Jindal taps budget, education, religious freedom as major 2015 session issues

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BATON ROUGE – Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered his address Monday at the opening of the 2015 Legislative Session.

The session kicked off amidst consternation over a $1.6 billion deficit in the state budget for next year.

“We must balance our budget without raising taxes on our people.  It is their money, not ours,” he said. “The easy way out for politicians is to raise taxes…when it comes to raising taxes, we know that when government takes more of our people’s hard earned money our economy lags, job growth lags, and we put families in a tight spot.”

Jindal asked the lawmakers to harken back 10 years ago when the economy had stagnated and the New Orleans area was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

“We are fighters, we never give up, and we all came together to bring Louisiana back. Fast forward to today, and you see a far different picture of Louisiana, and you see the true greatness of our people. Together – we rebuilt and we are today stronger than we have ever been,” Jindal explained.

He touted the accomplishments of his tenure, noting it was his final session as governor.

“I know that my critics contend that we have cut taxes too much, and have cut government too much.  I respect that opinion, but I don’t agree with it,” said Jindal. “It’s an honest difference of approach, and I think we can achieve more if we respect each other’s views.”

Jinal moved on to what he saw as the main issues facing the state — the budget, education reform, and religious freedoms.

Jindal said his budget proposal protects higher education, health care and other government functions by eliminating wasteful state spending in our tax structure, something he called “Corporate welfare.”

“Our businesses are a great asset. But we cannot stand idly by while companies pay zero in state taxes and then continue getting free taxpayer money from the government on top of it.

We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut to help protect higher education and health care.”

Jindal then moved on to discuss the other hot topic in Baton Rouge this session: education.

“We have to get rid of Common Core,” Jindal said plainly. “This is not a debate about high standards…This is about the federal government deciding that they need to set the standards for us because we are not sophisticated enough to do it on our own…This is about the federal government finding a back door way to dictate curriculum to our state and to every state.”

Jindal said he had met with numerous teachers and parents who had all asked for Common Core to be reevaluated if not abandoned. He cited how upgraded standards had improved the state’s educational rankings and finally noted that parents need more choices.

“I believe we can pass legislation that makes clear that the federal government or third parties do not have control over Louisiana’s schools, and help ensure that Louisiana parents and teachers create Louisiana standards and curriculum.”

Lastly, Jindal cited what he saw as the country’s attack on the First Amendment.

“I know there has been legislation filed this session that aims to protect religious liberty rights in Louisiana…I absolutely intend to fight for the passage of this legislation – and any other that seeks to preserve our most fundamental freedoms,” before adding, “and let me be clear about something else – in Louisiana, we do not support discrimination, and we do support religious liberty, and we believe that we can uphold both of those values simultaneously.”

Jindal then addressed legislation, like that of Bossier City Representative Mike Johnson and his “Marriage and Conscience Act” he filed this sesion, which is aimed at preventing the government from discriminating against anyone based on his or her view of marriage.

Jindal noted it does not allow businesses to refuse service to a gay or lesbian person.

“All this bill does is provide necessary protections for individuals to prevent adverse treatment from the state based on religious beliefs regarding marriage,” said Jindal. “The law merely ensures the state cannot deny a license, certification, accreditation, or contracts, to a person or a business on the basis of their sincerely held religious belief about marriage.”

He went on to say, “I think we can all agree that the government should never force someone to participate in a marriage ceremony against their will. People, charities and family-owned businesses should not be penalized because they believe in the traditional definition of marriage.”