Gov. Edwards’ State of the State Address

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Cassidy Announces $8.3 Million for Louisiana Water Infrastructure
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Francis Dinh/LSU Manship School News Service

As prepared for delivery:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of legislature, distinguished guests and my fellow Louisianans.

This is the eighth time I’ve delivered the State of the State address. This well is where I asked you to work with me to fix our budget. It’s where I announced the first case of COVID.  And it’s where I’ve talked about the immense progress we have made despite great challenges. I look around this room and I see friends as well as colleagues. Some of y’all I worked with as a legislator. Others I have come to know as governor. But what I know from the relationships we’ve forged and the negotiations that we’ve had, is that each of us wants the same outcome – a better, stronger and more prosperous Louisiana.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank some of the many folks who have helped us move Louisiana forward during my two terms as governor.

First and foremost, I wouldn’t be here today without my family. To my children: Samantha Bel, Sarah Ellen, and John Miller, I know it hasn’t always been easy having a dad constantly in the public eye, but each of you has handled the scrutiny with such grace. My goal has always been to achieve a better Louisiana, and you have been at the forefront of my mind in every decision I’ve made as governor. To the love of my life and greatest first lady in the history of our state, Donna, you are not only my biggest supporter but also my best friend. Thank you for always standing by my side and using your role to champion children and families across our state. The work you have done to bring awareness to and prevent human trafficking, support foster care and adoptions, and promote music, art and movement education has already had a profound impact on our state and will continue to do so for many years to come.

To my Chief of Staff Mark Cooper, Commissioner Jay Dardenne, my staff, cabinet members, folks from both sides of the aisle who have worked with me in good faith, and the countless others I wish I had time to mention: Louisiana is a better place because of your service and I thank you.

You may remember back in my first inaugural address, I promised there was no challenge we would not meet. Little did we know how often that statement would be tested. It took a whole lot more gumbo and gumption than we expected, but WE have met every challenge. From the record budget deficit we inherited to the floods of 2016, to the national reckoning over racial injustice and discriminatory policing. From multiple hurricanes, including the two strongest to ever hit our state, Laura and Ida, to tornados and a once a century pandemic.

We may have been weary at times but we never wavered.

Promises were made. Promises were kept. Progress was delivered.

While this is my final year in my second term as Governor of the great state of Louisiana, our work is far from over. So in telling the story of how far we’ve come, I also want to outline priorities for this legislative session that will allow us to leave an even stronger and better Louisiana for generations to come.

Let’s go back to the very beginning. When I took office in 2016, the state had a $1 billion dollar budget deficit to close out that fiscal year and a $2 billion deficit for the following year. It took numerous special sessions and a lot of bipartisanship, but we were able to navigate a balanced approach with no gimmicks and no one-time money spent on recurring expenditures. Oh, and by the way, not only was football not canceled, the Tigers went on to win themselves a National Championship—and a Heisman Trophy. And for good measure, the Lady Tigers basketball team just won the first basketball national championship in LSU history!

Ever since my administration was fully responsible for the budget, FY 17, we’ve run surpluses. Because of those surpluses, the state’s rainy day fund will be the healthiest it has ever been. Added to the revenue stabilization fund created in my first year as governor, we will start next fiscal year with more than $2 billion available for future shortfalls and emergencies. Think about that. We came in facing a $2 billion deficit, and we will be leaving more than $2 billion in the bank for the next governor and legislature. We are leaving the state in a much better posture than when I came into office. That is a promise I made, and a promise WE’VE kept.

Surpluses are also essential to our ability to meet inflationary demands on capital projects and meet our match obligations under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The state also used available dollars to pursue a number of fiscal initiatives that will pay long-term dividends by eliminating debts, including $800 million toward the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System.

Our responsible budgeting, strategic investments, and record deposits into the rainy day and revenue stabilization funds will give the next governor and next legislature opportunities and stability we did not have in 2016. Further, there will be another fiscal session in 2025 before any revenue loss happens and in plenty of time to make budget and revenue adjustments should they be necessary.

We can’t squander the opportunity to continue critical generational investments – something that would’ve seemed incomprehensible 8 years ago.

Let’s start with the foundation for everything else that I’m going to talk about today: education.

