By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is facing a $650 million dollar fiscal cliff and two previous special legislative sessions have failed to solve the dilemma, and so special session number three begins today, at a cost of about $60,000 per day.

Throughout this crisis the normal groups have been targeted and threatened for extinction: higher education and health care.  In May, 30,000 Medicaid recipients were threatened with eviction from nursing homes as their benefits were threatened.  The popular TOPS scholarship program has been targeted for deep cuts which has filled parents and students with anxiety. The latest threat is that the food stamp program for the entire state will be cancelled in January unless legislators find a solution to this budget shortfall.

In simplest terms, state democrats want to raise revenue through additional taxes while state republicans want to cut funding.  It’s a bit more complex than that, obviously, but that’s the crux of the issue:

Just hours after the second special session of the year ended, the Louisiana House Republican Caucus, which has positioned itself as the largest opponent to Edwards’ agenda, vowed it “will not waver” in the third.

“Since the first day of this legislative session and throughout the special session, the Louisiana House Republican Delegation has been crystal clear in its opposition to growing the size of government,” the caucus said in its statement. “We will enter into the upcoming special session laser-focused on reducing state spending and meeting the critical needs of the state. Our commitment to the taxpayers will not waver.”

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) wants to raise revenue through extending an expiring tax:

Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to give a short session-opening address about 5 p.m., urging lawmakers to agree to extend one-half of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax. House Republican leaders have been steadfastly opposed to the half-cent proposal and continue to push for a smaller fraction.

And so while both sides are steadfast in their positions, it seems, and unwilling to come to any compromise, we are spending around $650,000 million for each special session.

Makes perfect sense to me.


Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia (Oct. ’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Well, that didn’t take long.

Tyrone White, a convicted car burglar who was released early under Louisiana’s new free-the-criminals criminal justice overall, has been re-arrested.  White was out of jail only five days before he picked up a gun and robbed a construction worker in Kenner, Louisiana.  He is now back in jail.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry commented:

“Gov. (John Bel) Edwards’ staffer, (corrections secretary) James LeBlanc, indicated we needed to give the ‘reforms’ time to work,” said the release from Citizens for Louisiana Job Creators. “Perhaps we could suggest that anyone who has SIXTY FOUR counts of burglary NOT be set free when Governor Edwards and the Department of Corrections decides to let the next batch of 1,500+ criminals out of jail on Dec. 1.

“As we said last week, lock your doors and, as U.S. Senator (John) Kennedy has suggested, ‘You ought to own a handgun just in case.’ “

Wait, he said sixty-four counts of burglary?!

Tyrone White has a 40-page criminal history in Jefferson Parish alone.  Is he an outlier?  Is he an early-release candidate that slipped through the cracks and should never have been released?  Who knows.  Who knows how many more Tyrone Whites are walking around right now, free, due to this new legislation package?

In the spring, in order to address Louisiana’s high incarceration rate, the Edwards administration pushed a sweeping criminal justice reform package:

Most significantly, the package of bills aims to overhaul sentencing in the state criminal codes. The package will reduce mandatory minimums, trim sentences and give some inmates access to parole eligibility sooner. It creates a medical furlough program, which allows the sickest inmates to temporarily receive treatment off site, and be eligible for Medicaid, which saves the state on medical costs. The package overhauls drug sentencing, allowing lighter sentences based on weights, and streamlines the state’s many incongruous theft penalties. One bill in the package will limit how often juvenile offenders can receive life without parole sentences.

The measure also expands prison alternatives, like drug court, and expand safety nets for people getting out of jail and returning to their communities, by reducing their financial burdens and helping them have better access to jobs. Another bill will help improve the way victims are notified when offenders have parole hearings or are released.

In this first wave of early release, nearly 2,000 prisoners were set free.  Another wave comes in a couple of weeks.

It is not surprising that the law enforcement community is unhappy about many of these changes.  It means they have to deal with the Tyrone Whites again and again.  And some law enforcement officials are making it known that the numbers of criminals on early release are much higher than what is being officially reported.

