He also warned attendants at the event about Louisiana's impending 'fiscal cliff'
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he was enthused about the future of Louisiana’s economic future in a speech he presented at the annual Iberville Chamber of Commerce banquet.
The banquet was held at Nottoway Plantation last Monday evening.
“I’m genuinely excited about the future of Louisiana and I love being governor at this time in its history,” he said.
But like most good speakers, Edwards began his 30-minute speech with a touch of humor. “The first time I was here, I brought my wife,” he said. “I scored big points.”
“We left here to go to Ft. Polk, La.,” said Edwards, who was in the U.S. Army at the time. “She’s never let me forget that, but we had to get her ID card so she could move with me to Hawaii, so that made up for it.”
He also talked about his appreciation for Iberville Parish.
“I remember four years ago when I came here (during his campaign) and I went to Mitch Ourso’s house and he told me what a special place Iberville Parish was and how much he loved the people here and how much he love Nottoway,” Edwards said, adding after several visits back to the parish since his election and he understands Ourso’s affection for Iberville.
He then returned to talking about the state’s bright future – in spite of recent natural disasters.
“We’ve had floods, we’ve had snow and we’ve had freezes and all kinds of things,” Edwards said. “We’re also facing the biggest budget challenge in our history.”
“I am so optimistic about our future because of the people this great state, but I am foolish not to think that we’ve got some great challenges that we have to face immediately but we’re going to get it done,” he continued.
“When we do, you’re going to see we have an era of prosperity ahead of us like we haven’t seen in decades,” Edwards said, a prediction he made after having talked to CEOs from around the state, nation and the world. “I know what’s happening out there.”
“Louisiana’s economic standing is so much better than it was a year ago, much better than two years ago,” he continued, then turned the conversation to the topic of infrastructure improvement.
“We’ve actually made some progress on this front,” Edwards said. “It’s been very difficult because like everything else because we’ve been trying to it with far more constraints with our budget that what we would like, but we have still been able to implement projects throughout the state.”
And while many more major road projects are in the works, “I will not pretend, we are not catching up,” he said. “Our current road project backload is $13.9 billion.”
“That is a huge amount that is almost impossible to wrap your head around but you se how it plays out every on roads that are inadequate to handle the volume of traffic we have today,” Edwards said.
He said some infrastructure problems are critical, like the state’s bridges many of which were constructed during Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s term in office, 1933 to 1945.
The labor and funding was provided through the Work Projects Administration, a federal program aimed at helping the country recover from the Great Depression.
“They (the bridges) were never designed to last this long,” Edwards said. “They were never designed to carry as many people as they’re carrying now or as heavy a load as they’re carrying now.”
“We have to do better and it’s difficult,” he continued, because infrastructure projects are funded by a 16-cent, 30-year-old gasoline tax. “The purchasing power of that 16 cents today is seven ad a half cents because of inflation.”
No one can do with seven and a half cents what they could with 16 cents 30 years ago, Edwards said.
“But we are exploring all options and we are looking to start some new projects,” he said, then continued with a humorous statement. “The other day I called up six contractors and asked them what would they build for us for free. The answer was none.”
“We have to do better and we’re going to have to get serious if we’re going to have good transportation infrastructure,” Edwards said, then talked about projects that directly impact Iberville Parish.
“Since my administration started, we’ve done $43 million worth of projects affect Iberville Parish,” he said, including a new asphalt overlay of La. 1 between White Castle and Plaquemine and cable barriers on I-10 from the Horace Wilkinson Bridge and Ramah designed to keep vehicles from drifting from one side of the interstate to the other.
“We have others things that we know we need to do and there’s not a greater need for a new bridge than for one south of what we call the new bridge and the Sunshine Bridge,” Edwards said.
“This is what your parish president, Mitchell Ourso, wears me out about,” he continued “I’m with you, Mr. President. I want to do it.”
The primary problem about a new bridge in Iberville is the cost, estimated today to be about $1.3 billion at a time when the state is facing a budget crisis. Edwards said the only way a bridge in the parish could be constructed today is by using monies other than state funding, like public/private partnerships or a bond issue.
“The cost is getting more expensive the longer we wait,” he said. “In terms of building a bridge, we do not have a revenue stream to support that.”
“We’re going to keep working on it,” Edwards continued, then made the statement that got the most enthusiastic round of applause of the evening. “We’re working toward the day when we can connect La. 1 to La. 30 and that will be a great day.”
He later broached the subject of what is being called “the fiscal cliff,” which Edwards described as the loss of about $1.3 billion in temporary state revenue.
“It’s not that the income is not coming in the way we forecasted, but we have over a billion dollars in revenue on the books that is falling off the books at the end of June,” he said. “That is the cliff and that is going to happen unless there’s some action by this legislature.”
“On June 30, we’re going to lose $1.38 billion in temporary revenue,” Edwards said, then added he has offered to legislators a plan that would replace $994 million of that lost income and if his plan is not adopted, the state is going to have to cut that nearly $1.4 billion from the state’s budget.
“Why is that going to be so difficult,” he asked. “That $1.3 billion can only be cut from a $3 billion portion of the state’s budget. Everything else is off limits under the constitution and the laws.”
The only two parts of the state’s budget that can be legally cut are higher education ad healthcare, Edwards said, “precisely the two areas of the budget that people say they do not want us to cut.”
“This is exactly what I do not want to do but this is the situation we’re in,” he said. “What I want to do is to permanently replace what’s coming off the books or at least that $994 million worth I was talking about earlier.”
“We have to deal with it because it’s not going to get better,” Edwards said. “…That revenue base is going to fall off the books and then we are faced with coming up with permanent solutions that are stable and fair so that we can turn the page on this chapter and enter the chapter of prosperity I was talking about.”
“I’m going to work as hard as I possible can with the legislative leadership…We can fix it,” he said. “We’re on the road to prosperity.”
“That’s what our mission is, to leave the world in a better condition that when we got here,” Edwards said. “We can do that.”