BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It has been a long year for the state of Louisiana after multi-million dollar deficits, deadly shootings and devastating flooding. Gov. John Bel Edwards recapped the adversity the state has faced and continues to overcome with his end of the year news conference.
He said the police shooting ambush on July 17 was the hardest day of his first year in office. "The toughest day for me was the Sunday when I woke up and was getting ready for church and I found out we had a gunman in Baton Rouge who was obviously targeting police officers," said Edwards, who is the son of a sheriff and comes from a family of law enforcement officials.
On the topic of the historic August floods, Edwards joined other leaders in complaining about the bureaucratic red tape he says is slowing efforts to get federal grant money to Louisiana homeowners. "My heart breaks, because it does take too long. We're doing everything we can to speed that up," he said.
The governor said the Shelter-at-Home program was "successful," but said working with FEMA comes with "severe limitations."
"There are some things we would like to do differently, but we need FEMA to have more flexibility than it currently believes it has under the Stafford Act," Edwards said. He said the biggest hurdle was simply letting people know what to expect, including that it was not a permanent fix for damaged homes.
Looking to the year ahead, the governor's focus shifted to the budget. With the state facing a mounting shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, he said any talk of a special session is so far "premature." However, he said lawmakers need to work with him to fix the budget hole.
Last year, a group of Republicans routinely blocked the Democratic governor's ideas during special session, including calls to raise taxes he said would have prevented midyear cuts.
"They found no cuts beyond those I had recommended for them," Edwards said about those who keep calling for cuts and oppose taxes. "I don't know why they expect the situation is going to be any different in 2017 than it was in 2016."
"If they want me to fail, then they want the state to fail as well. That should be unacceptable for everyone," Edwards continued.
Reflecting on the Alton Sterling shooting, the governor praised Baton Rouge residents for how they handled the protests. He said that while things were tense, they never got out of control like they had in other states.
Still, he said, law enforcement reform is a must going forward. "We want law enforcement officers serving a community as much as possible to look like the community it serves," Edwards said. "We have too many law enforcement officers scared of the public, and too many members of the public scared of law enforcement."
The governor said so far he has received no indications as to when the U.S. Department of Justice will release their findings on the Sterling investigation. In the meantime, Edwards said his team has been reaching out to church and community leaders in preparation.