Gov. John Bel Edwards today presented some of the mounting challenges awaiting Louisiana in 2017, following his first year in office that was marked by recurring tragedies and a continually plagued state budget.
At a year-end press conference at the Governor’s Mansion today, Edwards recalled his worse day in office in 2016, when a lone gunman shot six law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, killing three. Looking forward, he projected optimism with efforts to heal the relationship between the public and law enforcement, announcing the roll out of 1,500 body cameras for state troopers and reiterating support for a forthcoming criminal justice reform effort.
But the first thing Edwards will deal with in the new year is more budget woes. The state is expected to have a more than $300 million midyear shortfall in January, and Edwards indicated another special legislative session is possible before lawmakers meet in the spring.
For tax reform, the goal of the regular legislative session, Edwards again indicated that the state will have to raise money as part of an overhaul of the tax code. The short-term taxes instituted by the Legislature in 2016 will end in 2018, creating a “fiscal cliff” of more than $1 billion.
“We’re not going to cut our way to prosperity,” he said, adding that lawmakers were unable to find cuts that would permanently offset the structural budget deficit.
More cuts to state agencies will be coming in the upcoming months, he added, to offset the shortfall, but he hopes to soon create a “fair” and “predictable” state budget.
The film tax credit, which helped transform the state into “Hollywood South,” will not be increased next year as part of a review of tax incentives, Edwards said. The tax credit was cut in 2015, and the industry here has seen a downturn since.
“We’re not going to get into a bidding war with other states to increase the tax credit,” he said.
But he added he’s working with industry leaders and could support tweaking the existing credit to make it better. He also hopes to reinvent the state’s infrastructure, bringing federal dollars to Louisiana to spend on roads and bridges.
At the same time as budget issues, Edwards will be dealing with thousands of flood victims who are still waiting for disaster aid to help fix homes and businesses that flooded in north Louisiana in March and south Louisiana in August. He said the state is working to develop a plan as quickly as possible and will begin permanently repairing homes in March or April of next year. The state is still waiting for more federal dollars from Congress.
Plus, a U.S. Department of Justice report on the killing of Alton Sterling in July is expected in early 2017, and Edwards indicated he is coordinating with law enforcement throughout the state to “keep the lid on” any protests or demonstrations that could ensue. Edwards lauded the actions of most Louisiana residents who protested this summer, noting demonstrations were largely nonviolent.
Edwards, who comes from a long line of law enforcement officers, also said his brother, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards, has not done anything improper or illegal. Daniel Edwards’ department was recently raided by the FBI in connection with a federal investigation into a drug task force.
“I sit before you a very optimistic person,” Edwards said. “We are on a path to prosperity, but it is a path that still has a lot of work left to do.”