We’ve gone from a state that was disinvesting in higher education more than anywhere else in the country to a state making historic investments in higher education. We are fully funding TOPS and have increased GO Grant dollars. We are dedicating money this year to address deferred maintenance and important safety enhancements on our campuses. Every student should have the opportunity to receive a high quality degree or credential right here in Louisiana and they deserve to feel safe when they are on campus. Through increased formula funding and new initiatives targeting critical workforce shortages and opportunities, we are creating a world class workforce.

Let’s champion research and academics in addition to honoring our champions.

Let’s also honor our service members who are pursuing an education. We have had ample reason to call on the brave men and women of the Louisiana National Guard since 2016. Many of our service members are in college, choosing to sacrifice their free time outside of the classroom to serve our state. One of the service members in the color guard today here in the chamber is Technical Sergeant Chanoya Jones, who is also a student at Southern University at New Orleans. Chanoya, thank you for your service. For those service members bettering themselves through higher education, the state currently provides a tuition waiver. But they are still burdened with the fees charged on top of tuition. It’s time to waive those fees. They deserve it.

One of the most important things I’m going to ask of you this session is to give our teachers a $3,000 pay raise as well as $1,500 for support workers. We’ve been taking small bites of the apple for the past five years, with teacher pay raises totaling $3,300. Because of the hard work we have all put in, we can nearly double that now.

We have a shortage of teachers, not enough students are enrolled in colleges of education, and we are in a fierce competition with neighboring states to keep the teachers we have.

Teachers like Haley Staples, here today, who has taught for 19 years and teaches English Language Arts at Weston High School. Haley is currently the 2022-2023 Jackson Parish High School Teacher of the Year.

Also here today is Angela Batiste, who was nominated for Outstanding Support Person of the year. In her 18 years employed at Katharine Drexel Elementary in Broussard, her colleagues have praised her vital role in maintaining a positive school culture and promoting student success.

Haley and Angela, please stand to be recognized.

They are just two examples of education professionals who have gone above and beyond for our kids and they deserve this raise.

As for early childhood education, I am proposing that we make the largest new investment of state general fund in early childhood education in state history.

But there’s even more we can do to reach children where they are. Through both our budget and legislation, we are seeking to create a partnership framework for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which would make children aged 0-5 in every zip code of the state eligible to receive one free book per month. Rep. Laurie Schlegel’s bill last year for children enrolled in school is a great start but there’s even more we can do to strengthen early childhood literacy.

In addition to education, I believe access to healthcare is fundamental to improving quality of life – and saving lives – in our state.

As you know, my first act as governor was to expand Medicaid to the working poor. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Easiest big decision I’ve made as governor.

Now, more than 500,000 working Louisianans have access to healthcare who otherwise wouldn’t. In 2015, 22.7% of working age adults in Louisiana did not have health insurance. As a result of Medicaid Expansion, in 2022, the uninsured rate among adults fell to 9.4%, below the national average of 10.2%.

It’s important that we all remember that every one of our more than 500,000 Medicaid expansion beneficiaries has a story. Like Monica Miller from Metairie. Monica is very active in her community and her mother was a Civil Rights activist. But Monica also has several health challenges, including heart issues. Because of expansion, she finally has a doctor she loves and is getting the care she needs.

And then there’s Magali Arida, who in 2018 was working as a preschool teacher when she developed an infection in her colon following a routine procedure. She was in constant pain, unable to perform simple tasks. She had to rely on friends to get her to treatment 3-4 times a week. Thankfully, Magali was covered by Medicaid expansion, which allowed her to get support and a series of surgeries to correct the core issue. I am happy to share that Magali is better and back to her old life of serving others.

Monica and Magali, will you stand to be recognized?

Unlike some of our neighboring states that didn’t expand Medicaid, we haven’t had a single rural hospital closure. Not. One.

Medicaid expansion has truly been a blessing. And it helped us fix our budget mess too.

I know you may have seen reports of the eligibility renewal process coming up. We will work hard to keep every eligible Medicaid recipient on their health care coverage. If you’re listening to this speech and you are a Medicaid member, please make sure we have your current contact information on file and keep an eye out for communication from Louisiana Medicaid, your health care provider, or the Louisiana Department of Health.

We all know employees need a healthy population to have a productive workforce.

And we’ve been putting more people to work than ever before.

In January 2016 when I took office, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 5.9%. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020, it was 7.2%. Today, our unemployment rate is 3.6%. That’s better than our Southern neighbors in Mississippi and Kentucky. It’s better than big, wealthy states like California, New York, and Illinois. And yes, it’s better than Texas.

