Edwards: State on Right Track
Small surplus for current yrea; anothre deficit looming

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

"For a change, Louisiana has a little good news with a budget surplus," Governor John Bel Edwards told the Piney Woods Journal in his office at the Governors Mansion on September 27th. "The small budget surplus that we have now tells me two things: first, some of our policies are working, and secondly that we will not have to have mid-year budget cuts this year."

"We are looking at another huge budget deficit for the coming fiscal year. I'm hoping and praying that the Legislature will work with me in trying to solve these huge deficits. If they don't like my plans, I want to see their plans and maybe we can find some common ground to work with for the benefit of the people of the great state of Louisiana."

Governor Edwards, a former State Representative from Tangipahoa Parish was elected Governor in the late fall of 2015 in a tumultuous campaign against a sitting US Senator of the opposition plain party. Governor Edwards took office in January of 2016.

"The forest industry has been hampered greatly during the last two years with two much rain and not enough markets. I will agree that the downturn in the forest industry coupled with low oil prices has stymied our budget revenue. Fortunately, the state budget is not as dependant now on oil and gas as it was 30 years ago; less than 10% of the revenue for the state budget now comes from oil and gas."

"Ever since the first day I was in the Legislature I have been very supportive of Commissioner Mike Strain in the work he is doing with Ag & Forestry," the Governor pointed out. "His budget has been cut so many times that I'm amazed that he can still operate the Department as well as he does."

"It is only by the Grace of God that we have not had wildfires like we have seen in Gatlinburg and California. I honestly don't know how Commissioner Strain could fight wildfires in our Louisiana timber land because he has such a small force of firefighters. I truly want to help Agriculture and Forestry every way that I can."

"Fortunately, we have seen some really major developments in the forest industry; the expansion at Graphic Packaging is huge and should last a long time," Governor Edwards pointed out. "Hood Containers Paper mill down in St. Francisville is in an expansion mode also."

"I'm going on a tour of the State soon with Commissioner Strain to visit a number of forestry manufacturing operations, and Agriculture producers and processors," Governor Edwards confirmed. "I'm looking forward to seeing the DRAX Biomass operations in North Louisiana.

Our Economic Development Department has been working to facilitate the expansion going on at the Port of Baton Rouge so that DRAX will have more rail facility to load ships faster."

The statewide tour of businesses and industry that was planned by the Governor and Commissioner Strain occurred during the month of October. It was touted as great success in bringing the needs of the business people to the forefront of the Governor's agenda for the coming year.

"Perhaps the biggest problem we have in Louisiana today is our infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges. There are so many bridges in the rural areas that are posted as to the weight of trucks carrying logs to the mill and agriculture products to the processors. We must fix these bridges that are so vital to our economy."

"We need to fix the bridges that can be fixed first; then build new bridges where the old bridge can't be repaired. We don't have to have a whole new highway plan for roads with outdated bridges. You would be surprised how many bridges that we still have still in use in Louisiana that were built when Franklin Roosevelt was President."

"I'll agree that the LA DOTD has an image problem with the public but the general public doesn't always understand all the things that the Highway Department is dealing with. Over the past number of years, the State of Louisiana has steadily reduced the number of employees in the LA DOTD. We have gone to more contractors to do our highway work. This has helped us reduce more cost through competitive bidding and holding some one outside the Department accountable."

"Tomorrow, I will be signing an order prohibiting the LADOTD from transferring funds from the Highway Trust Fund to the State Police Office. That is only one small step in the right direction for the Department. It is obvious and well known fact that we have a problem with the TIMED Highway program. "

"There is not enough revenue being generated by the four cent gasoline tax dedicated to the TIMED program to make the debt payment," Governor Edwards acknowledged. "Perhaps the only way to solve the TIMED program and generate more money for repair of our roads and bridges is to raise the tax on fuel. In the Legislature there does not seem to be enough commitment to increase tax on fuel."\par }{\plain "We sure lost a wonderful person with the passing of Senator Gerald Long's wife Rose. She was active as a volunteer around the capitol and the state. She was Chairperson of the Governor's Prayer Breakfast in 2016, my first as Governor. She and Senator Long did an outstanding job in preparing a wonderful program."

"Rose was such a beautiful person, inside and out. My wife Donna got to know Rose when I was in the legislator where Rose conducted regular prayer and Bible Studies. She and Donna became very close. We decided to name the flower garden here at the Mansion as the Rose Long Flower Garden. I'm so pleased to see a scholarship fund being established in Rose's honor that will provide scholarships to young girls who will be the first in their family to attend college as Rose was in her family down in Gueydan."

"Another thing that I want to emphasize is how well our Louisiana Technical Colleges are doing under the leadership of Dr. Monty Sullivan. Our two year colleges are certainly turning out students who are actually Work Ready You' as advertised. We want to expand our technical two year colleges so that everyone around the state has access to gaining a Work Ready You Education.' These colleges also offer Adult Education programs."

"I think we are definitely making good progress in Louisiana economically and in the education field. We have a lot of work to do which is obvious but we are seeing significant positive signs.

The unemployment rate is slightly higher in Louisiana than the national average by about a point. We do have considerable under-employment."

"Although we did see sharp downturns in Oil and Gas a couple years back, we haven't see anything comparable to the mid-1980's," the Governor emphasized. "Not only have we seen the economic downturn in oil and gas but we have had to deal with unprecedented floods in the Baton Rouge area and western Louisiana last year."

"Hurricane Harvey did cause some problems in the Lake Charles and Cameron areas. We also had a near miss of a hurricane which we had to prepare for along the coast," Governor Edwards said in closing. "One thing that I have learned since getting this job is that there is never a dull moment around this place."