For decades, Louisiana has been caught in the same cycle—when times are good, the state spends every dollar generated—and when times are bad, there isn’t enough revenue to pay for all of our obligations. All too often, we’re left with hard choices like cuts to healthcare and education or raising taxes on hardworking families.
Without raising taxes, the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund will take the volatility out of our state’s revenues and spending practices. Please join me—along with Democrats and Republicans across the state—and vote for this common sense, long-term solution on November 8.
Republican and Democrat Bipartisan Support
Unanimously passed in the Louisiana House and Senate and now goes to a vote of the people
“A spending reform that should not be overlooked.”
-Council for a Better Louisiana
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
It's been a week since the shooting in Orlando. Let's reflect and look at how we can fight hatred here at home in Louisiana.
The attack in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history, was inspired by hate. It was a flagrant disregard for each individual’s humanity and uniqueness, and it was a saddening embrace of bigotry and evil. These evils are not found in Orlando alone. In fact, in Capitols across the nation year after year, Legislation inspired by the same hatred & bigotry are being filed. In Louisiana, last year's so called “Religious Freedom Bill” and this year’s “Pastor Protection Act” sought to divide not unite - to spread discrimination and hate rather than unity and love. There is a constant and eternal struggle between right and wrong. Bills that seek to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation are wrong - wrong for people, who are called to be instruments of peace - wrong for the economy - wrong for Louisiana.
I am proud that we stood together against these bills and that, as a result, both failed.
We, in New Orleans and across Louisiana, must continue to lead. We recognize that a healthy economy is a diverse economy and that our acceptance and recognition of the humanity and uniqueness of every individual creates an ongoing opportunity to be a beacon of hope across the South and the nation. While we pray for the victims and their families and unite in our mourning - let us pray for elected leaders and remind them that darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only love can do that.
(Excerpt from Speech Rep. Leger delivered to the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce on June 14, 2016.)
The Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA) honored Rep. Leger and some of his colleagues as Champions for Healthcare for the work they have done protecting access to quality care for their communities over the past four years. This past session, Rep. Leger was instrumental in championing for competing the construction of and fully funding the University Medical Center in New Orleans. Leger also serves as co-chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Health & Human Services Committee. NCSL is a national bipartisan organization dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures.
“We thank these senators and representatives for making patients and hospitals a priority and listening to a majority of their Louisiana constituents who oppose unsustainable healthcare budget cuts,” said LHA President & CEO Paul Salles. “Through their hard work, these Champions for Healthcare helped to avert a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, and they prevented proposed funding reductions for hospital emergency rooms, medically-fragile infants, rural providers and other life-saving services. Louisiana hospitals commend these legislators for their strong leadership on healthcare issues in Louisiana.”
For years Rep. Leger has been spearheading efforts to create a high-quality passenger rail line connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He co-sponsored legislation to create the Louisiana Super Regional Rail Authority, and currently serves as a representative of Orleans Parish on the Commission. The Rail Authority was formed to deliver a project that will yield long term benefits by connecting a growing corridor and providing residents and commuters a reliable, safe and efficient alternative to traveling on the congested interstate.
According to the LSRRA, Passenger Rail Service in the Baton Rouge to New Orleans corridor would provide a number of benefits:
Please join the cause and sign the pledge to support passenger rail.
More at http://www.lsrra.org/.
The Aspen Institute announced that Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, III has been selected to join the next class of Rodel Fellows, a highly selective public leadership program designed to bring together the top young 'rising stars' of American political life in a program that fosters bipartisanship, political civility, and opportunities for reflection on the great values of western democracy. The selection process singles out leaders who have established reputations for intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to reach across partisan divisions in carrying out their public responsibilities.
“It is truly an honor to have been selected to join such an esteemed group of leaders from across the country,” said Rep. Leger. “I look forward to digging in and honing my skills so that I may better serve my constituents and help lead Louisiana to a more prosperous future.”
The Rodel Fellowship program is open by invitation only, to men and women who hold a publicly elected office. Selected annually, each class will consist of 24 Fellows, 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats, identified by the Aspen Institute as America's most promising new public leaders, with reputations for intellect, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to civil dialogue. The two year program consists of at least three weekend-long seminars held at the Aspen Institute's facilities. There will also be week-long seminars in both China and the Middle East where Fellows will meet with regional leaders and learn about the challenges and opportunities those areas pose for the future of America.
