There’s a fresh breeze blowing in Louisiana — and no, I’m not talking about the start of fall. I’m talking about the breeze of hope that’s taking over our state, with many of our most difficult challenges now in the rearview mirror. Not too long ago, we were facing a $2 billion budget shortfall that I inherited from the previous administration. The state was trapped in a cycle of budget battles that threatened everything from health care to education. But after lots of hard work and a sustained commitment to put Louisiana first, those days are behind us.
As we have just learned, Louisiana is projected to have a $300 million surplus for the fiscal year 2018. This surplus is available to us because Louisiana businesses are doing better, more Louisianans are finding work, and the improving economy has allowed corporate tax receipts to outpace expectations. Since I’ve been governor, the unemployment rate has fallen from a high of 6.2 percent to its current rate of 5 percent. But our good news doesn’t stop there.
Over the last several months, we have seen what is possible when we come together to address the needs of our state. In June, a bipartisan coalition of legislators banded together and worked with me to provide long-term budget stability to our state. For the first time in years, we have a stable budget structure that does not rely on one-time money or gimmicks, and we have put an end to the annual cuts to higher education that have threatened our children’s future. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents did all of that, and we still reduced the tax burden on the people of Louisiana by nearly $600 million.
Within weeks the national credit rating agencies removed Louisiana from the negative watch list. Our universities began the fall semester with nearly every campus’ enrollment at record levels because for the second year in a row, we stabilized funding for higher education and fully funded TOPS and Go Grants.
Bipartisanship has served our state well in other areas as well. Louisiana has taken the courageous step of implementing historic bipartisan criminal justice reforms. The reforms have been in place for just over a year, and the early results show that they are working. The state is no longer the incarceration capital of the world, a title we held for decades. In addition, the reforms have saved Louisiana $12.2 million, money that we are reinvesting into public safety and efforts to reduce recidivism. Our reforms were focused on nonviolent, non-sex offenders and were based off efforts in other Southern, conservative states, and we are proud to continue working with the White House and other states hoping to follow Louisiana’s lead.
Recently we announced that the uninsured rate in Louisiana for adults was cut in half over the last two years — from 22.7 percent in 2015 to 11.4 percent. Thanks to Medicaid expansion, we are saving hundreds of millions of dollars to the state general fund and improving health outcomes for the working people in our state. For our $48 million state investment, Medicaid expansion generated $3.5 billion in economic activity, created more than 19,000 jobs, and provided $175 million in state and local tax receipts to our economy. On top of all of this, the Trump Administration has praised the efforts Louisiana has taken to root out fraud within the Medicaid system. By every metric, Medicaid expansion was the right choice for our state.
In July, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that Louisiana’s economy grew faster than 35 other states in the first quarter of 2018. Just this month, the BEA announced that personal income in Louisiana was the second fastest growing in the nation in the second quarter of 2018.
This is all great news, but it is in no way mission accomplished. We have more work to do, and it will require us all to work together to continue to put Louisiana first. I have no doubt that our best days are ahead of us. Let’s keep the momentum going.
John Bel Edwards is governor of Louisiana.