Governor Edwards inaugurated for second term

Staff Report
Plaquemine Post South

Primary objectives for the next four years, along with renewed focus on familiar goals, highlighted the inaugural speech Monday for the second term of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Funding for roads and bridges, coastal restoration, a close on the gender pay gap and a hike in minimum wage played a prominent role in the inaugural speech – issues that came to light four years ago when he took office after a win over David Vitter.

On the heels of his re-election after a close win over Republican Eddie Rispone, Edwards touted the efforts he and lawmakers made when he inherited a $2 billion shortfall from the Bobby Jindal administration.

"Funding for our universities and community and technical colleges had been cut more than anywhere else in the nation," he said. "As a result, tuition also increased more than anywhere else, putting the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of our students."

Edwards also touted the common ground established among lawmakers that helped to end the deficit and bring about a $2 billion budget surplus.

The extra revenue paved the way for more than 1,300 improvement projects that created thousands of miles of better roads and bridges statewide, he said.

He also hailed the $700 million bill for transportation projects across the state. The package, spearheaded by state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, paved the way for the $125 million project near Interstate 10 that will connect La. 415 to the Intracoastal Waterway on La. 1 South.

"This was the largest single new investment in 30 years, which was made possible by the bipartisan efforts of the legislature – yet another example of what we can do for the people of our state when we cast party labels aside and work together," Edwards said.

Edwards also cited the expansion of Medicaid to the working poor of Louisiana, which has brought the number of medically insured residents to more than 450,000 in the state.

The expansion saved taxpayers more than $300 million, he said.

"And we haven't had a single hospital close," he said. "But most importantly, health outcomes are improving across Louisiana. People can afford to go to the doctor, receive lifesaving care, fill their prescriptions and return to work."

The $20 million investment in early childhood education during the 2019 session will mark the start of what Edwards considers his biggest priority for the next four years.

Early education will figure as the highest priority for new investments in education during the next four years, he said.

"Eighty percent of brain development happens before the age of 3, and experts agree that reaching children during these pivotal first years is one of the greatest tools we have for closing the achievement gap that has for too long plagued our state," Edwards said.

He also plans to increase classroom funding and give educators additional pay raises that will get them to at least the Southern regional average.

Edwards also continued the push for a hike in the minimum wage, an issue he targeted when he took office in 2016. He wants to bring Louisiana up to par with 21 other states that raised their minimum wage to begin the new year.

"Sadly, Louisiana remains only one of five states without its own minimum wage, and we know that an overwhelming majority of Louisianans support increasing the minimum wage," Edwards said. "Congress has made it clear that they are out of the business."

Edwards also made another plea to lawmakers to close the gap in gender pay, which he called the biggest in the nation.

"That offends me, and it should offend you too," he said. "Because when women succeed, families succeed, and when families succeed, so does Louisiana."

The state's future will rely on a willingness by the two parties to work together, Edwards said.

"We have to commit here and now to be great, to work together and to continue to reject the partisan rancor and dysfunction that plagues Washington D.C.," he said. "Louisiana was born from exploration and the hope of a better tomorrow. Today, we embark on a new expedition."