Today, Governor John Bel Edwards joined the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) for a Virtual Breakfast Briefing to discuss his key priorities for 2022 and the potential impacts of new federal funding for Louisiana. Click here or on the image below to watch the video of the event, which BGR presented free to the public thanks to the sponsorship of IBERIABANK | First Horizon.
Governor Edwards remarked on the extraordinary challenges that Louisiana has faced since he last spoke to BGR at a Breakfast Briefing in November 2018. These have included several hurricanes and the coronavirus pandemic. He also discussed new federal money that has begun flowing to the state, including appropriations for hurricane recovery and legislation to fund pandemic relief and infrastructure. Among other things, the governor said:
- Louisiana’s most urgent need is hurricane recovery resources for housing, especially for low- and moderate-income households without adequate insurance. Governor Edwards said that Louisiana has received $595 million for recovery from the 2020 hurricanes Laura and Delta, but this falls short of the more than $1 billion need estimated by the State of Louisiana. He added that the State is working with its congressional delegation to identify additional funding for these communities and those affected by Hurricane Ida in 2021.
- Hospitalizations and the positive COVID-19 test rate both remain at low levels, but State health officials are wary of the impact of new variants of the virus. Governor Edwards urged residents to get vaccinated or, if they are fully vaccinated, the booster shot. He noted that about half of Louisianans are fully vaccinated and only 25% of those eligible for the booster shot have received it.
- The State is planning to combine federal pandemic relief funds it has received under the American Rescue Plan Act with new federal infrastructure funding to expand broadband internet access. He said the lack of broadband access created difficulties for distance learning and telemedicine during the pandemic. It also limits the economic potential of small businesses and farms. He said the Federal Communications Commission is currently mapping broadband access nationally, which will determine Louisiana’s potential future funding. But he estimates about one-third of the state is “on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
- The recently passed federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes new funding for highways, bridges and other infrastructure, which will help the State to tackle its $14 billion backlog of needs. He said Louisiana will receive $6 billion during the next five years. However, only $1 billion represents new funding over and above what Louisiana would otherwise expect to receive. In addition, he cautioned that the State must find a means of raising $250 million in non-federal matching funds to access those dollars. Louisiana can access other new federal funding through competitive grants, but it awaits federal rules for those award processes.
Governor Edwards then delved deeper into his 2022 outlook during the audience Q&A, a traditional part of BGR Breakfast Briefings. The governor’s comments included:
- His upcoming budget proposal will request increased funding for early childhood education.
- He also plans to include “significant” pay raises for K-12 public school teachers and support staff in the budget proposal.
- He emphasized the need to direct federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to raise the balance of Louisiana’s unemployment insurance fund to $750 million and avoid tax increases on businesses.
- Governor Edwards described how the State gasoline tax has lost purchasing power as a potential source of matching funds for federal infrastructure projects. He suggested the vehicle sales tax as a possible alternative funding source.
- He expressed confidence in efforts by the Louisiana State Legislature and the new superintendent of the Louisiana State Police to bring about reforms at the agency.
BGR Breakfast Briefings give citizens of metropolitan New Orleans the opportunity to hear experts and decision-makers discuss major public policy issues facing the local community. To find out about future Breakfast Briefings and receive notices about new BGR reports, our periodic PolicyWatch newsletter, other BGR events and more, sign up for our email list here. BGR thanks everyone who attended today’s event. Our Breakfast Briefings are free to the public thanks to the generous sponsorship of: