Two familiar issues won’t be on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ agenda in 2019. There will be no tax hikes and no special sessions heading into the final year of Edwards’ first term in office.

“We’re not going to have to raise taxes," Edwards, a Democrat, said during the Press Club of Baton Rouge’s luncheon on Monday. “It’s my intention not to have a single special session of the Legislature."

Since taking office in January 2016, Edwards has called state lawmakers into seven special sessions — all to address issues with the state's finances.

The Legislature initially agreed to a temporary one-cent sales tax hike to shore up the state budget in 2016. The sales tax rate was scheduled to fall from 5 percent to 4 percent on July 1, but the Legislature again approved a temporary extension of part of the sales tax hike during a special session in June. The new state sales tax rate is 4.45 percent through 2025.

“Louisiana is doing better on so many critical fronts,” Edwards said, heading into what is expected to be a blistering battle for re-election. “We are in a much better position to meet those challenges.”

Edwards has identified pay raises for teachers and school support staff as his top priority for the legislative session that begins April 8. He also plans to try again on issues he campaigned on in 2015 – a modest minimum wage hike and legislation meant to address the gender pay gap in Louisiana.

Two Republicans already have announced plans to run against Edwards in the gubernatorial race — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. The election will be Oct. 12, with a Nov. 16 runoff between the top two vote-getters if no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the primary.

Since the start of the new year, Abraham and Rispone have begun gearing up their fundraising and campaigning efforts in the state.

Abraham recently held multiple fundraisers in North Louisiana, while Rispone has begun appearances in Acadiana and Baton Rouge.

Republicans on the national level have identified Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, as a target for the election cycle in which few other states will be filling their governors’ offices.

“I’m optimistic about the election this year,” he said.

Edwards said he has several initiatives that will be rolled out in the coming months to address school safety, opioid addiction and “red tape” that hinders businesses and professionals. He also said he plans to work to promote veteran-owned businesses. He didn’t elaborate on those efforts.

Edwards said he believes that the $1,000 annual pay raises for school teachers that he is proposing will win bipartisan support. "It's really an investment in our children," he said.

Edwards hasn't fared so well with his proposal to set a state minimum wage hike of $1.25 over two years to $8.50 an hour. Louisiana currently has no minimum wage, so the minimum defaults to the federal $7.25 an hour. Congress last increased the federal minimum wage in 2009. The minimum wage went up in 20 other states at the start of the year.

Similar to the minimum wage issue, Edwards also campaigned on promising to tackle the state's gender pay disparity. Studies have suggested that Louisiana has the highest gender wage gap in the country.

The Louisiana Legislature has consistently rejected efforts to address the disparity, after facing opposition from some business groups and others who argue that legislation could encourage frivolous lawsuits. Critics also say statistics on the gender pay gap often don't reflect the differences in skill and job type that can separate men and women in various employment fields that are reflected in pay.


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Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.