The early release provision indicates that “non-violent offenders” are the only prisoners eligible for early release.  In all likelihood, the construction worker on the other end of Tyrone White’s gun last week would beg to differ.

There’s nothing wrong with criminal justice reform and truly low level offenders perhaps deserve a second look and a chance of early release.  But these candidates must be carefully screened and evaluated to ensure their chances of success and assimilation back into society.  What tools are we giving them to ensure they can find jobs and avoid recidivism?

Tyrone White won’t be the only one of the early released to return to jail.  But perhaps he will serve a cautionary purpose in ensuring that those who are released in the coming months are given a second look.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The feud between Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Representative Garrett Graves over the slow response of Louisiana in flood recovery efforts escalated last week when the Edwards camp accused Rep. Graves of spreading false information about the release of federal money given to the state.

Friday, Rep. Graves issued this statement:

Flood victims in need of assistance are waiting on the state government to act. The $1.65 billion that is available TODAY to the state of Louisiana for flood recovery will never be wired to a Louisiana-controlled account; that’s not how it works. It will stay at the HUD CFO Accounting Center in Fort Worth and the state will draw down the money as necessary.

The first step is for the State to upload its Action Plan to HUD’s software pictured in the screenshot. The reason it says $0 is because the state hasn’t uploaded its plan.

Once the state does upload the plan, the process will work like this:

Let’s say The Action Plan budgets $25 mm for drywall and the state needs to purchase $10 mm now.

The State submits a draw request for $10 mm and then the state gets paid within 72 hours. Now the state’s drywall budget is $15mm and so on…

The bottom line is that the state has known for more than 191 days (Sept. 28 is when Congress appropriated funds) that it would receive federal disaster money through the CDGB program, and should be ready to disburse those funds. They’re not ready.

Everything else you’re hearing is noise.

Louisiana is one of the most frequent users of DRGR. The state should be able to submit action plan in its sleep. Commissioner Dardenne is on the radio is saying it is being uploaded now – hurry up.

The spokesman for Governor Edwards, Richard Carbo, says  “Graves’ information is inaccurate and the federal government hasn’t yet released the money to the state to spend. The line of credit “has not yet been set up.”

Clearly, the government hasn’t released the money because the state has not submitted an action plan as required or hired a contractor to oversee rebuilding. Why haven’t they done that?

Meanwhile, as I reported last week, Louisianians are not waiting on the politicians.  The Cajun Navy worked alongside first responders when the floods happened in August 2016 to rescue people, pets, and property, and now the Cajun Relief Foundation is working through crowd funding to get people the financial help they need.

Be sure to read this scathing post from Scott McKay of The Hayride:

Nobody has made a full-on indictment of Edwards’ immediate response to the August floods, though he certainly wasn’t perfect – and it’s fair to say he got bailed out by the Cajun Navy, which filled in a lot of the gaps. But in the effort to get federal dollars into Louisiana to make flood recovery happen as quickly as possible, Edwards has been an unmitigated failure – and if Louisiana’s newspapers weren’t so nakedly partisan on his side the governor would have been thoroughly excoriated for it.

Hopefully the politicians can get their red tape untangled before the next flood hits.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT  — South Louisiana is flooding.  You may have heard about it on the news.  It’s really bad.  In a press conference Sunday morning, Governor John Bel Edwards said it is “plenty bad.”

Many homes that have never taken on water before have flooded with this storm and many of those people don’t have flood insurance.  They’ve lost everything.

In the northern part of the state, we are dry: I haven’t seen rain for ages, but down south, this is a catastrophic disaster that is all too reminiscent of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 although in the case of Katrina there were at least warnings and opportunities to evacuate.  In this case, as the result of a tropical depression in the Gulf, it just started raining and did not quit.  Some areas in and around Baton Rouge have received over two feet of rain in two days.  Baton Rouge is, on average, about two feet below sea level although that varies widely across the city and the problem today is as the Amite River crests there is a huge backflow problem into bayous and streams which will cause more flooding in days to come.

The crest of the Amite River will be of primary concern in the next few days and could cause terrible flooding, perhaps worse than the devastating 1983 flooding there.  Cresting is starting to happen but is moving slowly south and so more flooding is certainly anticipated and although rain in Baton Rouge abated on Sunday morning as the storm moved west, more rain is in the forecast.  With saturated ground, “even a typical summer thunderstorm could cause flooding,” Governor Edwards said.

There were over one thousand vehicles stranded on I-12 and while the National Guard attempted to rescue those people, many chose to spend the night there and remain with their vehicles.  On Sunday the first responders began bringing food and water in to them.

The Louisiana National Guard has deployed 1,700 Guardsmen as of Sunday afternoon but those numbers were expected to climb to about 2,500 before this all winds down.

The Advocate is providing excellent ongoing coverage of the flooding and has a heartbreaking slide show of flooded schools, homes, interstates, and highways as well as an interactive map of flooded areas.  Much of the LSU campus is underwater.

One can’t help but think of Randy Newman’s Louisiana, 1927 when something like this happens:

What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

In a Sunday morning press conference, Governor John Bel Edwards reported that over 7,000 people and 500 pets have been rescued; as of Monday morning the numbers are staggering: 20,000 rescued and 10,000 in shelters. There have been six fatalities. He has requested a major disaster declaration for the affected parishes from the FEMA Region 6 director.

The storm is moving west now and in Louisiana at least twenty-seven state offices are closed Monday as authorities attempt to respond and to keep people off the roads as much as possible.  On Sunday, Louisiana State Police reported that there are over 1400 critical bridges that must be inspected before they can be reopened for safe travel; over 200 roads are closed.

If you want to volunteer or help, here is a list of everything from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the United Way may need.  As I said,  there are over 10,000 people in shelters with more to come.  Pet shelters are still being set up as well as medical needs shelters.

My friend Rob Gaudet of Gaudet Media got out yesterday and was filming in Ascension Parish as he looked for places to volunteer and help.  In true Louisiana spirit, as he and his friend Chris waded through six inches of water in the street in a neighborhood, people were outside watching the water and cooking gumbo in a large pot.  They called Rob and Chris over and fed them some gumbo. They were offering it to anyone who passed by and even sent some home with Chris for his wife.  They went on to a nearby middle school where David Duke was filling sandbags. Rob and many others will be out volunteering today.

While Governor Edwards in no way wants to compare this catastrophe to a hurricane, the local meteorologists have been calling this a “hurricane without the winds.” Governor Edwards is quick to point out that had this been a hurricane we would have much more infrastructure damage as well as widespread power outages.

Even though it isn’t a hurricane, it is still, as Governor Edwards said, “plenty bad.”

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Can I say “I told you so” now?

Louisiana elected John Bel Edwards in the last gubernatorial election because so many voters just couldn’t stomach David Vitter any longer; standing in judgment of Vitter’s decades-old moral lapse (one which his wife had long since forgiven), enough Louisiana Republicans crossed lines and voted a liberal, Obama-Democrat into the governor’s office despite my screeching pleas that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

And now they feign indignation when Edwards isn’t acting like a Republican.

I won’t rub salt in the wounds because we have a long row ahead of us, but let me just point out the latest slap in the face from Edwards.

I can’t write the story any better than Ellen Carmichael did last week for the National Review.  You must read her article.  The gist is that during the campaign, Edwards promised to protect the state’s school choice program, but under the protective cover of a state budget crisis, Edwards is doing an about-face on that promise:

When the state’s budget pressures surfaced, Edwards saw his opportunity. He could send a signal to the public that its insistence on maintaining educational justice for impoverished families in the form of scholarships to private schools was simply not in line with the way he was going to run Louisiana. Teachers’ unions came before such kids as first-grader Nicole Jack.