The program is led by Mickey Edwards who spent 16 years in Congress as a member of the House Republican leadership, and then taught at Harvard's Kennedy School for 11 years. Mickey's passion is our form of democratic government which depends for its vitality on civil dialog between competing points of view.
In addition to Speaker Pro Tempore Leger, the new Rodel class includes New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Illinois Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Guided by experienced moderators, Aspen-Rodel Fellows will study and discuss a broad range of questions concerning the origin of American values, the tension between principle and compromise inherent in democracy, and the challenges of public leadership. The overseas segments will be a hands-on look at those very different cultures and their ambitions and fears.
The nearly 250 members of the fellowship include members of the President's Cabinet, governors, members of Congress, mayors of many of America's leading cities, statewide officials, and state legislators.
LSU Health New Orleans recognized Rep. Leger for his “superior leadership and exceptional support of fiscal and policy-related issues affecting LSU Health Sciences New Orleans during the 2015 Legislative Session. According to LSU Health New Orleans, Rep. Leger and fellow honored legislators played a critical role in preventing catastrophic reduction to the institution’s base budget. Rep.Leger and his colleagues supported funding to ensure that the LSU Health hospital’ private partners – University Medical Center, Our Lady of the Lake and University Health in Lafayette – had the requisite resources to fulfill their role in training future health care professionals and providing health care to the most vulnerable citizens of our state, as well as funding for programs such as LSU Health New Orleans’ Louisiana Tumor Registry, its Breast and Cervical Health Program, and the Louisiana Cancer Center Consortium.
LSU Health New Orleans Foundation President and CEO Chad Leingang says these first- time awards are significant for several reasons. “No one would deny this past legislative session was extremely challenging on many levels. These six legislators went above and beyond to minimize the negative outcomes LSU Health New Orleans could have faced and instead kept us on a positive path moving forward.”
If you’ve been following the news lately, you already know this legislative session was all about the budget- namely, dealing with the projected $1.6 billion deficit for the year beginning July 1. Unfortunately, many other important issues were put on hold as the legislature focused on providing funding to Louisiana's higher education and health care systems. To cap off the already difficult situation, the governor’s gimmicky schemes to nominally avoid breaking his “no-tax pledge” put the basic needs of our state directly in harm’s way.
While the budget shortfall represented one of the largest funding crises this state has faced in more than a quarter century, my goal throughout the session was to increase fiscal responsibility by prioritizing dollars and identifying potential revenue for the government programs and services that yield the largest return for Louisiana citizens. This has been a year of extensive cuts and great challenges, so my objectives met with some successes and some obstacles.
One of the biggest and most offensive distractions this session was the so-called "Religious Freedom" debate. You can click here to read my Op-Ed on the matter published in the April 13 edition of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
Through all of this difficulty, the positive news is that more money will be invested in our public schools than last year, a new University Medical Center will open and be appropriately funded in downtown New Orleans, and our colleges, universities, and community and technical colleges will not face devastating cuts. All in all, we will persist toward a better day and down a new path after the elections of the fall of 2015.
HERE is the Louisiana House's 2015 Session Wrap Report: http://www.waltleger.com/
BELOW is a snapshot of some of the major issues and outcomes and how new legislation may affect you.
Walter "Walt" J. Leger, III
State Representative, District 91
Speaker Pro Tempore, Louisiana House of Representatives
To avoid the governor’s veto pen and the possibility of a government shutdown, the legislature passed a budget full of compromises, short-term fixes, and, most disappointingly, the SAVE sham. As you’ve probably heard, SAVE creates a fake fee offset by a fake tax credit. If you fail to see the logic in charging a fee that no one actually pays, you are not alone. While fortunately no students will be held responsible for this new “assessment,” the fact that its inclusion was required simply to satisfy the presidential ambitions of Governor Jindal marks a new low in Louisiana politics.
The SAVE bill was a false tax credit. I simply refused to support such a farce, especially considering that I was offering the Louisiana New Markets Job Acts Tax Credit as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit as potential offsets to tax increases. These programs amounted to true offsets that would have benefited the people Louisiana, not false offsets that only benefited the pledge.
