Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks to the Louisiana Municipal Association on Feb. 5, 2020.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday praised the Louisiana Legislature’s leaders for their bipartisan approach to committee assignments and said he was confident the two branches of government could work through the latest stalemate over state revenue.

On Friday, Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ commissioner of administration, is expected to put forward a budget proposal that spends more money than last year’s to pay for teacher raises and other increases in education spending. It will be based on a staff economist’s revenue projection but will not be an official “executive budget” as defined by the state constitution because there is not yet an official state estimate.

At Friday’s Revenue Estimating Conference meeting, Republican leaders declined to endorse either of the two revenue projections offered by staff economists. Senate President Page Cortez cited the ongoing dispute with the state treasurer over whether to include money from the state’s unclaimed property fund.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder offered a compromise that would have reduced the sales tax projection by $100 million. Dardenne balked at what he described as politicizing what is supposed to be a nonpolitical process, though critics say the administration should be more flexible.

“I really believe we’re going to be able to work through this,” Edwards said Wednesday, after reiterating Dardenne’s argument.

Edwards said he was “very gratified” to see that Cortez and Schexnayder, both Republicans leading large majorities, picked Democrats to chair some of the committees in each body. Edwards said the bipartisan approach, unique to Louisiana, helps the state avoid “Washington dysfunction.”

Edwards’ comments came after his speech to a Louisiana Municipal Association conference in Baton Rouge. He praised local leaders for taking the initiative to run for office and said after 155 municipal elections last year, the state now has 70 new mayors.

Edwards mentioned the problems many towns and villages are having paying for and maintaining their water infrastructure, and urged local leaders to consider partnering with neighboring communities to share the costs. He said the state has resources to help but stressed that investing in maintenance on the front end can help prevent more serious issues down the road.

He talked up the importance of urging their constituents to participate in this year’s federal census, noting that federal spending is often tied to population estimates.

The governor also reminded local officials about recent cyberattacks against government entities across the state. He said such attacks are inevitable and urged officials to employ firewalls, back up their data, and ask state government for help if needed.

He said cyber-criminals often seek to freeze the owner’s data and demand a ransom to restore access, but asked local officials not to play ball.

“I don’t want anybody paying that ransom because if you do, then their business model is affirmed, and they’re going to keep doing this over and over,” Edwards said.

Also on Wednesday, the Edwards administration announced the deployment of more than 20 State Fire Marshal deputies and personnel to assist Puerto Rico in its recovery from recent earthquakes.

The unit includes 23 deputies and personnel including building inspectors, plan reviewers and Urban Search and Rescue logistics specialists, officials said. They will depart for Puerto Rico early Thursday morning and are expected to stay 16 days.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.