The teachers’ unions, of course, supported Edwards heavily during his campaign.  His wife was a teacher.  I talked personally to many, many teachers who voted for him because they believed he would support them and they could not stand Vitter.

But what about these kids in failing schools?  What about his promise to keep school choice?

Carmichael makes an excellent point when she says:

And he had his excuse: budget cuts. While the state allocates nearly $3.5 billion to its education department annually, Governor Edwards’s team felt it appropriate to take away the $4,800 scholarship from 17 families who wanted to give their kids a better life. Meanwhile, Louisiana spends $10,490 for each pupil enrolled in the state’s failing public-school system. If Nicole Jack cannot escape the school’s waitlist in time, her education will cost the state more than double what they insist they’re trying to save, proving yet again that it’s not about dollars and cents. It’s not about the kids, either. It’s about politics.

It is, in fact, over five hundred families affected, not just seventeen as the article mentions.

In place of school choice vouchers, Edwards established the Every Student Succeeds Act panel by Executive Order whose mission is to bring public schools back up to par.  Joe Cunningham writing for The Hayride explains how this will work:

They’re going to say plans like the voucher program and expanding charter schools are taking valuable resources from the state and the schools, therefore they should be eliminated and attention turned back to the schools themselves. Which is what the school boards and teacher unions want. School choice is, after all, a direct challenge to how things are run. If public schools are forced to compete and improve, many could end up failing. But if there is no real challenge, then there’s less accountability. It’s not some evil plan to horde all the money and power so much as it is laziness on their part. The way things have always been is what’s gotten Louisiana into the educational pit it’s in…. Edwards and his supporters don’t want families to control where and how they get their education. They want the System to do it, and the System is far too concerned with itself. They must take money from the hands of the taxpayers and put it into the schools themselves rather than let families choose where it goes. You don’t get to choose. Let the State do it for you.

You can read more on the ESSA panel here.

Of course we want all of our public schools to succeed and to strive for excellence but until the deep housecleaning that will make that happen occurs, there must be options for kids like Nicole Jack, who for one brief moment, saw a bright future ahead of her at a private Catholic school, only to have that snuffed out by a politician.

The bottom line is that the school voucher program truly helps kids with academic potential who are languishing in failing schools and in the end could read huge rewards, both educationally and financially, for Louisiana if not for crony politics.

John Bel Edwards is simply paying his debt to teachers’ unions on the backs of our kids.

Now, who didn’t see that one coming?


Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As Louisiana struggles to keep the lights on in the state and as legislators continue to make cuts and raise taxes as they try to balance the budget, what most Louisiana residents were upset about last week was the luxury chicken coop Governor John Bel Edwards has had built (with his own money) on the grounds of the governor’s mansion.  Inside the coop he has sixteen hens and hopes to have fresh eggs soon.

For some reason, this upsets people.  “Country comes to town,” they’re saying.

I’m no fan of John Bel Edwards, by far.  He’s an Obama Democrat through and through, but if the guy wants to put a chicken coop in the yard, who cares?

Why begrudge the guy some fresh eggs?

Maybe he’ll inspire some kids to raise chickens.

But the whole affair is making for some really bad, and sometimes funny, headlines and newswriting, and some painful metaphors:

Caught smack dab in the middle of this political game of chicken is the TOPS college scholarship program. In plain speak: Funding for one of the state’s most cared about programs — from the every day voter’s perspective — is being held hostage until one side caves.

Sad, but true.  Thousands of kids across the state, and their parents, are worried about college next fall where a couple of months ago they were depending on the TOPS scholarship program to see them through.

And while I’m certainly guilty of typos and the occasional sloppy writing, I don’t get paid by a news organization to write like this:

By the way, in addition to bringing recycling to the mansion, the Edwards have also added a chicken coup and a garden.

If the chickens are planning a revolution, perhaps Edwards needs to add a pig names Snowball to the mansion farm.

If you search Facebook for John Bel Edwards and chickens, you’ll find reams of outrage and approval.

