There isn’t a challenge we won’t meet. That was my promise to the people of Louisiana when I took the oath of office nearly 100 days ago. Today, I am more committed than ever to overcoming the challenges before us. While we knew it would not be easy, I am positive that we will find Louisiana’s brightest days on the other side of this hill. But to get there, we still have critical work to do right now.
Earlier this year, I asked legislators to set aside partisan labels and work with me to solve the largest budget deficit our state has ever seen. A balanced plan of responsible spending cuts and additional revenue was necessary to undo years of budget mismanagement by the previous administration.
Our mission was simple — find an appropriate balance of spending cuts and additional revenue to avoid going over the fiscal cliff. In total, we cut more than $230 million in state spending, and the state’s $2 billion deficit for the next fiscal year was reduced to roughly $750 million. While we accomplished a great deal, we left that special session with unfinished business. In the short term, we were able to avoid catastrophic midyear cuts to health care and higher education, but in the long term, we left a deficit that wreaks havoc on both systems.
Last week, I announced what the current shortfall for the next fiscal year will mean for the people of Louisiana — a dramatically reduced TOPS program, hospital closures, and drastic cuts to higher education and K-12 education. I want to reiterate to all of you, personally — these are not cuts that I, as your governor, want to make. It is my hope that this budget proposal is not implemented, but I am obligated under our constitution to present a balanced budget to the Legislature. The previous administration’s budget practices were irresponsible, filled with gimmicks, and led our state to two credit downgrades, and the largest budget deficit in our state’s history. I have ended those practices in favor of a more honest, disciplined and responsible approach to budgeting.
As you might recall, on Jan. 12, I signed an executive order expanding the Medicaid program in Louisiana, so that we can begin the process of bringing our federal tax dollars back to Louisiana to provide health care to the working people of our state. In the first year alone, expansion will save Louisiana approximately $184 million. Given the shortfall beginning July 1, these savings will allow us to make other investments in health care, universities and colleges, and allow more students to have access to higher education through the TOPS program.
Very soon after the current regular session, I intend to call legislators back into a second special session. I am hopeful that legislators will come to Baton Rouge with an open mind and a willingness to work together in a collaborative nature to get the job done right. The consequences of inaction or gridlock will be catastrophic to communities and families across the state.
We cannot fail the people of Louisiana by letting these devastating, painful cuts go into effect. We have to take a more balanced, responsible approach that provides long-term stability and predictability. That begins with identifying ways to restructure our state’s broken tax system and eliminate the tax giveaways that are costing our state too much money.
As I’ve said, in times of crisis, we cannot find solutions if we approach the problem as Republicans and Democrats. We must work to solve the problems before us as Louisianans first. That continues to be my commitment today. Going forward together, with your prayers and mine, we will overcome these challenges and put Louisiana back on a path to shared prosperity.
John Bel Edwards is governor of Louisiana.