Stabilized funding for higher education. State Budget Finally Stable Says Governor Edwards

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This week Gov. Edwards authored a guest column in The Advocate detailing the progress Louisiana has made since overcoming the state’s fiscal challenges.

“… Louisiana is projected to have a $300 million surplus for the fiscal year 2018,” the Governor said. “This surplus is available to us because Louisiana businesses are doing
better, more Louisianans are finding work, and the improving economy has allowed corporate tax receipts to outpace expectations. Since I’ve been governor, the unemployment rate has fallen from a high of 6.2 percent to its current rate of 5 percent. But our good news doesn’t stop there.”

Gov. Edwards said that Louisiana now has long-term budget stability.

“For the first time in years, we have a stable budget structure that does not rely on one-time money or gimmicks, and we have put an end to the annual cuts to higher education that have threatened our children’s future. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents did all of that, and we still reduced the tax burden on the people of Louisiana by nearly $600 million.”

“Within weeks the national credit rating agencies removed Louisiana from the negative watch list. Our universities began the fall semester with nearly every campus’ enrollment at record levels because for the second year in a row, we stabilized funding for higher education and fully funded TOPS and Go Grants.”

“Bipartisanship has served our state well in other areas as well. Louisiana has taken the courageous step of implementing historic bipartisan criminal justice reforms. The reforms have been in place for just over a year, and the early results show that they are working. The state is no longer the incarceration capital of the world, a title we held for decades. In addition, the reforms have saved Louisiana $12.2 million, money that we are reinvesting into public safety and efforts to reduce recidivism. Our reforms were focused on nonviolent, non-sex offenders and were based off efforts in other Southern, conservative states, and we are proud to continue working with the White House and other states hoping to follow Louisiana’s lead.”

In a September 25 press release, the Governor announced that Louisiana was second in the nation for personal income growth in 2nd Quarter of 2018, behind only Texas, based on Bureau of Economic Analysis. Personal income in Louisiana grew at a rate of 5.9 percent, outpacing the national average of 4.2 percent, said the statement.

“Last week, we announced that the state ended the last fiscal year with a surplus. Today, the Bureau of Economic Analysis confirmed our assumptions – Louisiana’s businesses are doing better and people are bringing home more in their paychecks. This is excellent news, and just another sign that Louisiana is moving in the right direction. Our economy is growing, more people are working, and we have a stable budget structure for the first time in many years. While this is all positive news, we still have more work to do, but there is no denying that the momentum we have in Louisiana is real.”

The good news comes as a feature of the nationally based economic boom but also after painful legislative battles for the Governor.

After a total of seven special sessions since 2016, and three special sessions this year, Governor Edwards and legislators finally wrestled the budget into some type of order this past spring,
by the passage of an extra .45 percent sales tax, in down to the wire negotiations that ended last week. The move sidestepped drastic cuts to public health and higher education and provides several years of stability.

The new sales tax, a partial renewal of an expiring one percent sales tax, gave the lawmakers some respite from the yearly battles with the budget. The .45 brings the state sales tax to 4.45.

In the special sessions lawmakers were attempting to deal with the state’s budget crisis when more than $1 billion in taxes would expire on June 30, 2018. The two earlier special sessions floundered after the House repeatedly rejected increased taxes.

The House passed a budget that made dramatic cuts to TOPs, universities and state agencies. That budget was vetoed by the Governor.

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