Critics are pushing back on Gov. John Bel Edwards' executive budget proposal, saying that he should have offered more ideas for realistic cuts.
Edwards on Monday unveiled a plan outlining deep cuts that he says would be necessary in the coming budget cycle if lawmakers don't increase tax revenues to make up for a looming $1 billion shortfall. He repeatedly stressed that he doesn't want the cuts and called on the Legislature to rally around revenue-raising measures.
But in addition to the House Republican leaders, who have led an effort to push back against Edwards proposals, other critics emerged Tuesday, a day after Edwards outlined a plan with deep cuts to higher education and health care.
State Treasurer John Schroder said in a news release Tuesday that Edwards proposal "misses an opportunity for true reform and savings," and Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, took to the radio airwaves Tuesday morning to lambaste Edwards' proposal as "an embarrassment."
"It's not realistic," Waguespack said in an appearance on 710 KEEL AM in Shreveport.
The $26.2 billion spending plan Edwards outlined to lawmakers on Monday would eliminate state funding for the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students and deeply cut health care programs, among other spending reductions.
"I want to be clear, this is not the budget I want to present and certainly not the budget I want implemented," Edwards told state lawmakers during his executive budget presentation. "This is what falling off the cliff looks like."
Edwards has instead called on lawmakers to approve a series of tax measures, include removing some sales tax exemptions and taxing some services and taxing business utilities, which he says will replace revenue set to expire June 30, most of which is in the form of a temporary sales tax hike approved in 2016. He wants to call a special session in February to take up the items, though he has said he won't until lawmakers show signs of nearing an agreement on how to handle what has been dubbed the "fiscal cliff."
But legislators an others have pushed back on Edwards' recommendations, asking for more specific details and opportunities for cuts to state spending.
"This is a broken system, and we can't possibly in good conscience give it more money until it's fixed," Schroder said.
Edwards has been holding regular meetings with state legislative leaders in recent weeks to come to an agreement on shoring up the state's finances before the regular session begins March 12. If no agreement is reached, lawmakers will be tasked with crafting a budget that reflects the current outlook – a task that Edwards says he doesn't believe will be productive, creating the need for a special session in June.
Waguespack, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor against Edwards in 2019 and is a former top aide to ex-Gov. Bobby Jindal, said he believes that Edwards has left lawmakers with no choice but to partially extend the sales tax increase. He didn't offer up his own suggestions, but said he thinks more transparency is needed.
"The last two years have not been spent trying to refine agencies or budgets," he said. "We haven't been able to spend within the means that our economy can produce."
Edwards deputy chief of staff Richard Carbo said the governor met with Waguespack in November in a good faith effort to find common ground.
"Stephen committed, at that meeting, to present his ideas to the governor, but in the two months since the meeting, we’ve heard nothing from him – no plans and no feedback to the governor’s proposals," Carbo said.
Waguespack said he asked the governor for more specific details about his tax proposals but never received them.
"As soon as they provide the specifics to those bills, I'd be happy to vet those," he said. "This has nothing to do with politics, it has everything to do with policy."
Edwards' administration has long blamed Jindal for the state's financial faults, after repeated cuts to higher education funding and reliance on temporary funding measures.
"He’s using his position at LABI to pursue his own political ambitions, but fortunately, there are enough members of the Legislature who recognize that a serious problem exists and are determined to work with the governor to find responsible solutions to continue the progress of rebuilding Louisiana," Carbo said.
Schroder, a Republican who previously served in the state Legislature, included in his news release a series of suggestions for curbing state spending, including a deeper review of all expenditures, credits, rebates and exemptions and the collection of state debt.
He also suggested some items that Edwards said he expected Republicans would put forth, including a transparency website to track spending, implementing work requirements and/or copays for able-bodied adults on Medicaid and implementing new spending caps. Edwards has said he doesn't oppose those measures, but they could cost the state initially on the front-end, rather than saving money immediately.