Gov. John Bel Edwards on Saturday denounced former Gov. Bobby Jindal and what he called a “not serious” spending cut plan approved last week by the House of Representatives.
Edwards, who has repeatedly blamed Jindal for the state’s $900 million shortfall and other budget problems, labeled his two-term Republican predecessor “the most irresponsible governor who has ever governed Louisiana.” Without naming Jindal, Edwards also said that for eight years “we pretended things were better than they were, that we could do more with less.”
The result, he said, is developments like Thursday’s decision by Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade Louisiana’s credit rating, which means it will cost more for the state to borrow.
“We should take this as a wake-up call,” the governor said in a 15-minute address. “We all live in the real world.”
The Democratic governor blasted Jindal after saying “some in the media and social media” have blamed him for the state’s financial crisis, including a $2 billion shortfall for the budget year that begins July 1.
Edwards made his comments to a friendly audience — the annual winter leadership conference of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. The group is one of the state’s two teachers unions and a longtime ally of the governor.
Nearly 200 paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria workers and teachers attended the gathering at a Baton Rouge hotel, LFT President Steve Monaghan said.
The event took place just two days after the House took major steps toward addressing the state’s $900 million shortfall by June 30, including Edwards’ plan to increase the state sales tax by one penny.
The House action, which next faces votes in the Senate, combined with other steps would mean state leaders are within about $200 million of resolving the shortfall.
The special session where the work is taking place ends March 9.
Edwards noted that he recommended about $160 million in spending cuts, along with tax hikes and the use of onetime dollars, to erase the shortfall. But he said some lawmakers say “we can cut our way out of this.”
The House on Thursday, with little discussion, approved a $100 million spending cut bill sponsored by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.
The legislation first called for a $44 million cut in state aid for public schools. Before the final vote, the bill was revamped to require a $44 million reduction for the state Department of Education.
Top state education officials said such a move, an 85 percent cutback, would decimate the agency, including dollars for vouchers and student testing.
Edwards said that provision of the bill was approved “without any thought, without any planning.”
If that is all lawmakers who favor spending cuts without raising more revenue can do, “they are part of the problem,” he said.
The measure, House Bill 122, is expected to trigger heavy opposition in the Senate.
The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss the measure on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Edwards praised the House for approving the sales tax hike, which would raise $222 million by June 30 and $910 million for the financial year that begins July 1, according to the Governor’s Office.
“I remain confident we are going to come together and fix our problem,” he said.
Edwards, who said he is “a little bit under the weather,” left the hotel without answering questions from reporters.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.