Thursday, 10 March 2016 17:44

Transcript, video: Gov. Edwards’ post-legislative special session press conference

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edwards presser mar9Newly elected Louisiana Governor, John Bel Edwards. was not a happy camper when he faced the media Wednesday evening after a brutal three-week special session that ended with a roller-coaster of emotions, in the legislature crafting a compromise as the state enters into a regular legislative session.

The wreckage: Sales taxes imposed upon a poor state filled with poor people.  More devastating cuts upon healthcare and higher education.  Worse?  An eight-hundred-million-dollar budget deficit for the year 2016-2017, starting July 1 for a state that has been savaged over the past years with more cuts to vital services and depletions of budgetary resources.

Below is a transcript of Edwards’s post legislative session press conference.  There might be a few transcription errors so we suggest you watch the video for obviously, the most accurate account.

The questions asked by the reporters are not audible, thus were not transcribed.  Also, the video has closed captions embedded, so you can watch the video with the text captions.

If you find the transcription and video helpful, do share with others.

tt was a disaster today in 16 parishes and somewhat of a disaster here as well

We started off with a $940 million hole in the current year and as it appears right now were about $30 million short. So obviously, that's a better number, we should not be short at all but we are, in the current year. On the other side with respect to the next fiscal year, we started out a little bit over $2 billion short and right now were $800 million short. That is going to be a very difficult number to absorb in cuts and I will tell you that we will be in triage mode trying to figure out exactly how to allocate those cuts out. I cannot give you that breakdown now, and in fact, in the way that the house and senate conducted their business over the last hour or so, I'm not sure anybody knows exactly what's left in the bills and what may have died in the calendar. But, we’re pretty confident that were $800 million short. There are some members of the House and the Senate that did some really great work. They took courageous votes, they stood up and tried to move forward and resolve our state's serious problems

How serious?.

The largest budget deficits in the history of our state. Unfortunately, there weren't enough and they didn't get done to the extent that they should have. We had a balanced plan. A plan that was balanced between cuts and revenues, and on the revenue side it was balanced because it allocated revenue increases across a broad spectrum of tax types and taxpayers. We call for shared sacrifice. So that along with those revenue increases in the cuts, we could fully address the problem as it related to current year and to next year.

Ultimately, the legislature, was unable to move forward on the plan and did not offer a plan on its own. That would close the gap. So, we are where we are and is going to be a very difficult process to go through that triage as I just mentioned. At the end of the day, 18 of the 23 measures that I asked for, work passed. 

We didn't get where we needed to and the fact that we remain short for this year in the matter 30 million and next year for 800 million is because I was 18 for 23 as opposed to doing just a little bit better, which is what we should have done. Also, in addition to the legislators who work hard, I want to thank those people from around the state of Louisiana, whether they are mothers or fathers of children who need waivers, whether they have other folks who need access to healthcare, whether it's Medicaid services or safety net hospitals, whether it's individuals who are concerned about higher education or K to 12 education--those people, many of them made their voices heard, and they communicated with their legislators, and I will tell you the inability of the legislators to do it's job should be no reflection on those people, who work so hard to make their concerns heard. So, we have a lot of work left to do, we're going to start a regular session on Monday, that regular session, of course, will pass a balanced budget for next year. That budget is going to start off with  $800 million less general fund that we need if we simply want to do the services that we did in the current year. That number is big, so it's going to be very difficult, we will have more information for you all, probably sometime tomorrow, he will get notice of an additional press conference where we will have more to share with you in terms of how those cuts will be allocated when we come back into session and the first thing that happens with respect to the budget bill as Jay Dardenne, the Commissioner of Administration is going to go in and offer some amendments to the executive budget proposal that we already put before the legislature. As you recall, that budget proposal was $2 billion short. So, we do have more revenue to allocate and put into the budget, we're going to go through this process, is going to be a painstaking and were not ready at this at this moment to tell you exactly what that's going to look like but we hope to have some more information shortly. So we could have done better, it's not a great day for the State of Louisiana, and I am as committed as ever, as governor, to make sure I continue to work with everyone in the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, and I don't want to leave out my two independent friends, so that we can take care of the people's business. We didn't do a very good job over this last three weeks and thank goodness I gave them the extra four days because it seemed like they needed every single minute to get where we are. So with that, I will take a few questions and like I said, we will be letting you know soon when the next press conference is going to be so we can give you some more information after we digest what was done,  so we can allocate the revenue back into the budget.

Greg? (Question about a special session)

I certainly don't rule that out, it is a distinct possibility. I'm not ready to announce that yet. I'm going to tell you, and this is part of the problem, which is why I never understood the lackadaisical attitude by so many in the legislature and the lack of a sense of urgency--we cannot have another special session before 6:01 PM on June 14. So we have to fashion a budget between now and then with the revenue that's available that's going to be $800 million short. Because that number so big, I can guarantee you, that many institutions and agencies are going to have to move forward, with large-scale cuts reorganizations and all sorts of things that's going to flow out of this because the’re not going to be able to wait until June to figure out what the final deal is, and then execute those cuts, the three weeks they will have left between then and the end of the fiscal year on June 30. So, it is a distinct possibility, I'm not ready to it now, but quite frankly Greg, there might be many options on the table for people to consider that would be plenty more appetizing than those that we just went through and put before them. Maybe, coming on the backside of some cuts, it will find a more receptive audience in the house, especially, so it might be something that we do.

