Edwards: If elected, state budget would be focus
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The lone Democrat to announce he's running for governor next year, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, said Monday that Louisiana's next leader will need to focus on stabilizing the state's finances.
Edwards criticized Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's budgeting tactics as "running the state like a big Ponzi scheme."
He said Jindal's use of piecemeal financing, his draining of reserve funds and his refusal to take certain federal dollars will leave his successor with a troubled budget situation.
Edwards cited as an example this year's budget, which contains nearly $1 billion in loan repayments, trust fund money and pharmaceutical settlements that are one-time financing sources that won't be available next year.
"He's just trying to keep the balls in the air long enough that he can exit the stage and have them come crashing down on somebody behind him," Edwards told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Jindal, who is term-limited and can't run for re-election in 2015, has described his budget maneuvers — which have been approved by a majority of lawmakers each year — as helping to preserve critical services amid a national recession and a slow recovery.
However, Edwards said the governor's national political ambitions have clouded his decision-making in Louisiana.
The leader of Democrats in the state House, Edwards is one of three announced candidates in the governor's race, along with U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, both Republicans.
Edwards described himself as the centrist in the race, saying Vitter would offer voters "a third Jindal term, except Jindal on steroids." He didn't mention Dardenne's candidacy at all.
To rework Louisiana's budget, Edwards said the state should consider removing outdated or ineffective tax breaks on the books and using sources of federal money that Jindal has rejected, like dollars available to expand the state Medicaid program.
The Democratic lawmaker said Louisiana could craft a state-specific Medicaid expansion program. He said it could involve creating a private insurance model that includes co-pays and work requirements for participants.
"You can fashion this program in a very conservative way that protects Louisiana values," he said.
On education issues, Edwards said he doesn't oppose the Common Core education standards, but wants a Louisiana-based group of educators and parents to review the individual standards and have the authority to determine whether to keep, reject or modify them. In the meantime, he said public schools should be allowed to use state-specific standardized tests, rather than shift to multi-state testing that is aligned with Common Core.