Another thing we can attribute to getting people back to work is growing and diversifying our economy.

Since 2016, the state has participated in more than 340 economic development projects representing more than $106 billion in projected capital investment in Louisiana. That amounts to more than 70,000 direct and indirect jobs. Louisiana’s manufacturing jobs – the “gold standard” indicator of economic health, ended 2022 at the highest level in seven years.

And we’ve done all that while reforming the ITEP to make it a jobs program – one that gives local officials a say over whether their property tax dollars are exempted. Our ITEP reforms have resulted in more than $700 million additional dollars going to local governments to fund roads, schools, and law enforcement. I know that no one in this chamber is in favor of defunding the police, or local government, or public school systems ——but that’s exactly what will happen if our ITEP reforms are undone. And despite the doom-and-gloom projections from corporate lobbyists, investment in ITEP projects has more than doubled following our reforms.

Of course, you can’t land these types of economic development projects without also making a commitment to infrastructure like roads, bridges, and ports.

To date, and with your help, my administration has allocated nearly $5.5 billion to more than 2,000 infrastructure projects around the state, including nearly 7,000 miles of road improvements. In order to bring long-awaited projects to fruition, we have utilized innovative mechanisms like GARVEE bonds, public-private partnerships and FASTLANE grants. Last year, we received $97.8 million in redistributed federal funds that other states failed to use – the largest amount in our history.

Louisiana is set to receive approximately $1 billion over the course of five years through the Bridge Formula Program as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Simply put, we have actively fought for and received every dollar available to us and then some.

Another way we can improve our workforce is by ensuring that every person in Louisiana has access to high speed internet.

We committed to close the digital divide by 2029, and we are well on our way to accomplishing that goal. We’ve put $177 million of federal funding to work and partnered with private internet providers to invest more than $300 million to expand broadband to 80,000 unserved addresses. We are leading America in broadband expansion, and will get more than $1 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund more GUMBO grants to complete the work.

Another quality of life issue is ensuring that our Sportsman’s Paradise is preserved for years to come. I’m extremely proud of the way we have progressed in coastal protection and restoration despite the setbacks of multiple storms. During this administration, CPRA has completed projects that have been envisioned for decades. We have more projects in the works than ever before, including many of the largest and most important in the Coastal Master Plan.

But the work we are putting into restoring our coast will not be nearly as impactful if we ignore climate change. Like many of you, I grew up hunting and fishing. I spent much of my time down in the Manchac Swamp. I’ve seen with my own eyes the changes that have happened over time – but none more alarming than what we’ve experienced the past few years. Storms are getting stronger and more frequent. I don’t think anyone in this room can deny that.

That is why we established the Climate Initiatives Task Force to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. I spoke earlier about diversifying our economy. Our “all-of-the-above” strategy has driven new energy investment, while continuing to support companies meeting the current market demand for oil & gas. The result: Louisiana is as a global leader in the energy transition.

I’ve already spoken about the hardships, hurricanes and crises we’ve faced in my time as governor. Our small business owners have been hit hard by those challenges, but they have shown tremendous strength. Today, I am honored to be joined by Nick Perioux, the owner of Pat’s of Henderson in Lake Charles. I’m going to ask Nick to stand and be recognized.

After having his business shut down by COVID-19 in early 2020, Nick’s restaurant took heavy damage during Hurricanes Laura and Delta.

You may remember that Nick was one of my guests at this speech last year. Like so many victims of Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Ida, he spent months stuck in insurance purgatory while his insurer tried to wear him down and make him quit on a business that means everything to his family and his community.

Nick refused to give up. He fought through adversity. And I am excited to share with you all that Pat’s of Henderson is back and open for business once again. Nick was kind enough to invite me and the Southwest Louisiana legislative delegation for lunch a few weeks ago. The food and service were sensational and the rebuilt restaurant is beautiful.

We’re facing an insurance crisis following Hurricanes Laura, Delta, Ida, and the collateral damage of the collapse of Florida’s insurance market. I am ready and willing to work with anyone to address availability and price concerns in our insurance market, just as I did during the special session earlier this year.

But to be clear; the solution to our insurance issues is not to make it impossible for hurricane victims like Nick to be made whole after a storm, or make it even easier for insurers to wear people down.  Down that path lies unbearable suffering, increased population loss, and worse. I will be supporting legislation this session that aims to lower insurance rates for our policyholders and make the claims process easier, more transparent, and fairer for everyone.

