I had the good fortunate of being a part of the Together Louisiana that was invited to set in the balcony and hear firsthand the (Governor John Bel Edwards’) speech as he opened the special session on Sunday, Feb. 14. We were of course in the House of Representatives and watched as they talked with each other hugged and seemed glad to be there. I watched the new legislators including the one from my hometown as they tried to figure out just what to do and who to engage with. It was amazing how many of them are seated close together. Finally the speaker opened the house and had read into the minutes certain pieces of information that no one on the floor paid any attention to, I guess because it was only formality. Then the speaker sent a group of four to announce to the senate that the house had convened and he sent a group of four to announce to the governor that the house had convened. It became evident that the senate had done the same thing because a group of four came and announced that the senate had convened.
Finally at five the governor arrived with the members from the senate and house as part of his escort team. The colors were presented and an excellent rendition of the Stars Spangled Banner was sung a Capella by a member of the staff.
The governor began his speech, now it seems as if he has presented in my opinion a bleak state of affairs for Louisiana. He also presented his proposals for alleviating the deficit. His plan does include cutting (160 million) and of course raising additional revenue.
On my way to the capital, I was walking behind a lady carrying a sign and of course I asked her what the sign was for and she said it had to do with the waivers parents had gotten for disabled children that Governor Edwards wanted to do away with. Then she made the off comment, I wish he had not gotten elected. She set in the balcony where our group set and I wondered if after she heard the speech if she still felt the same. I hope not. It became perfectly clear to me that we have had so many tricks over the last eight years to balance the budget that now the time has come to really reckon with the deficit. No one wants a tax increase, but as I look at the situation I can live with the one cent. I can also live with the tobacco and alcohol taxes especially if they bring in enough revenue to fix the budget.
I remember last year when the past administration talked about the tax credit for college students and how that credit that brought in no dollars would balance the budget and how the presidents of all the universities with Ph.D. degrees would go along with that particular smoke and mirror screen. I understand the politics of the agreement, because I know the governor could have put pressure on the various boards to get rid of those presidents who did not agree, but for the life of me I still don’t understand how they felt that the universities would have any additional revenue, even an illiterate person could see through that disaster.
I watched as the governor made his speech who clapped and of course who did not. It was amazing to watch especially the elected state level officials setting behind the podium and there lack of applause. It was also amazing to watch the members of the legislature as some and an awful lot of them chose to not clap even when he mentioned the couple who needed health insurance and had them stand. It was amazing to also watch when the mother of a disabled child stood who had a wavier for her child and who needed the help. I took note of those I knew who were so inclined to dismiss the governor’s plan to balance the budget.
Now here is where it is interesting, after his speech, one legislator said he cut 160 million that is not meeting us half way, what he did not offer was his solution, just criticism. The governor asked for help and for other options. It also baffled me that one of the great opponents of the Jindal mess was the state treasure who now thinks that we don’t need additional revenue. He must know some of us remember when he was the biggest critic of the Jindal smoke and mirrors.
So, I wrote before that I caught the breeze of change, after Gov. Edwards’ speech, I am willing to do whatever the governor needs to balance this great mess we are in and hope the legislators will remember they are elected by the people to do what the people want and that the people elected John Bel Edwards overwhelmingly.
By Linda M. Johnson
Linda Johnson is a former Louisiana BESE representative.