BATON ROUGE, LA (KSLA) - Governor John Bel Edwards made a rare public address to the residents of Louisiana Thursday night regarding the state's grim financial status. This comes after the state's projected budget deficit, increased to nearly $1 billion.
The public address comes after a meeting of the revenue estimating conference Wednesday, which resulted in the state's projected budget deficit growing from $750 million to $870 million. That gap that has to be closed before the end of June or the state will enter into a new fiscal year in July more than $2 billion in the red.
Edwards said one of the only ways to fix the problem is to raise taxes to generate more state revenue and avoid cuts to higher education and healthcare.
"I think that governors, quite often, when they're facing a budget situation, they'll call it a crisis and talk about removing patients from dialysis machines in hopes that that'll make up on the electorate and lawmakers. Well this time I don't think it's an exaggeration. There really is a fiscal crisis and lawmakers don't have good choices. They either have to raise taxes or cut programs or do both," said political analyst Jim Engster.
State Treasurer John Kennedy gave the official GOP response to Governor Edwards' televised State of the State address.
"I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to offer common sense solutions to the state's budget problems," Kennedy said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "It is clear to me that we have a spending problem. We should not burden our hardworking families with higher taxes. When the state is spending $1 million to install statues at LSU Medical Center instead of training doctors, it's clear that our priorities are distorted."
Kennedy was critical of potential tax raises.
"The most pressing issue right now is the governor has proposed a tax increase that would be the biggest in the history of the state," said Kennedy.
The governor has called a special session. It begins Sunday and is scheduled to last three weeks.
There was mixed reaction to Edwards speech. Republican State Representative Mike Johnson of Benton blames at least part of the state's budget crisis on chronic state over-spending.
"We have the highest per capita spending of any state in the south and there's no excuse for that. We spent 30-percent more than the southern average and we obviously don't have a lot to show for it. So we need to reform how we do that," said Johnson.
But Democratic State Senator Greg Tarver of Shreveport supports the governor's call to raise revenue by increasing taxes. Tarver told us, "We are in a bind in Louisiana. We are broke in Louisiana."
Meanwhile, Mimi Hedgcock the Executive Director of Governmental affairs for LSU Health Shreveport, urged the public to contact local legislators to let them know what you want protected in this budget battle.
Click here for a transcript of the governor's special address.