U.S. Sen. John Kennedy on Tuesday accused Gov. John Bel Edwards of trying to tax the state into prosperity and said Louisiana voters do not believe the state has a financial crisis.

"They are getting tired of these so-called fiscal crisises and fiscal cliffs," Kennedy said.

"I think the people of Louisiana seem to think we have a fiscal cliff every Thursday," he said. "And frankly they don't believe it anymore."

The governor's office disputed the scathing criticism and said Kennedy has offered no solutions for state financial problems.

Kennedy, a Madisonville Republican and possible 2019 gubernatorial contender, made his comments to state reporters one day after a special session aimed at closing a roughly $1 billion shortfall ended in failure.


State lawmakers plan to tackle the shortfall again, likely in another special session in May.

The 2018 regular legislative session starts on Monday.

The Democratic governor has largely blamed GOP House leaders for the failure of the session, and House Speaker Taylor Barras' inability to deliver votes on crucial revenue-raising measures that, Edwards said, he promised earlier.

But Kennedy said Edwards first needs to find ways to trim state spending before there is more talk of tax hikes.

The junior senator said Louisiana's operating budget has grown from $16.5 billion under former Gov. Kathleen Blanco to about $29 billion today, and that federal dollars do not account for all the growth.

He said Louisiana state government stands to collect about $300 million because of federal tax cuts, and that if the governor cannot find another $250 million to cut in a $29 billion budget "he ought to pack it in."

Asked why Edwards has taken his current stance Kennedy said, "He truly believes that if we all gave our money to government that people in government are smarter than the rest of us" and will spend the money better.

"I think he believes he can tax the state into prosperity," the Republican said.

Kennedy said that, while he considers Edwards a friend, "as long as I have known him he has been a yellow-dog democrat," a political term from 1920s for hardcore Democrats who supposedly would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican.


Richard Carbo, the governor's chief of staff, issued a statement after the senator's comments.

"It is highly inappropriate that Sen. Kennedy is using his official U.S. Senate office for purely political purposes," Carbo said.

"As with most of his criticisms, he lacks substance and credible supporting evidence.  Sen. Kennedy served as treasurer when these problems were created, yet he takes no responsibility.  Leaders offer ideas and solutions, which Republicans and Democrats did during the special session."

Carbo added, "Sen. Kennedy has offered no ideas to solve the fiscal cliff.  If his solution is to cut our way out of this, he needs to have the courage to identify specifically what he would cut.  His one-liners and vague talking points might work in Washington, but back here in Louisiana, people are looking for solutions to save TOPS, protect higher education and fund health care around the state."

Asked to identify potential state spending cuts Kennedy said, "Give me a break. Where are your cuts, governor? You control the apparatus."

Kennedy is considered a possible challenger next year when Edwards seeks a second term.


Asked if he plans to run the senator said, "I don't know yet."


The governor and Kennedy, two of the state's top politicians, have tangled on Medicaid, the Comite River Diversion Canal and other issues.

In his post-session press conference Monday, Edwards said the GOP-controlled Legislature showed a lack of urgency in solving Louisiana's financial problems.

He said key state services cannot be funded at responsible levels with available dollars.

The breakdown in the House stemmed from a dispute on which revenue-raising measures would best address the shortfall.

Kennedy said he has been around the Legislature since 1988. "Whether you agree with the Legislature or not, it is a pretty accurate barometer of what the people of Louisiana are thinking," he said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.