Despite the governor’s pretenses, the budget contains several revenue-raising measures, including a 50 cent increase on the cigarette tax, as well as a reduction in some business subsidies. Certain sectors did see increases in funding, notably K-12 education, which received a $50 million bump over last year’s spending.
Since many of the holes were plugged with money that will not be available in the future, expect more budgetary battles to come, but, for now at least, the most catastrophic scenarios have been avoided.
For myself and many of my colleagues, shielding higher education from bearing the brunt of the budgetary woes was the overarching theme of this legislative session. Toward that end, I introduced three bills to protect and increase higher education funding.
HB 323 proposed a constitutional amendment that would have been presented to voters in October. This amendment would have prohibited the governor and the legislature from reducing the total appropriation for higher education below the appropriation for the prior year without a two-thirds majority. It would further have ensured that universities do not lose state funds in the event that their revenue from tuition and fees increases from one year to the next. Although I successfully passed this bill by more than a 2/3 majority vote in the House, the instrument was eventually deferred by the Senate Finance Committee.
On a more positive note, HB 386 is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. It dedicates interest earnings of the Deepwater Horizon Economic Damages Collection Fund to higher education. The legislation stipulated that this funding be truly new- meaning in addition to current state appropriations- not a replacement or way to cut other funds. Furthermore, it ensures that civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and monies received through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process will remain dedicated to our Coastal Master Plan and securing our coast for future generations.
Finally, HB 250, which authorizes additional deposits into the Workforce Training Rapid Response Fund, won approval by the legislature. For more information on how this will benefit our workforce and Louisiana’s community and technical colleges, please watch LCTCS President Monty Sullivan’s Legislative Minute.
With the threat of $600 million budget cuts to higher education in Louisiana, the Student Government of Louisiana State University organized an initiative to evaluate the performance of state legislators annually. I am honored to have made this year's "Honor Roll" with a 100% score.
View the report card here: http://lsuherc.weebly.com/uploads/5/3/1/9/53190299/lsu_herc_2015.compressed.pdf
It’s a given that post-secondary education paves the pathway to the middle class. Moving forward, I am gearing up to continue the fight to protect and support our institutions of higher learning.
The failure of legislation to double the earned income tax credit ranks among my great disappointments for the session. Louisiana is known for having one of the most regressive tax policies in the country. Our lower-income citizens shoulder a disproportionate burden, especially compared to similarly-situated individuals in other states.
I introduced HB70 to increase the earned income tax credit from 3.5 to 7 percent. While this is just one small step in the right direction toward a more equitable tax policy, it could have made a real impact on working families struggling to make ends meet.
It also makes just plain economic sense. Research indicates that lower-income workers tend to re-inject tax breaks directly back into the economy because they use the money for necessary purchases of goods and services. To use San Antonio as a case study, officials there estimated that each dollar spent on the earned income tax credit generates $1.58 in local economic activity. As another benefit, the tax credit is often used for purposes that actually enhance workforce stability, such as repairs to vehicles used for commuting, childcare expenses, and additional education or training.
Watch the video clip below at 2:37:00 to see me urging my colleagues in the legislature to do the right thing: http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/VideoArchivePlayer.aspx?v=house/2015/Jun/0608_15_Day33_2015RS_PM
The Editorial Board of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, the US Chamber Foundation, and many others support the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Read NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune Editorial here: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/06/earned_income_credit.html
Read US Chamber Foundation Report here: http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/sites/default/files/publication/edu/ICW_EITCToolkitrdc.pdf
I am proud that I was able to secure bipartisan support and pass an amendment through the House, even though it was ultimately stripped in the Senate.
While my bill was unsuccessful this time around, my resolve to keep fighting for the working families of Louisiana is stronger than ever.
I’m also disappointed to share that HB 725 about the Louisiana New Markets Job Acts Tax Credit did not pass. If you have not already seen it, please read my letter to the editor published in the June 8 edition of The Advocate about the importance of this tax credit. It has a proven track record of stimulating economic growth by supporting the state’s small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Other legislation of note that is improving the economy in communities across the state includes an extension to the tax credit for the rehabilitation of nonresidential historic structures. This popular credit, which has been the catalyst behind countless historic preservation efforts, will now continue until January 1, 2022.