Really, it’s just chickens, people.

Calm down.

And if you’re invited to dinner at the governor’s mansion, order the steak.DaTe


Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some random observations from way down South this week.

Technically, Donald Trump won Louisiana in the primary Saturday, but my friends at The Hayride make the case that the true winner was Ted Cruz.  If you look at the Trump – Cruz gap and compare early voting to the results from Saturday’s primary, Cruz closed the gap by some 20 points on the heels of last week’s debate.

Looking at the official numbers, note also that Mike Huckabee got 645 votes; he dropped out February 2;  Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, also withdrawn, received over 6000 votes between them.  Christie got 401 votes. And interestingly, Marco Rubio showed quite poorly with only 11% of the vote.

The Hayride article is an interesting read.  Check it out.

In other notes:

Our political leadership is still in Baton Rouge in the attempt to plug our $900 million deficit gap and are closing in on the final days of their special legislative session. John Bel Edwards seems to be in way over his head but even given that, we can’t fully blame him for this budget mess.  This lies on the shoulders of Governor Bobby Jindal; Edwards may have a poor voting record that contributed to this mess, but it isn’t all his fault that we find ourselves now having to add pennies to the sales tax and threaten to shut the doors of higher education.

The proposed tax on alcohol failed its first go around last week but squeaked through in the Sunday session where it now goes to the Senate. You don’t mess with the liquor in Louisiana without upsetting some people. The one-penny sales tax was passed however, and since that worked so well, there is talk now of adding another ½-cent or another entire cent to the sales tax:

A proposal to raise Louisiana’s sales tax by not 1 but by 1½ or 2 cents instead emerged Friday as the potential solution to ending a budget crisis that threatens to cancel college classes and cut health care to the poor and the disabled.

The plan has the strong support of House Speaker Taylor Barras, who discussed it with Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday.

The beauty of the plan for the Republicans and the business lobbyists pushing it, is this: It would solve the short-term budget problem and keep lawmakers from trying to find more revenue by raising taxes on business. The plan presents a problem for Democrats, however, because raising sales taxes hits the poor the hardest.

Democrats, however, could soon be facing a choice of having to hold their nose and vote for an increase of 1½ or 2 cents of sales taxes or rejecting the idea and then seeing devastating cuts to public hospitals that serve the poor and to the state’s colleges and universities.

They are running out of time.  This Special Session must end by 6:00 p.m. on March 9.


Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are more than halfway through the legislative special session in Baton Rouge meant to solve the staggering $900 million state budget deficit and there does not appear to be any clear or painless way to solve the crisis.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago when I reported on the financial crisis in Louisiana which led to newly elected governor John Bel Edwards and his staff promising to close down Louisiana State University among other schools, and to halt TOPS scholarship payments for students already enrolled. Panic raced throughout the state as the legislators convened in Baton Rouge to attempt to solve the crisis.

At this point, the universities are still open (thank goodness) and Governor Edwards says TOPS scholarships will be funded through the spring but next year is dubious. Minimum requirements to earn one of these scholarships will be based on some new astronomically high ACT score.

Team Edwards has been able to push through a new one-cent sales tax which is supposed to earn the state about $210 million in new revenue and giving us the dubious distinction of having the highest combined state and local sales tax rate in the nation. Governor Edwards has also picked up about $350 million by juggling money from one fund to another. He’s also cut the Department of Education by $44 million – because apparently education hasn’t been cut enough.

Have no fear though: there’s no longer a work requirement for welfare and Governor Edwards has expanded Medicaid.

Still to come:  a new $0.22 per pack tax on cigarettes, a new tax of “a penny or two” on beer, wine, and liquor, and several measures to remove corporate loopholes and close several corporate tax exemptions.

It’s all pretty dire and even Moody’s has downgraded our credit rating for the first time in a decade.

But for now, the lights are still on and the doors are still open here in Louisiana.


Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – When news broke this past Thursday that John Bel Edwards had halted all payments to the enormously popular TOPS college scholarship program, you could feel the panic and desperation throughout the state.  Thursday afternoon, February 11, word came down about the program via NOLA:

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget chief, Jay Dardenne, said the state will have to leave TOPS approximately $28 million short of what it would take to fully fund the program through the end of the semester. He said all public universities will be informed that they would not receive all their TOPS payment this spring.

Dardenne added that TOPS could only be fully funded this year if the Legislature agreed to raise taxes a lot — over a half a billion dollars — in the next couple of months. Even then, the Edwards administration would likely prioritize filling a shortfall in the Medicaid program before the college scholarship program would receive the money it needs.

The TOPS program began in 1989 and, in brief, it pays college tuition to in-state universities for Louisiana students who score a certain percentage on the ACT and who maintain a certain GPA. The intent was to keep our kids here in the state. Through the years the requirements have been tweaked with the GPA requirement now at 2.5 and the ACT score now at 20.  You can read more specifics here.

Now, there are a couple of things to look at in those two paragraphs from NOLA: first, Dardenne said basically that those students already enrolled in the spring semester are on the hook for the balance of the tuition they had been told would be paid through their scholarship. Literally what he said was that the colleges would “absorb” the cost of the unpaid balance.  Recall that higher education throughout the state has already been decimated by Bobby Jindal and there is no room to “absorb” anything. Students across the state went to bed Thursday night anticipating bills for the balances to hit their mailboxes any moment.

The second thing to note from that NOLA quote is that Dardenne indicated that even if the money to fund TOPS was found, it would instead go toward funding Medicaid rather than satisfying the promised TOPS debt.

Further: Just a week before the TOPS blackmail, Edwards called for an emergency special session to deal with the state’s budget shortfall and noted that a plethora of tax increases are on the table, to include:

Income tax hikes

Cigarette tax hikes

Sales tax hikes on leased property and some services

Business utility tax hikes

Alcohol tax hikes

Taxes on AirBnB and anyone else who rents out a spare room

Taxes on the oil and gas industry

In essence, what John Bel Edwards has done is use emotional blackmail on the students and families of this state for the purpose of raising taxes on everything he possibly can. Families went to sleep Thursday night in serious distress over the financial future of their child’s college education. It’s not that these people don’t want to get student loans or work their way through college – most would have been more than willing to do so, but the TOPS program had been promised to them and they scheduled every high school course with the understanding of what was required of them to earn this scholarship.  For the governor to threaten to pull the rug out from under their feet is unconscionable.

And so, the next day, word comes down that miraculously money has been found to fund TOPS through the rest of this spring semester, but next year? Not so much.  Considerations to continue the program suggest a required ACT score of 28 to earn the scholarship and cutting the funding from $250 million to $60 million – about 80% of the current scholarships would be eliminated.

As if emotional blackmail of our students wasn’t enough, Governor Edwards addressed the state on television to explain the crisis and his actions and he said that student athletes are also in danger.

Yes, he poked the sacred cow of LSU football.

He really went there.

As I mentioned earlier, if the legislature fails to act and we are forced to proceed with these cuts, the LSU Ag Center and parish extension offices in every parish, and Pennington Biomedical Research Center will close by April 1st and the LSU main campus in Baton Rouge will run out of money after April 30th, as will the Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and LSU Eunice. There is no money left for payroll after those dates. The Southern University System, and University of Louisiana System, and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System are in the same boat: without legislators approving new revenue this special session, some campuses will be forced to declare financial bankruptcy, which would include massive layoffs and the cancellation of classes.

If you are a student attending one of these universities, it means that you will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate and student athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester. That means you can say farewell to college football next fall.

The text of the speech can be found here.

You can only imagine the hysteria that caused. It seemed for a few moments there that we would totally implode. Never mind the kids’ scholarships!  Never mind the cuts to the New Opportunity Waiver program which helps families with developmentally disabled children, we can’t survive without football!

At the very least this damages recruiting efforts.  Who would want to sign with a university that may not have a program?

