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Citing Education Needs, Louisiana Gov. Edwards To Oppose Any Efforts To Cut Taxes In 2020

Dec 18, 2019 03:11PM ● By Staff Writer
By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards next year plans to oppose possible efforts to cut taxes so the state can afford to spend more money on education, the governor said Wednesday.

Last week, in a virtual replay of the controversy from the last budget cycle, a state House of Representatives Republican leader blocked adoption of a new revenue forecast, this time citing a dispute with State Treasurer John Schroder over the use of the unclaimed property fund. That move likely will prevent the governor from delivering to the legislature by the February deadline an official executive budget that by law is supposed to be based on the official projection typically adopted in December.   

Instead, Edwards, a Democrat who just won a hard-fought reelection campaign, expects to repeat the approach he took to the last budget cycle, issuing a budget proposal rather than an official executive budget as defined by law.

“We won’t have any choice but to proceed in a fashion that’s very similar to what we did earlier this year,” he said. “This is just the second time this has ever happened since the REC was created.”

In voting to block the estimate, Rep. Cameron Henry, the Republican House appropriations chairman who is moving over to the state Senate for the next term, suggested Edwards could repeat that process, though some Republicans blasted those efforts at the time.

Edwards’ proposal would be based on the projections of the administration’s top economist, which was the more conservative estimate presented to the Revenue Estimating Conference, he said. That projection would allow for an additional $168 million in general fund spending for the current fiscal year and $103 million for the following year, compared to the last official REC projection adopted in April.

Edwards said “investing in education at every level” is his top priority. That would entail continuing the effort begun in the last legislative session to raise teacher pay to the regional average while spending more on early childhood and higher education.

“We have achieved budget stability by working in a bipartisan way and in a balanced way,” Edwards said. “Our state is now operating from a position of strength, not a position of weakness where we were four years ago.”

During the last legislative session, there was an effort to roll back early a temporary 0.45 percent sales tax used to cement the previous budget deal. That tax is scheduled to expire in 2025.

Some Republicans cite current budget surpluses to argue the tax should be ended early, though Edwards argues the existence of surpluses left over from previous years shouldn't influence revenue decisions that will affect the future.

"That was the year that was selected by the legislature," Edwards said. "I think it was prudent."

Edwards on Wednesday held his traditional end-of-the-year news conference. He said he plans to issue an emergency declaration as part of the state’s effort to recover from this week’s severe weather, which killed one person in Louisiana and caused significant property damage, particularly in Rapides Parish.

Edwards also plans to extend the executive order he issued after the November cyberattack against state government in order to assist New Orleans city government in its response to a more recent attack.