Governor Edwards Calls 2016 Challenging, But Also Rewarding
Governor John Bel Edwards calls 2016 a challenging year, but also very rewarding and positive as well. Edwards says he entered office and immediately addressed an unprecedented budget deficit by making cuts and raising revenues through tax increases.
"I would much rather be the governor presiding over a state with a surplus and come in and announce tax cuts," Edwards said. "That's not the situation I found myself in."
Edwards says the most difficult day in office came on July 17th when a gunman shot six Baton Rouge law enforcement officers, killing three of them. He says the two historic floods were also challenging.
"56 of our 64 parishes declared major federal disaster areas this year, because of flooding. And the flooding in August actually resulted in the deaths of 13 individuals," Edwards said.
Edwards says the goals for 2017 include addressing long-term structural budget reform so that Louisiana has a fair and predictable tax structure. He says his administration also plans on tackling criminal justice reform.
"That will align our criminal justice practices in Louisiana with those other southern conservative states who've reduced their incarceration rates, improved public safety and saved money."
With Christmas this weekend, there are still thousands of flood victims that are still not in their homes, and Governor Edwards says his heart breaks for families that are displaced during the holidays. He says they are doing what they can to get them back home as quickly as possible.
“We are working extremely hard. We had the first $438 million appropriation in the CR in September, weeks after the rain stopped. That’s never happened before,” Edwards said.
Congress approved $438 million for flood recovery in September, and an additional $1.2 billion was allocated in December. Edwards says the biggest challenge with getting federal funds into the hands of those that need it, is all the federal red tape. But he says hopefully the wait is almost over for displaced flood victims.
“We believe that by March or April we will be repairing people’s homes, making permanent repairs because we’ve done some temporary repairs, which is all you can do working with FEMA,” Edwards said.
Edwards says thanks to the Shelter At Home program, more than 10,000 families were able to move back into their homes while repairs continue. He says only 400 homes in the program are left to be repaired. He says the biggest challenge they faced with the program is communicating with the public so homeowners had realistic expectations.
“You want to put people back in their homes, but when you can only do temporary repairs, they’re going to go back into a home that is not going to be fixed to the point that they would prefer,” Edwards said.