Governor John Bel Edwards hosted his end of the year press conference from the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion today.
As the governor generally does, it was live-streamed on his Facebook page.
“I stand here extremely optimistic about our future, but also very thankful for the successful year we’ve had in Louisiana, and the progress we’ve made by working together and continuing to put the people of Louisiana first,” the governor said. “Louisiana is on the right track, and we’re demonstrably stronger than we were just three years ago.”
Since the bipartisan effort this summer, the state isn’t facing crippling budgets each year and officials are able to budget smarter, he said.
The state’s $2 billion deficit is gone and now there’s a $300 million surplus; the state has been removed from the negative “watch lists” maintained by credit agencies; higher education funding has stabilized, and TOPS is fully funded, the governor said.
The economy is growing: job growth has been posted monthly for more than a year; the state has the lowest unemployment rate in a decade, along with near-record high employment; and Louisiana’s manufacturing workforce’s productivity rate is the highest in the nation – and 33 percent higher than the #2 state, Texas, he said.
Louisiana’s economy grew at a rate exceeding the national average, and exceeding that of all but 12 other states. The state’s GDP set a record high this year, and personal income growth is among the highest in the nation, he said.
One worry in the economic area, the governor said, was the impact of tariffs and the trade war on the petrochemical and agriculture industries.
“We’ve come too far to let this get in the way of our continued progress,” Edwards said, noting he continues to urge the president to resolve trade disputes.
Edwards touted infrastructure improvements planned and funded this year; construction began on 820 miles of highway in the state, and $600 million was obtained to help fund improvements to Interstate 10 near Baton Rouge. A new interchange has been funded to provide access to the new airport terminal under construction in New Orleans, and new access is underway for Barksdale Air Force Base.
On the health side, Edwards said the state’s Medicaid expansion has dropped the percent of uninsured, non-elderly residents from 23 percent in 2016 to 11 percent in 2017.
More than 180,000 working people in Louisiana have insurance coverage now that they didn’t have, never had and “didn’t even think was possible,” the governor said.
Among those, 56,000 women had their first mammograms – and in 550 of those cases cancer was found.
“A state with more insured people is a healthier state,” he said. “Our residents are no longer delaying care because of a lack of insurance, and that’s a good thing.”
The bipartisan criminal justice reform implemented late last year has produced $12 million in savings, most of which was re-invested into programs to aid victims and reduce recidivism, the governor said.
“We no longer have the highest incarceration rate in the nation,” he said.
The governor said his favorite statistic was that the state saw a record number of children adopted from foster care. This year, more than 900 kids were adopted and will be spending Christmas with a permanent, loving family, he said. That’s up from more than 700 kids last year – which also was a record, he said.
“I’m confident this progress will continue in 2019, and that we will see even more prosperity for our great state,” Edwards said of the past year. “I’m mindful that we still have challenges, but we are much stronger now in our ability to address those challenges.”
For the upcoming year, Edwards said his number one priority is to secure raises for teachers and school employees. He said he’s got “near universal support” for that priority.