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Gov. Edwards addresses legislators for start of regular session

Source: WAFB Source: WAFB
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

If viewing this story on a mobile device, click the links to watch Gov. Edwards address the legislators in a joint assembly and field questions from the media after his speech.

The governor was openly critical of state lawmakers during a speech Monday kicking off the regular session.

Much of the criticism rested on the still unfixed budget that was supposed to be fixed during the special session which concluded last Wednesday. Although the regular session is largely about social issues, the budget shortfall was seemingly the elephant in the room.

"It's always easier to be against something than it is to be for something, but if we're not for some things together, we are not going to solve those tough challenges," said Gov. John Bel Edwards before the joint assembly of legislators.

Edwards told lawmakers that he still does not know how much of a shortfall remains for the current budget. The Legislative Fiscal Office currently is working to determine how big of an impact the bills passed in the last moments of the special session will actually have. 

"We have not even begun to grasp the full size of the problem that we face with our finances," he said. 

The leader of the House Republicans, Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, defended their work after the speech, while also saying he wished that they had had an opportunity to deal with things like the film tax credits during the special session.

"We were asked to cut TOPS, yet we could not even touch film tax credits which cost the state of Louisiana $180 million a year," Harris said.

Next year’s fiscal shortfall currently stands at an estimated $800 million. Dealing with that shortfall has the parties drawing clear lines in the sand.

"We need to scrub the budget as tight as it can be and we have to look at things on the spending side, and then we have to make those reforms so we're not here year in and out with the same problems," Harris said. 

"You cannot adequately fund what we all believe to be critical priorities when you’re short $800 million and that reality has not set in on enough lawmakers yet," Edwards said.

State law prevents lawmakers from introducing bills to increase taxes during this year's regular session.

"I do believe a second special session this year is more likely than not," Edwards told reporters, though he said no final decision has been made and that no dates have been selected.

The session this year is focused on social issues. During his speech, Edwards did introduce a wish list, including increasing the minimum wage. His request would have the minimum wage increasing to $8 at the start of 2017 and to $8.50 at the start of 2018. He also called on lawmakers to work on legislation aimed at making sure women and men are paid equally.

Lawmakers have also introduced bills on issues ranging from gun control to abortion.

Before legislators even arrived Monday morning, there was a rally on the steps of the Capitol.

Members of the Micah Project, which is made up of clergy and community members, are calling for "banning the box." They want the question of previous incarceration removed from job applications.

Of course, behind the scenes, the still unresolved budget crisis lingers, especially with cuts to higher education and healthcare on the table.

"If we had done the right thing in the first few weeks, we wouldn't have to come back and worry about how to fix the budget for 17," State Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said. "And that concerns me. Bearing on appropriations, knowing we've cut to the bone, there's no way we're going to find $800 million in cuts."

Smith and others say any cuts of that magnitude would negatively impact the poorest of Louisiana communities. Other issues they called for are no cuts to higher education and an increase in Medicaid funding.

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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