Governor John Bel Edwards held his traditional year-end press conference last week. It marked not only the end of 2019, but the end of his first term.
His core message?
“Our state is operating from a position of strength, not the position of weakness where we were four years ago,” Edwards said.
The Democratic governor touted budget stability, GDP growth, Medicaid expansion-- all familiar talking points from the campaign trail.
And his plans for 2020 sounded awfully familiar too.
“As you've heard me say before, investing in education at every level is going to be a key priority for me in my second term,” Edwards said.
Edwards has some unfinished business when it comes to education policy.
Last session he pushed for, and won, spending increases for early childhood education and higher education as well as a $1000 pay raise for public school teachers.
But he fell short of his ultimate goals in all three education areas.
First, even with the raise, public school teachers are still paid below the Southern Regional Education Board average that Edwards hopes to match.
Second, the increase for early childhood education was just a fraction of what state leaders say they need.
And lastly, the Board of Regents introduced an aggressive Higher Education master plan earlier this year that calls for 60% of working age adults to have a college degree or professional credential by 2030.
“We kid ourselves if we think we can get there without net new investments in higher education,” Edwards said.
Whether or not the governor gets those investments will depend on budget negotiations this spring-- that’s already a contentious topic at the capitol.
In recent weeks, House Republicans blocked the Revenue Estimating Conference from adopting an official forecast once again.
The move prevents Edwards from submitting a budget plan in February that includes an extra $100 million that the state is expected to have-- money he would need to fund his priorities.
“That’s unfortunate. This is just the second time that this has ever happened since REC was created and it’s the second time in two years,” Edwards said.
Last year, a higher revenue forecast was eventually adopted. Republicans and Democrats came together and passed a budget, but the months-long standoff slowed everything down.
Edwards is also returning to a pair of initiatives that failed during his first term…
“We’re going into 2020 with a minimum wage of $7 and a quarter,” Edwards said. “That is abusively low.”
He added that he will push for legislation to close the gender pay gap in Louisiana-- the nation’s largest. Edwards called the discrepancy “offensive.”
Edwards’ agenda is familiar, but the legislature he has to get it through is not. There will be 61 newcomers next session.
Republicans have controlled both chambers since 2011, but this class is a deeper shade of red.
The GOP now holds a super-majority in the Senate, and fell just two seats short of that mark in the House. Also, term limits forced out many of Edwards’ more moderate Republican allies.
The right turn is already affecting the races for Senate President and Speaker of the House.
U.S. Senator John Kennedy and State Attorney General Jeff Landry are publicly urging House Republicans to pick the Speaker without any input from Democrats.
Edwards criticized what he called a move to “Washington D.C. style governance.”
Earlier this month, the Republican Caucus chose Representative Sherman Mack from a crowded field. He’s the frontrunner, but many Republicans say they’re not comfortable locking Democrats out of the process.
Edwards says he’s already met with Mack and several other candidates for leadership roles.
Before Edwards took office, the Governor hand-picked legislative leaders. That didn’t happen in 2016. His expectations are lower now.
“The House will determine that for the speaker,” Edwards said. “The only thing I ask is for leadership that will work in good faith, in a bipartisan way to address our state’s needs and move the state forward.”
The race in the Senate has been quieter. They’ll select the next president by secret ballot in the organizational session next month. Laffayette Republican Page Cortez is expected to take over for John Alario.