And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
That was one takeaway from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Monday speech launching this year’s regular legislative session, just days after a contentious, down-to-the-wire special session ended.
The special session was all about putting out fires — specifically, staving off massive cuts to state programs due to a combined shortfall of around $3 billion for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the upcoming year starting July 1.
Given that lawmakers left deficits of more than $30 million this fiscal year and $800 million for the next one, according to the governor’s reckoning, money matters will play a lead role during the regular session as well. But the agenda will also be far broader than that.
This is where Edwards plans to push the proposals he championed during his victorious campaign last fall. This is where lawmakers will finally address raising the minimum wage and enforcing pay equity between men and women. It’s where they’ll decide whether to fully cooperate with Edwards’ plans, already underway, to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — or whether they’ll try to throw roadblocks in his way. It’s where they’ll surely have a boisterous debate over the governor’s ideas to change teacher evaluations, curb the growth of school vouchers and give local school boards more say over new charter schools.
Once upon a time, before the scope of the budget crisis demanded his immediate attention, Edwards had hoped to start off here. But although he used the speech to once again plead for a nonpartisan approach as he addressed the Republican-dominated Legislature, the Democratic chief executive is already showing signs of having learned the hard way that his ideological adversaries aren’t going to roll over.
On Medicaid expansion, for example, Edwards didn’t just use the speech to tout the merits of increasing access to insurance. He also said he’s open to reforms, including patient co-pays. That’s not something he talked about during the campaign, but it is something many Republicans, including his former gubernatorial rivals, support.
Call the concession smart politics, or call it the result of a series of reality checks since he took office in January. It’s definitely one more sign that nothing this governor campaigned for is going to come easy.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.