Edwards pushed every single button he could to incite fear and panic throughout the state.  Yes, it’s a real problem. We are broke.  But on the same day he also eliminated the work requirement from food stamps. Previously, recipients had to work twenty hours a week or be enrolled in a federally approved job training program.  Not anymore.

And so it didn’t take long for the recall talk to start.

There is a Facebook group, Recall John Bel Edwards, which currently has about 5,500 members. There is a petition to recall the governor established solely for the purpose of monitoring numbers and interest in a formal recall; this petition has over 14,000 signatures so far.  Over a million voters would have to sign a formal recall petition.

The bottom line is that the state is now in panic mode. Edwards said in his speech that these cuts “are not scare tactics. This is reality…” but people are scared.  Everywhere I’ve been over the past few days, you hear subdued and worried conversations about the cuts. People are angry that entitlement programs are being expanded while education is being cut.  People are angry at the emotional blackmail that if we don’t pressure our representatives to vote for the new taxes, everything will be cut. People are angry that there’s no talk of the billions in state contracts that will remain untouched.

State Treasurer John Kennedy gave the Republican response after Governor Edwards’s speech and he declared that we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. He rightly pointed out that these tax increases will wreck our fragile economy. Kennedy said he has sent over 400 ideas to the governor’s office to cut spending rather than raise taxes. In his speech, he listed six of those, which included auditing Medicaid fraud which currently exists to the tune of about $900 million dollars. He also suggested revising Medicaid so that patients stop going to the emergency room for things like acne or to see if they need glasses, or other such minor concerns that could be better handled in a doctor’s office. Kennedy also suggested cutting the statutory dedications and the 19,000 consultants currently on our payroll. He noted also that 22% of the managers in government manage only one person.

While everyone acknowledges that Jindal’s smoke and mirrors method of balancing the budget got us into this mess, nobody is willing to concede that sacrificing higher education and blackmailing our students and student athletes is a good plan. Neither is taxing everything. Republicans are going to be more willing to work with Edwards if he will at least consider cutting some of the entitlements and slashing some of the excessive spending in government.

These are dark days in Louisiana.  The special session convened yesterday and we are waiting with high anxiety to see the outcome.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It would seem that Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is off to a rather rocky start as he goes up against the majority Republican Legislature. It appears that the Republicans aren’t going to make life easy for Edwards.

On the campaign trail, Edwards wrapped himself in moderate clothes and won the votes of many Republicans; some of that, in part, was due to the fact that voting for David Vitter was just a peg too far. Many people believed Edwards when he promised to get rid of state education Superintendent John White, a proponent of Common Core.  That is not likely to happen now as Edwards has stacked the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with White supporters.

Edwards won’t be fighting Common Core any longer either as just last week his office announced that he would no longer pursue the Jindal lawsuit against Common Core. Edwards says that the lawsuit is financially and educationally unnecessary as Louisiana has worked to rewrite the standards.

Immediately after that announcement, the Louisiana Attorney General, Republican Jeff Landry released a statement saying that as Attorney General, he is intervening in that case and only he will decide if that lawsuit goes forward or not, indicating that he is the one, and not the governor, who decides the legal course for the state.

Gov. Edwards has called for a Special Session of the Legislature later this month for the purpose of resolving the looming budget shortfall left by the Jindal administration. Edwards has laid out a staggering list of potential tax increases to solve the problem.  All of the usual tax increases are there including raising taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, income, utilities, property, and so on.

There are no proposals for welfare reform or to cut unnecessary staff and crony positions. As a matter of fact, those Jindal era staff salaries that Edwards criticized on the campaign trail?  He’s keeping those and raising them some.

Again, with a Republican-dominated Legislature, this Special Session wish list might just be a pipe dream, but if nothing else, Gov. Edwards has shown in just a few short weeks his true colors and any Republican that pulled the lever for him, thinking they were getting a moderate Democrat who shared their values, has been proven to be delusional.


Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.