Louisiana Spotlight: The governor enjoys rare month of good news
Published 4:25 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2017
BATON ROUGE (AP) — For Gov. John Bel Edwards, he must be wishing that all months could be like this one.
After bruising tax and spending battles with state lawmakers earlier this year, the Democratic governor has largely had a stretch of good — or at least less awful — news to talk about since the legislative sessions ended in June.
Louisiana’s budget is temporarily stable, with no dramatic cuts planned and college students returning this fall to a fully-funded TOPS tuition program. Tropical Storm Cindy brushed Louisiana, but left no widespread damage.
Homeowners with damage from last year’s flooding are starting to see some aid from the Edwards administration’s Restore Louisiana program. Nearly $277 million in federal cash is on its way to Louisiana to help parishes fortify their communities against the next storms to come.
Louisiana no longer owes the federal government $190 million for a disagreement over financing used in former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s privatization of the charity hospital system, settling the health dispute for the far smaller amount of $5.4 million.
Congressional proposals that would end Edwards’ Medicaid expansion program and that could more broadly disrupt federal financing for Louisiana’s traditional Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and disabled have stalled.
And the governor and Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry even managed to reach a detente in one of their many clashes, ending a lawsuit over a budget feud after legislative mediation.
That’s a far cry from the headlines of the three legislative sessions earlier this year, as Edwards and House Republican leaders battled over budget-balancing approaches.
The governor saw his tax package bottled up in the House and had such fierce disagreement with House GOP leaders over finances that taxpayers shelled out extra money for a special session to finish work on this year’s budget.
Edwards ultimately won much of what he wanted for the budget, but he was tied up in criticism about the unnecessary expense of a special session after a governor and lawmakers failed to finish a Louisiana budget in a regular session for the first time in 17 years.
But since lawmakers went home on June 16, Edwards has had some sporadic weeks that could be described as a bit of a breather.
Too bad the good news isn’t likely to last.
Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate are trying to revive their stalled health care proposal. Louisiana’s flood rebuilding efforts remain far short of the dollars Edwards says are needed for a full recovery. Months remain in hurricane season, a constant worry and consistent threat for Louisiana.
Media outlets have reported that Edwards is being called on to remove a state police commissioner who has been accused of fixing tickets and threatening a trooper. Details still haven’t emerged from an internal investigation of questionable state police travel under the agency’s former superintendent, and outside auditors continue to dig into the records.
Meanwhile, more disagreements loom with the attorney general. Lawyers for Edwards and Landry will be back in court next month in a lawsuit over the governor’s executive order banning discrimination in government and state contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The attorney general argued Edwards’ order unconstitutionally sought to create state law since legislators have refused to approve such LGBT-rights protections. A district court judge agreed with Landry. Edwards is appealing, and appellate arguments are scheduled Aug. 15.
And overshadowing it all, Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff” is looming in the background. That’s the name used to describe the more than $1 billion budget shortfall that hits when temporary state taxes expire on June 30, 2018.
Edwards and House GOP leaders haven’t agreed on an approach to close that gap. At the moment, the two sides are even in disagreement about who should be devising the action plan.
At some point again soon, Louisiana’s financial roller coaster will consume all the oxygen in the state capitol and return the governor and lawmakers to the tension they all seem happy to escape, if only briefly.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte