Lawmakers convene in special session

Halen Doughty
Gov. John Bel Edwards

Governor John Bel Edwards addressed both chambers of the state legislature at the start of the special session Monday evening. This is the fifth extraordinary session Edwards has called since taking office. The goal of this session is to address a looming fiscal cliff when more than a billion dollars in temporary taxes are set to expire. Edwards said he is optimistic that lawmakers can get the job done.

"My optimism is based on the feedback that I have received from many of you who share my concern about what will happen if we don’t address the fiscal cliff, but more importantly, share my belief that Louisiana’s brightest days are ahead if only we can come together to solve the problems that have plagued our state for years," said Edwards.

More than $1.3 billion in temporary taxes are slated to expire at the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Edwards said those taxes were intended to serve as a bridge to long-term reform, but that was not accomplished in last year's regular fiscal session. The governor has presented his plan for resolving the fiscal cliff and called on lawmakers to propose their own plan if they cannot support his. But he cautioned them about slashing the budget and therefore state services.

"If you want to reduce government spending, propose the specific cuts and put your name on them," said Edwards. "But let’s be honest about one thing when you say that government should spend less. What you really mean is that government should do less."

Edwards reminded the legislature that the billion dollars in cuts could only come from the $3.4 billion pot of state general fund, as it is a state general fund deficit. The Louisiana constitution only allows for cuts in two areas of that pot - education and healthcare. Edwards was adamant that students and parents should not take a hit because of the state's financial woes.

Healthcare, he said, is also critically important for the state. The governor recognized Kelly Monroe of Geismar, who is the executive director of the Arc of Louisiana, which provides support for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

"Kelly showed me some sobering figures about what the potential cuts to health care would mean for the dedicated providers who care for our constituents with disabilities and their families," said Edwards. "Fifty-five to 60 percent of the people they serve would lose their services, and approximately 2,000 employees would have to be laid off. That’s over half of the people they employ throughout the state. And this is just one organization in the state."

Edwards said it's time for lawmakers to stop kicking the can down the road and address the state's ongoing financial problems. He said his number one goal is to put this problem behind us so state leaders can focus on making Louisiana a better place to live, work, and pursue an education. He called on the legislature to set aside their differences and find a solution that serves the people of the state.

"For the next 17 days, I am asking you not to think only as Democrats or Republicans, but first and foremost as Louisianans. We all want the same things," said Edwards. "There is only one 'side' to be on here and that is on the side of the people of our great state who are tired of hearing about the same problems year after year with no resolution."

The first extraordinary session of 2018 convened on Monday, February 19. Lawmakers must adjourn by Wednesday, March 7.

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