RESERVE, LA (WVUE) - Kids who are part of the Young Marine group saluted Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday as he arrived to speak for an event celebrating veterans in St. John Parish.
It was a pleasant departure for Louisiana's CEO, who remains in battle with the state budget.
"It's a very difficult time in Louisiana, but I want you and all the people to know that I remain very optimistic," Edwards said.
Cuts to state agencies are about to become reality after the budget crisis Edwards inherited when he became governor in January remains unresolved. Most recently, state lawmakers refused to approve the $600 million in additional taxes the governor proposed for the special session that ended June 23.
FOX 8 asked the governor about what he would say to citizens who are frustrated and might ask why he and the legislature could not get the job done.
"Well, look, it's hard," he said. "This is not the way I wanted to spend the first six months as governor. We inherited the largest deficit in the history of our state at $2 billion. Through a lot of hard work, we have whittled that number down, but Sabrina, at the same time, come July 1st, we're going to cut over $320 million out of our budget, and those are painful cuts."
According to information provided by the Louisiana Division of Administration, the Department of Health and Hospitals takes a $102.5 million hit, the Department of Education budget will be cut by $41 million, the Corrections Department budget will be cut by $29.2 million, the Youth Services budget will be cut by $14.4 million, and the TOPS Scholarship Program will be cut by close to $88 million.
And the governor is still weighing whether to veto language lawmakers approved during the waning hours of the most recent special session that "front-loads" funding for TOPS for the fall semester.
"We're studying our options," Edwards said. "I will tell you that there are some policy implications there that I think that are probably not in the best interest of the students and of the state, but there are other considerations, as well. We have not made a final decision, but I expect one to be forthcoming over the next few days."
On top of the cuts for the new fiscal year, there could be a deficit for the budget year that ends in mere hours.
"We think we have as much as a $200 million shortfall in the current year that gets rolled into next year as a debt we have to pay upfront, and that will add $200 million worth of cuts to the $320 I just told you about," said the governor.
Still, Edwards is not giving up.
"I believe we are going to stabilize and have to a very large degree, stabilized our state," he said. "We are now going to put ourselves on a more stable path forward so that we can re-invest in our critical priorities as resources will allow us to do that, and so I'm very optimistic about our future."