by funding it for the first time in a decade, without a cut relative to the previous year, and fully funding the TOPS program and in so many areas as well we have to maintain this momentum  

but that means we have to fix the cliff.  So when we come back a week from night, tonight to get started, I hope and pray we will do that, all the legislators and myself not thinking and acting as Democrats Republicans and independents but as Louisianans--worried about Louisianans not about scoring political victories, not about depriving others of some opportunity for success, because I'll tell you,  this isn't about my success.  This is about the success of our children and our grandchildren across the state of Louisiana. so I remain committed I actually believe we will get it done.   You know I'm reminded of how hard it was two years ago and so I'm heartened that we can get this done.  I believe we will.  I ask you to join me in that effort and join your prayers to mind and I would ask God to continue to bless the United States and the great state of Louisiana 

 

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