The American Society of Civil Engineers graded Louisiana’s roads and bridges a D and D+, respectively, in their most recent report card. Motorists, however, likely did not need to see this ranking to know that there is a lot of work to be done to improve the state’s infrastructure.
Despite the budget challenges this year, $100 million dollars of additional aid per year were added to the Transportation Trust Fund. Though this amount falls far short of addressing Louisiana’s $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, my bill to revise the process by which projects are selected to be included within the Highway Priority Program should help ensure these and all future appropriations are well directed.
HB 742 was developed with the support of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. It stipulates that proposed projects should be subject to an objective analysis that considers the extent to which the project would enhance accessibility, improve safety (especially during evacuations), stimulate commerce and economic development, foster multimodalism, and protect the environment. In addition, the results of this rigorous screening process would be made public to increase government accountability.
The alliance Transportation for America spotlighted the significance of this legislation in a recent article. Read more about how the new process, slated to go into effect in 2017, puts Louisiana ahead of the curve when it comes to transparency in transportation spending.
Read Transportation for America Article here: http://transportationforamerica.org/2015/06/09/louisiana-legislature-makes-a-paradigm-shift-to-better-prioritize-transportation-dollars-and-restore-public-confidence/
According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Though we have taken some preliminary steps to control the growth in the state's prison population, widespread systematic reforms are needed. Toward that end, I am pleased to announce the creation of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force. The task force is charged with completing a comprehensive assessment of the criminal justice system and developing research-based policy recommendations. The goal of these recommendations will be reducing correctional populations and associated spending, holding offenders accountable, and reinvesting savings into strategies shown to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.
Another resolution I sponsored, HCR73, has also been sent to the Secretary of State. It requests the Institute on Public Health and Justice to study the issue of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include seventeen-year olds. Currently Louisiana is one of only nine states in the United States that automatically tries seventeen-year-olds as adults. We know from adolescent brain research that teens are significantly different from adults when it comes to impulse control, moral reasoning, and weighing the consequences of their actions. We also know from studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and the US Department of Justice that youth who have been sent through the adult criminal justice system are more likely to offend again than similar youth who remain in the juvenile justice system.
I look forward to hearing the results of each of these investigations and will keep pushing for changes to improve the justice system in Louisiana.
As co-chair of the Coastal Caucus, protecting our coast has been one of my top priorities. I co-authored and shepherded through the Coastal Master Plan, co-sponsored legislation that dedicates Clean Water Act fines associated with BP to coastal projects, and sponsored and passed the annual Coastal Plan. This year, before session, I called on the governor to keep his hands off the Coastal Trust Fund, and I’m proud to say that we protected and preserved this fund for the sacred mission of securing and rebuilding our coast.
At the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, I was honored to co-chair the "Toast to the Coast” presented by the America’s WETLAND Foundation at LSU Tiger Stadium to announce a new restoration project and to honor individuals who have made a difference in the fight to save Louisiana's coast.
In the House, I sponsored HB 352, which is headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. This legislation amends and reenacts approval for land acquisition for integrated coastal protection projects by "acquiring authorities.”
According to the Economist, the “Effects of 'religious freedom' outrage could be long-lasting.” The article states that while the political outrage over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act will inevitably fade, Indiana and its capital city will face "long-lasting" economic repercussions from the divisive law, which has stoked widespread fears of discrimination.
There have been dozens of articles and statements making the same point. In fact, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau has stated, "The adoption of certain types of overreaching, problematic and divisive legislation in Louisiana has the possibility of threatening our state's third largest industry and creating economic losses pushing past a billion dollars a year and costing us tens of thousands of jobs.”
Tangible Threats to Indy’s Economy:
Press Clips on RFRA and the Economy
Economist: Effects of 'religious freedom' outrage could be long-lasting
The Atlantic: The Economics of Religious Freedom Bills: Legislation signed in Indiana this week could allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. Other companies are hitting back. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/03/the-business-of-religious-freedom-bills/388898/
Indiana businesses concerned over economic impact of religious freedom bill
Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Is Bad for Business
Indiana Already Experiencing Negative Economic Impact of ‘Religious Freedom’ Law
Will Indiana's new religious freedom law have local financial impact?
Indiana feels power of the boycott purse
Religious freedom law's economic damage immeasurable