I am open to upgrading our building codes and will include funding in the budget to help Louisianans fortify their roofs, which will make homes more resistant to storm damage. But I will also be working to make sure that when a homeowner has a fortified roof, they’ll get the lower insurance premium they’re entitled to.

Finally, I want to discuss a series of bills that are core to my deeply held beliefs as a man of faith.

This will come as no shock to you since I’ve been fighting for it every year, but I am again calling for a minimum wage increase this session. It is embarrassing and frankly immoral that we have not raised our minimum wage – even more so now with inflation. More than 20 states raised their minimum wage on January 1 of this year. That’s not counting the many that did so in years prior – some multiple times. You want to know what I was doing the last time Congress raised the minimum wage to its current $7.25 per hour, which is what Louisiana defaults to? I was sitting in that desk right back there as a freshman legislator.

That’s why I’m supporting Senator Gary Carter and Representative Ed Larvadain’s minimum wage increase bills.

In the meantime, I will use my executive power to raise the minimum pay for state employees to $10 an hour. That raise is reflected in my budget.

One thing we can all agree on is that Louisiana is a pro-life state. That’s something I’m proud of, and I know many of you are proud of it as well. But we have to ask ourselves what does that mean?  Do the policies we’ve enacted support the position we’ve taken?  Do we truly support families? What does it mean if we let mothers and fathers work full time without being able to afford to feed and house their children?

It’s time to make it possible for mothers and fathers to care for their children without risking bankruptcy. Therefore, this session I will be supporting paid family and medical leave legislation authored by Representatives Aimee Freeman and Sam Jenkins. Research shows that paid family leave means families are more likely to attend regular medical checkups and have fewer health problems.

Another important way we can help families and children thrive is by closing our deplorable gender pay gap. No woman should make a fraction of what her male counterparts do. That pay gap perpetuates poverty, and our children and communities suffer as a result. I will, once again, support equal pay legislation. You have not seen fit to act on this request before. As someone who’s had some success in political campaigns, I’ll offer this advice: equal pay is extremely popular with voters. And women vote. So if you won’t support it because it is the right thing to do, support it because it is what your voters want you to do.

I also know our pro-life position can include basic empathy for women who are victims of rape and incest. I simply do not know how we as a state can tell a young girl or any victim of rape or incest that she must be forced by law to carry her rapist’s baby to term, regardless of the impact on her own physical or mental health, the wishes of her parents, or the medical judgment of her physician. After all, rape and incest exceptions protect crime victims. I say this as someone with a very well documented pro-life record. I urge you to add rape and incest exceptions to our abortion ban. This is overwhelmingly supported by the people of Louisiana and people of deep faith everywhere.

Lastly, and certainly still on the topic of being a pro-life state, for the first time I am calling on the legislature to end the death penalty in Louisiana. I am asking that you look at the death penalty in Louisiana in 2023 with fresh eyes and an open mind. In short: it is difficult to administer – one execution in 20 years. It is extremely expensive – tens of millions more spent prosecuting and defending capital cases, and tens of millions more spent maintaining death row over those same 20 years.

Our criminal justice system is far from perfect. Over the same 20 years there have been six exonerations from death row and more than 50 reversals of sentences and/or convictions. It doesn’t deter crime; it isn’t necessary for public safety; and more importantly, it is wholly inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values as it quite literally promotes a culture of death.

For these reasons I support Rep. Kyle Green’s bill to abolish the death penalty.

It’s fitting that yesterday was Easter because faith and family are the most important things in my life. I suspect that is the same for each of you.

I began this journey as governor shortly after losing my father, and I’ll be ending it shortly after losing my mother. Everything I am today is because of a rural sheriff and a charity hospital nurse who passed their faith to their 8 children and taught them the meaning of public service. They showed me, by example, that faith should be followed by works. Those lessons stayed with me. And the scripture that resonates with me the most is from Matthew 25:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

In every decision I have made as governor – from Medicaid expansion to criminal justice reform to the uncharted territory of COVID response, I have strived to be a Matthew 25 governor: A “good and faithful servant.”

So my final request to you is this: let’s all strive to be good and faithful servants this session. Let’s put our brothers and sisters above ourselves. Let’s look out for those less fortunate. Let’s turn words into action.

Serving this state I so dearly love has been the honor of a lifetime.

With all my heart, thank you, Louisiana.

May God bless you all and may God bless the great state of Louisiana.