Gov. John Bel Edwards sent shockwaves throughout the state last week via his televised address about the state budget, and according to two local state legislators, Edwards’ words are far from bluster.
State Rep. Greg Miller (R-Norco) and Sen. Gary Smith Jr. (D-Montz) both believe that the governor was conveying some harsh truths about the state’s financial situation, and that there will be no easy solutions to overcoming the deficit. “He’s definitely right,” Miller said. “We’re in an unprecedented financial crisis. We’re talking about a deficit of nearly $90 million for the fiscal year (so far).
By June 30 (the end of the fiscal year), it’s projected to be a $2 billion shortfall. We have to find a way to close this gap.”
He stopped short of entirely endorsing Edwards’ speech.
“My concerns are … I don’t know if he gave us as much flexibility (as needed) to make structural changes to the way we budget and the way we set up our tax system,” Miller said. “We have just a short three-week period to work with.
It will be awfully hard to tell the taxpayers of Louisiana that all we can do is raise taxes, without first exploring other cuts that need to be made.
“I’m not convinced we’ve explored all potential cuts or avenues. There’s also the need to refocus what we do long term. We’ve been in this cycle for years.”
Edwards’ warning that the scholarship program TOPS may run out of money came as no surprise to Miller.
“I’ve been saying for a long time that we need to reform TOPS,” Miller said. “It cannot be sustained the way it is. I believe the GPA and ACT score requirements are too low to qualify. The way it is constituted presently, it seems in some ways to reward mediocrity.
“St. Charles Parish is blessed with the ability to fund a lot of things itself,” Miller continued. “But (the budget crisis) could limit our ability to fund things like the road project at the Highway 90-I-310 interchange. It can limit our ability to get funding for flood control and drainage.
“We face a big challenge ahead of us. We’ll have to work very hard to solve these problems, hopefully in a fair and responsible manner.”
Smith said he believes the governor conveyed some harsh truths, something he believes is a long time coming.
“He’s finally telling people the truth about what’s going on with the budget and the very real, serious situation we find ourselves in,” he said. “This is something we’ve been dealing with for years. To fix it, we’re all going to have to come together and make the best decisions we can for our citizens, for our students attending our universities and find a way to provide the appropriate funds.
“I know there are several competing theories as to how we’ll get there. We need to evaluate all of them.”
Smith said he doesn’t believe Edwards’ intention was to threaten, but simply to communicate the gravity of the state’s financial status.
“He was being realistic about the situation at hand,” Smith said.
He echoed Miller’s thoughts on potential local fallout. “Projects, like the highway project, could be affected,” he said. “We could lose funding for bonds and our bond rating could be hurt. A lot of different things could be affected, no doubt.”