Gov. Edwards reflects on first 100 days, says he's 'optimistic' about future

Gov. Edwards reflects on first 100 days, says he's "optimistic" about future
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The first 100 days of Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration have been a whirlwind, defined by a budget crisis and a series of major weather events.

Above all, the governor said that he considers Medicaid expansion to be his chief accomplishment so far. He signed an executive order expanding the healthcare program on his first full day in office.

"Exactly the right thing to do for the state of Louisiana - a state with far more than its fair share of uninsured," Edwards said during a one-on-one interview.

Under the provision, between 300,000 and 450,000 people would qualify to receive healthcare.

On Monday, the Edwards administration announced during a meeting of the Senate Health and Welfare committee that expansion could save the state more than $600 million over the next five years.

And while there have been other successes so far, Edwards has also had to deal with a series of weather-related tragedies. Still, Edwards identified a silver lining to the deadly tornadoes and statewide flooding.

"They've given me an opportunity to get out and travel the state, to meet with more people than I would have otherwise been able to speak to, to listen to, in every corner of the state," he said.

During the regular legislative session, the governor has thrown his support behind a variety of bills. Some, like one raising the minimum wage, are likely to face an uphill battle, especially in the House.

Others, like one putting restrictions on charter schools, failed to get out of committee.

"It's a little bit challenging with certain committees based on the composition of those committees, and that's always going to be the case. We're going to keep working," Edwards said.

Of course, perhaps the most defining aspect of the governor's first 100 days has been the state budget. Before the first special legislative session, the state was staring down a projected $2 billion shortfall for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

While revenue measures passed by lawmakers during the special session reduced the shortfall by more than half, a budget hole of more than $750 million still remains.

"I intend to call the legislature back into a special session in June in order to finish the job so that we can fully fund TOPS long before the fall semester to give peace of mind to people whose kids are in school," the governor said.

Last week, the governor released his updated budget proposal for the next fiscal year. That includes $792 million in cuts as part of an effort to balance the budget.

In spite of the what those cuts could mean – closing state-funded hospitals, reducing the number students receiving TOPS, and more – some legislators said they have no stomach for more taxes. That includes Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Appropriations committee.

The governor had strong words for the so-called "caucus of no."

"It isn't enough to say you don't want to raise revenue. If that's your position, you're obligated to stand behind those cuts," he said.

With the first 100 days winding down, the governor is now looking forward to the next few months, which could be crucial as another budget battle looms.

"I remain extremely optimistic and excited about our future, and I know sometimes that doesn't always come across with the challenges that we have and some of the acrimonious dialogue that people hear," Edwards said. "I'm very bullish on our future, but that's because I'm extremely resolved to fix our problems which I know we're going to do."

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.