Governor Edwards optimistic for 2019

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

In some ways our current situation here in Louisiana can best be described by words from the famous poet Charles Dickens; “These are the best of times and also the worst of times. In all actuality, we are digging ourselves out of at least a half dozen natural disasters," Governor John Bel Edwards pointed out to the Piney Woods Journal at the beginning of the interview.

“Our trip to Irasel was absolutly wonderful in every aspect,” Governor John Bel Edwards said. ˘It was very humbling to take time to realize that Donna and I were in Jerusalem, the very city in which Jesus walked, talked and preached. That alone was worth the trip, but there was much more to the trip.”

“We stirred up a lot of business interest and already have one company partnering with LSU on Cyber Security. Two or three other business deals are in the works. We also found out that Israel has been using the Port of New Orleans on a regular basis for many years for shipments of cargo. In fact we found out that much of the furniture for Rooms to Go comes through the Port of New Orleans. I believe many more positives will come out of our trip to Isarel.”

“There is already an Israel partnership in the works with our Water Institute of the Gulf better known as the LSU Water Campus. Another partnership underway already is with a Cyber-Security group at LSU. Also, Israel for the first time history has natural gas supply from gas wells in the Mediterranean. Several Louisiana Companies are well versed in natural gas production, so we anticipate a number of Louisiana companies will be involved in their natural gas production.”

The next legislative session starts in March and only runs for 65 days. In calender year 2018 there were four special sessions before the state budget was finally approved by the Legislature.

“I stated before that Louisiana will not have a special session in 2019,” Governor Edwards emphasized to the Journal. “I don’t see any real controversy ahead of us in the next Legislative session.”

“I think most Legislators agree with the $1,000 for the teachers and $500 for the support staff raises. Before we can disperse the money the legislature will have to approve the raises; however, we already have the money in hand so there will be no need of additional taxes.”

˘There is however a little difference of opinion with the surplus money that the Revenue Estimating Committee had found,” Governor Edwards pointed out. “There is opposition in some circles to recognize this money as a surplus. We also intend to increase the MFP money for local school system by 1.375%.”

In answer to to our question about Prison Reform which was a big issue the last couple years, the Governor had this to say: “We have been pleased with the results so far.”

“We’ve had no complaints from the court systems that our Prison Reform act has clogged up the court systems. We also believe that we are seeing significant money being saved due to some of our prison reforms. Also, perhaps best of all, we are seeing a slight drop in recividism rates.”

“According to statistics, overall crime rates are also down in Louisiana the last couple of years”” the Governor added. ˘We want to see our prison reforms to be very successful.”

“There are many stakeholders in the Prison Reform scenario. We want everything to work well for everyone. Statistics also show that five parishes are responsible for 40% of our crimes in Louisiana. We don’t expect to propose any new Prison Reform Legislation in the 2019 session. We might make some slight revisions on a few issues to make those rules work better for everyone, but no big Prison Reform legislation for this year.”

“It has been a tough year for forestry and agriculture,÷ the Governor noted. ˘I have declared an emergency in some of those parishes hardest hit.”

“This will give business people in those parishes help in receiving help from the federal government for their business losses. We must do everything we can to ensure that farmers and timberland owners can be successful because both inudstries are very vital to the economy in Louisiana.”

On the question of trade with Cuba, the Governor said Trade with Cuba right now is on the back burner due to national political policies; however, trade with Cuba is coming. We have to have patience because Louisiana is sitting in the ‘cat-bird’ seat when trade does open up in the near future.”

˘We have what the people in Cuba want and that is rice. Not only do we produce great quantities of quality rice, we also have the shortest shipping time to get that rice to Cuba through the Port of New Orelans. We can get a shipment of rice to Cuba in less than three days which is a week less that some of our rice competition.”

When the Governor was asked if people around Louisiana were beginning to feel like too much emphasis was being placed on the Baton Rouge traffic problem to the detriment of other highways the Governor replied: ˘I believe that most people understand the significnace of the Baton Rouge traffic problem which is created mainly by the I-10 bridge problems.”

“I do know that some businesses regularily using the I-10 bridge, are taking their down time with their trucks during the rush hours when the traffic is so horrendous. We have highway problems challenging us all over the state, but we must address the situation in Baton Rouge. We can’t let it get any worse than it is now.”

“Our biggest challenge is our highway and bridge system in Louisiana,” the Governor admitted. “We need a major upgrade on our entire system but are stymied by our low gasoline tax.”

“We have not had an increase in our gasoline tax in decades. We are so short of funds in the Department of Transportation and Development, we have trouble finding matching funds for receiving federal funds. Another challenge is the TIMED program which worked great for awhile; but we now have to subsidize the TIMED program with what amounts to about 0.01 (cents) per gallon of tax revenue.”

“We are going to have to have a serious talk about the gasoline tax to fund LADOTD projects,” the Govenor stated firmly. I’m sure that no elected official has a desire to talk about a raise in the gasoline tax during an election year, and this is an election year.”

“But we as a whole state have to make the decision, do we want our roads and bridges to continue to be some of the worst in the nation or do we want to bite the bullet and have a modest increase in gasoline tax so we can fix our roads and bridges.”

On the issue of increased tariffs on the national level, the Governor had this to say: “ The full effect of the tariffs have not yet hit Louisiana industries, but it will if things continue as they are, the tariffs will become a major problem. I do believe there are legitimate negotiations going on to get better Trade Agreemnts for us. In the long run, the trade agreements will be to our benefit.”

The PWJ’s final question to Governor Edwards was: “Do you feel like you have a voice on national level issues?”

“I’ve been with President Trump several times, even at the White House over the last two years. I’ve had dicussions with him. I’ve written letters to him on official business and he has always answered my letters. He knows me pretty well, so yes I feel that I have an opportunity to state my opinion and he will listen. President Trump has been very good and fair to Louisisana during his time in office.