Investing in the Economic Renaissance
Over the last few months, we have learned that Louisiana has hit an all-time high for number of people working, a record state population total, and the highest per-capita income level in state history. While our improvement over the last several years has been significant, I am even more excited about our future.
Since 2008, we have announced economic development wins that are resulting in more than 80,000 new jobs and more than $50 billion in private capital investment. Tens of thousands of jobs are now in the pipeline that must be filled, and our next challenge is to ensure we have the skilled workforce to fill these jobs of the future. That is why I have unveiled a budget proposal for next fiscal year that increases funding for K-12 schools, higher education and workforce training to make sure our people have the skills needed to fill the thousands of jobs coming to Louisiana. The proposed budget is further evidence of our commitment to help the private sector economy grow and keep more of our sons and daughters here at home.
In order to meet the goal of ensuring our people have the skills to fill the jobs of the future, this budget increases total higher education funding by $141.5 million – a 6.6 percent increase over last year. This funding includes a new higher education workforce incentive fund that will better prepare Louisiana students to compete in the new global economy. The new incentive fund will be called the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund – or WISE Fund – and it will make $40 million available to higher education institutes that align their work with the needs of businesses in Louisiana.
The budget proposal also continues our commitment to improving K-12 education. Having a skilled workforce requires that every child have the opportunity to get a world-class education. We know that every child learns differently, and that is why we have taken a comprehensive approach to education reforms. This work is paying off as the number of failing schools in our state has been cut in half over recent years, the high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 72.3 percent, and the number of college credits earned through Advanced Placement exams has increased by 25 percent to more than 1,000 credits – the largest increase in state history. To make certain these trends continue, our budget increases funding for the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) to its highest level ever and by its largest annual increase since 2009.
The budget also continues our commitment to providing quality health care for our citizens. For decades, Louisiana had a state-run charity hospital system as a safety net for healthcare services. Faced with problems of growing costs and major Medicaid cuts from the federal government, this system could not be sustained. Change was inevitable. In order to increase access to quality care, we established public-private partnerships in every region of the state. The results are already proving this was the right path for our state. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being saved; access to quality healthcare is improving; and the new partnerships are providing a level of service that far surpasses what was available in the past.
Our budget also includes $26 million in new funding that will dramatically expand access to home and community-based services for some of Louisiana’s most vulnerable residents. This expansion in funding will open nearly 2,500 waiver slots across programs for both individuals with developmental disabilities and people who are elderly or have adult-onset disabilities.
Finally, the proposed budget continues our commitment to provide a balanced and responsible state budget without any tax increases. The budget decreases state government spending by $623.7 million, or 2.43 percent, compared to the previous year. In total, since 2008 we have decreased the size of the state budget by 26 percent, and the total head count of state employees now represents the smallest number of state government employees in over 20 years.
The bottom line is that this budget is balanced, holds the line on taxes, increases funding for higher education, increases funding for K-12 schools, increases funding for healthcare, and continues to help foster an environment where businesses want to invest and create jobs.
We have made incredible progress over the past six years, but it’s not time to declare victory yet. There is more work to do, and we cannot rest until it is done.