The 2018 Sessions, four in total, have officially ended. We started the first Special Session with staggering budget issues, a fiscal cliff of over $1 billion and potential devastating cuts to departments and agencies across state government. We ended the third Special Session with a balanced budget and nearly enough revenue to fund a stable budget, including ongoing expenses and cuts.
The stability of this outcome is good news for the people of Louisiana. Stability is good for students, for faculty members, for those who rely on SNAP benefits, for everyone who counts on hospitals and vital services. It’s good news for District Attorneys and for businesses who need a stable financial environment to work in. It’s good for Louisiana. Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues, TOPS and higher education will be funded in a stable way. Our health care programs are intact and the people of Louisiana will enjoy a net tax decrease. We can now begin to move forward without the threat of a fiscal cliff preempting other pressing matters.
By renewing .45 cents of sales tax for 7 years, the people of Louisiana can finally move past poor decisions made by the previous Administration that have continuously destabilized revenue and the business climate of our state. However, although it took an impressive amount of collaboration and compromise to achieve these budget accomplishments, it still fell short of the structural tax reform long needed in our State. In order to compromise, we had to include a sunset on the revenue generated, which will create another fiscal cliff in 2025. I am confident that in the next seven years, we will be able to find a workable, long-term solution that will not subject the people of Louisiana to this kind of instability every few years.
In fact, I authored and helped pass legislation this Session that I believe will contribute to our long-term goals of stability and economic success.
- $28 Million additional federal dollars to early childhood education next year. This may be the single best investment of tax payer dollars and the best way for us to change the trajectory of the state of Louisiana. It sets the table for a lifetime of learning, creates strong competition in the global knowledge-based economy and supports our current working parents so they can fully participate and excel in their careers.
- The Louisiana Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council will provide an avenue for the Legislature, the Department of Economic Development and the Governor’s office to work in concert with small businesses and entrepreneurs across the State to remove barriers and unnecessary regulations, promoting job creation and job growth.
- I amended the Major Events Incentive Program Fund, which was originally created to attract major events to our State. Now, with my amendment to the process, it will be streamlined and the fund will be self-sustaining, so we will be able to attract events and economic opportunity that much better.
- The Expedited Licensing Process is a first of its kind program to get much needed healthcare facilities through the licensing process as quickly and efficiently as possible. This increases access to affordable and high-quality health care which is essential to a healthy workforce and also to a thriving healthcare industry that employs tens of thousands of people in Louisiana and provides some of the highest paying jobs in our State.
- The Pilot Project to address Neonatal Opiate Withdrawal Syndrome. In addition to affecting the lives of those who are addicted, the opioid epidemic also has long-lasting neonatal effects as a result of a mother’s dependence on opioids. This will be an evidence-based program that give our mothers and our babies the best chance of recovery, promoting safe alternatives prioritizing that mother and child be treated together.
- We have also made great strides in criminal justice reform. Just last year, I spearheaded an effort to pass landmark criminal justice reform legislation, and it is already paying off. We are being smarter and reinvesting taxpayer dollars on job training, re-entry, and educational opportunity rather than simply locking people up. The result is that we are no longer the incarceration capital of the world. We are now number 2 and have a long way to go, but this is a promising start.
The last few months have been trying. Though the legislature was finally able to bring some stability to the revenue picture, I will continue to fight for long-standing reform and sound policy based on what is best for our State and our families. We still have much work to do.
On a personal note, our family has grown by one this Session. My wife, Danielle, and I welcomed our second beautiful daughter, Caroline, in May. Caroline and her big sister, Cate, continue to motivate me to keep fighting for a strong, stable and secure future. They inspire me to work towards a more equitable state that allows every person to seek their fullest potential, personally, physically, academically, economically, and spiritually.
Thank you for all of your input over the last couple of months. As always, I appreciate your perspective and your support. Please continue to engage with your Legislators to tell them what is important to you as we work together for the people of Louisiana.