Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner Jay Dardennne spoke with radio stations across the state this morning explaining why the failure of this special session was a wasted opportunity to build on the state’s growing momentum. While the regular session is a non-fiscal session, the budget and fiscal cliff will dominate the session, but they are optimistic and determined to work with all state lawmakers to fix the cliff in order to fund the state’s critical priorities including TOPS and health care. Clips from this morning’s interviews are below.
Gov. Edwards: "It really was a wasted opportunity to further stabilize our state and maintain the momentum we’ve got undeniably in terms of our 10 year low unemployment; the economic development wins that we have across the state of Louisiana; the investments; the stabilizing that we’ve already been able to do for higher education. It’s sad, it’s not terribly surprising. Last year, we had a fiscal session that we were supposed to use to address the fiscal cliff and not a single bill got out of the House, now we had a special session this year to address the cliff and not a single bill got out of the House. And you know, we’re going to start a regular session Monday and we’ll get back to the cliff because I am quite convinced they cannot pass a budget that’s less $994 million in revenue. It was a wasted opportunity, but we’re going to get back to work today and start working to try to fix it. In fact, as soon as I get off the phone I’m meeting with some legislators to try to get this thing started again.”
Host: “Was there a deal in place before the session?”
Gov. Edwards: "Well, there was certainly a proposal made by the (House) Speaker and I wrote the call to accommodate every element in his proposal, every revenue measure and every so-called budget reform measure and made the call exactly to his liking and still got no revenue bills out of the House to fix the cliff. By the way, that’s exactly what happened in the fiscal session last year as well when we should have taken care of this is not a single bill to fix the cliff made it out of the House over to the Senate. And it’s unfortunate because we are now going to cause parents and students to wonder for example, whether Higher-Ed is going to be funded, whether their TOPS scholarships are going to be funded and if so in what amount, and we should have taken care of that. It shouldn’t still be up in the air and not just TOPS and Higher Ed but across state government with our partner hospitals, with Medicaid services, our ability to pay for inmates to be housed in local sheriffs’ jails and just everything that we do. One of the things that I think people don’t understand is $1 billion in state general fund, if that’s the shortfall and it is, can only be cut from about $3.4 billion that is discretionary. The only two big pots of money are Higher Ed and health care; precisely the two areas that people all across the state of Louisiana tell me every day that they don’t want to see cuts. But that’s the only option that we have, which is why I don’t believe that the legislature will be able to pass a budget that once the federal reform dollars there will be about $692 million less than the current year. I just don’t think they can do it, and I know they can’t do it and responsibly and adequately fund our critical priorities.”
Host: “Where do we go from here?”
Jay Dardenne: “The governor indicated yesterday, and he has already spoken to the president (of the Senate) and the speaker (of the House) that he is going to ask the legislature to adjourn early in the regular session. Instead of staying until June 4, they’ll adjourn in early May so that he (the governor) can immediately call another special session that will end at the time the regular session was scheduled to end, and that way there are no additional days that the legislature would be in session. The reason for that is why we had the special session to begin with. The legislature cannot deal with any revenue measures in an even numbered year like we’re in, so they have to be in a special session. That’s why the session was called…the governor said repeatedly over the last year ‘I’m not going to call these folks back into session again unless the House has a plan to fix the cliff.’ The House plan was presented by the speaker to the president and to the governor before the session. He (the governor) wrote the call with them based on what the speaker requested would be in the special session, and the Speaker had indicated he would support a half-a-penny of sales tax, and he could deliver 40 Republican votes to do that. And as soon as the session began he reneged on that agreement, and that’s what threw everything asunder and created the train wreck we saw over the past two weeks where everybody is trying to blame everybody else for what’s falling apart.”
Jay Dardenne: “There was a plan going in. The reason we had the special session is because the speaker and the president and the governor all agreed on what would be in the call and what would be done. The speaker had agreed to a plan that would have raised almost what the governor had requested to close the gap that was necessary, and that all blew up in the first day or two of the session. So, it wound up being a gargantuan failure and a waste of a million dollars of the taxpayers money to pay per diem to legislators and to pay the staff and what have you. Obviously, it didn’t turn out the way we hoped it would turn out. We’ve been talking about this cliff for literally more than a year and talking in the past six months about how it needed to be fixed and the consequences of not doing it now and unfortunately now that is the reality that we’re facing…”