Of the four candidates in this year’s governor’s race, it’s perhaps John Bel Edwards who is least familiar to northwest Louisiana voters. But Edwards has been a fairly frequent visitor to our part of the state and has visited with the Bossier Press Tribune staff twice in the last year.
Edwards is from Amite and he’s the lone Democrat in the race. He’s a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point and served eight years in the Army as a Airborne Army Ranger. He practices law in Amite, and has served in the Louisiana House of Representatives since 2007. Married with three children, he defines his position as “pro-life, pro-gun Christian.”
And he wants to be governor because he believes the time has come for a “governor who puts Louisiana first.”
Our first visit with Edwards was just after the 2014 legislative session and the topic discussion was the state budget – which Edwards predicted for the 2015 session would suffer at least a $1.2 billion hole. Edwards discussed the dismal state of funding for higher education and healthcare – as well as other state needs, calling the situation a result of a budgetary structural problem.
“We have incentivized growth in Louisiana to the point where there’s no net new revenue. And all my life, the conservative mantra was ‘you don’t raise revenue by raising taxes, you raise revenue by growing the economy.’ But if you are growing the economy and you don’t have net new revenue, you have a structural problem and that’s what we have in Louisiana,” Edwards said.
Among other issues, Edwards pointed a problem of state “tax expenditures” – tax breaks, or taxes not collected – that aren’t confirmed to be producing the anticipated return or a much smaller return, as contributors to the structural disconnect in the budget.
As most are aware, lawmakers used the 2015 legislative session to scale back some of those tax breaks in hopes of shrinking what’s expected to be another billion dollar budget shortfall for 2016.
Edwards also discussed his plan to expand the Medicaid program in Louisiana saying that doing so would collect the money “we’re paying to the federal government to treat our working poor …” Edwards said that currently other states are getting Louisiana dollars.
“It’s not a partisan issue,” Edwards said. “Ten states with Republican governors have expanded Medicaid in their states.”
Edwards said lack of this funding impacts all hospitals when Louisiana’s reimbursement program is severely diminished, and that we all pay a cost as the costs of treating the indigent is passed along to the insured. He said that expanding the Medicaid program in Louisiana would net the state $16 billion over ten years for indigent care.
Edwards also pointed to the essential need to adequately fund the state’s higher education system, noting that over the last several years, the state has cut that funding by some $700 million. As governor, Edwards said that he would work toward a 50/50 ratio to fund higher education – 50 percent state funding and 50 percent tuition and fees. And he’d work to get to 80 percent of the Southern Regional Average by the end of his first term.
“That seems meager,” Edwards said, “but from where we’ve fallen, it’s aggressive.”
Edwards was open and cordial in discussing what he believes should be the new direction for Louisiana and the work needed to move the state ahead on a variety of fronts.
Bossier voters should look for an opportunity to visit with him about issues that impact our part of the state, as well as Louisiana as a whole.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at email@example.com