Today we enter into our 19th consecutive week of session, which marks the longest weekly stretch in our legislative branch's 204-year history.
These 19 weeks have included two extraordinary sessions and a regular session, and as we all know, rough politics began that very first day and have continued through to now. At a time when many despair that the partisan divide is too wide to bridge, I see something else, the opportunity for good to break through and a breeze of hope sweeping across our State. And now more than ever before in my time in public service, a clear message emerging...fix the problem. Fund k-12 education; fund healthcare; fund higher education; fund our medical school; fund the UMC. But with the second special session adjourning no later than midnight on June 23rd, we can't do it without your help. Please contact your Legislators and tell them to GET TO WORK, AND DON'T STOP UNTIL THE JOB IS DONE!
At the outset, we faced a mid-year shortfall of $954 M that had to be solved by June 30, 2016 and, a $2.1 B dollar deficit for the impending Fiscal Year 2017 budget. In the first special session, the Legislature cut an additional $80 M, utilized $200 M of BP settlement payments, $128 M of Rainy Day Funds, and a combination of revenue measures. By the end of that first special session, we had reduced the deficit from $954 M to $70 M for the current year, and from $2.1 B to $750 M for fiscal year 2017.
Once the regular session began on March 14th, we were left with the particular challenge of having to pass a balanced budget while still working with significant shortfalls and no way to generate revenue. Faced by a myriad of tough choices, we passed a budget that managed to protect funding for some waiver programs that provide health care services to the elderly and disabled. However, it substantially cut funding for TOPS ($155 M short and funded at 50%), K-12 Education ($75 M short), Higher Education ($55 M short), Corrections ($35M short), and our health system especially our hospital system, ($174 M short), jeopardizing our public-private partnerships. This is a budget that is far from perfect, but for the first time in many years is actually balanced and honest. I am proud of that achievement, but I am disappointed that Louisiana continues to lead from behind at the hands of an unfortunate fiscal legacy.
We have now reached the final week of the second extraordinary session and we still have the power to surge forward and take the lead. Governor John Bel Edwards has asked that we raise revenues by $600 million in this special session, and that's just to keep Government services at the same level as the 2015-16 Budget. So far, the House has only agreed to $220 million in tax increases. While a few legislators have taken a stance against ALL additional raises in taxes, there has been a strong bipartisan effort to generate revenue and ease the strain of decreased expenditures and subsequently avoid further detrimental cuts.
The days of Louisiana living paycheck to paycheck must come to an end. Stability and Sustainability must be the foundation of our economy moving forward, one where we live within our means, but understand that our primary focus must be in hearing the message we have received loud and clear: fix the problem.
We must prioritize education and health care and protect our people. This shall be the moral test of our Government and shall be the foundation for a Louisiana and New Orleans blessed not only with some of the world’s greatest natural resources and people, but also with an abundant and unmatched future.
AGAIN, WE CAN'T GET THERE WITHOUT YOUR HELP. CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS AND TELL THEM TO STOP MESSING AROUND WITH LOUISIANA'S FUTURE AND DON'T COME HOME UNTIL YOU FIX THE PROBLEM.
Find your legislator here: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/FindMyLegislators.aspx