(Responding to questions by Tyler Bridges as to whether he is going to go around the state)...the
process works best when people are informed about how people behave and I would hope that they are taking it upon themselves to investigate and to see how their members voted and who's responsible for what's about to unfold in Louisiana. But having said that, I am committed to doing, the dead-level best that I can, working with my administration and continue to work with members of the house and the Senate, to make sure that to the extent that we can, we fully protect the people of the state of Louisiana. I will tell you it's not possible to do with less in the state general fund, but that does not mean that we’re excused from doing the best that we can and we are going to do that. I call on the people of Louisiana, they can go to the legislative website and they can see how their members voted on every instrument that came up in the legislature, the session.

(Responding to a question from the media)

It's hard to work well with the group that doesn't want to follow its own rules but the fact of the matter is, we have a fiscal session in 2017. I believe, I think everyone agrees, and I certainly do that we need comprehensive tax reform in 2017. That's why I was happy to support house current resolution 11, that's why I met with members of the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats to agree with every item that was in that HCR, so that we can get started sooner than later, and it actually sets up a group that's supposed to start meeting in September. I've told the leaders in the House and the Senate that if for coming back next week, we can start next week. We should not wait to September and we ought to be studying this issue and find out what we can agree upon because obviously, it doesn't work too well if we don't have enough time--which seems to be the case here. So I am concerned about that, for some practical reasons too. I have to imagine that when Moody's takes look at what happened here today, they're not going to be impressed. And when they see the revenue, that was voted on, even though they are $800 million dollars short was of a very short duration. Doesn't even meet the definition of recurring revenue under our own rules. It wasn't just that Moody's downgraded us, they put us on a negative watch going forward which means they're looking to do it again. We've already received letters from Sacs telling us that they're very concerned about whether we had the funding in place so that the programs being offered at our higher education institutions can continue. And this is the sort of work that we get out of the legislature, again, just examples of too much complacency, it too much of a lackadaisical attitude and quite frankly, I'll go back to where was last week, we have too many members who refuse to lead, to follow, or get out of the way.

(Question about healthcare workers) are not prepared to say that today because we’re going to come out and let people know how we think these 800 million dollars in cuts in state general fund should be allocated. We're going to do that in the next couple of days. I just want to assure the people of Louisiana that I'm going to do the very best that I can, working with my administration and with the folks in the house and the Senate to make sure that were are as responsible and as prudent as we can be with these limited resources so that we can protect the maximum extent we possibly can our critical priorities, but that's not going to be possible with $800 million plus but I'm encouraging everyone to be optimistic that we are going to come together and fix this problem, it won't be on the timeline that is should have been, because gonna have to get through the regular session and get some distance on the other side of that before we can get there. I made a mistake a while ago with regard to HCR 11, the study group does start right away and we're supposed have a report by September, but that study group doesn't have any members of the legislature participating in it and what I'm calling on members of the legislature to do is to go ahead and start working as well, so they are prepared to move forward just as fast as possible.

(Question from Clancy DuBos..)
As you know, we have not yet achieved structural reform and without structural reform, those cuts will most surely be concentrated to a disproportionate degree upon higher education and healthcare. But cuts of this magnitude, shortfalls of this magnitude are going to impact just about every agency in state government. I am concerned, I will tell you tonight about a number of agencies, the budget of the Department of Corrections, among them, it runs on 100% state general fund dollars and our ability to do what we should do there--I think it's going to be severely compromised. I know that DCFS and naming agencies but the very truth is, I'm very concerned about all of them based upon where we are.

(responding to questions)
well, I need the people to, if they're concerned about the failure of the legislature to compromise and find a way forward to comprehensively, they need to make that known to their legislators first of all,  but i'm always going to be optimistic about the future of Louisiana. This was not our best day, I cannot stress that enough, but maybe, although it should never be necessary, maybe when they come back in the session and they start putting together a budget with $800 million less than we need just to deliver the same services and we see how that impacts people, they will develop a sense of urgency that was so obviously lacking and be more willing to compromise and to close the shortfall. I just want to point out that we had a comprehensive balanced plan, ultimately it didn't all get implemented, we did shave off most of the shortfall for next year including most for the current year, but I want to point out that over $1 billion for next year, relates to the sales tax, whether it was cleaning pennies or adding a new penny and there was a broad base refusal by the legislature as a whole to move beyond that to other tax types and other taxpayers in a meaningful way. We have to have a balanced approach. I called for shared sacrifice, ultimately, that is not what we got. I call for us to come together, not as Republicans and Democrats, but as Louisianaians--ultimately, we came up short on that measure as well. So I know that we can do better. I will continue to work to make sure that we do what we can to foster the environment so that this does not become Washington DC. You know, it's quite possible that you just witness something that we have taken a step in that direction. I will fight against it with every fiber of my being. We don't have long, will be back here Monday in a regular session, and hopefully we can serve the people better than we did in the special session.

Thank you

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