Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the legislature, my fellow Louisianans:
Today, I’m going to be brief. The time for politics and partisanship is over. The time for solutions is now. No more excuses. The citizens of this state have waited long enough. They deserve results – now.
I’m not going to bog you down with the numbers and figures that have been in front of us for more than two years. We don’t need to rehash the tale of how we got here – we all know that by now.
I didn’t come here today with TOPS students to motivate you with their stories. You’ve heard their pleas. You know how many students attend a higher education institution and how many people are on waivers in your districts.
You are all too familiar with the importance of the partner hospitals that are in your areas.
Today, I am here to simply implore you to work with me – and with each other – to get the job done.
I understand that everyone is tired and ready to go home.
After meeting with so many of you individually, and in small groups over the past couple of weeks, I appreciate the fact that you are ready to see your families, return to your businesses and tend to your personal obligations.
But if I've learned anything from all of the meetings and discussions that we've had together, it's that just about every single member of the legislature agrees on how we got into this situation. And, with few exceptions, just about every one of you recognize the limited options that are available to stabilize funding for higher education, support our law enforcement and protect the 800,000 families whose benefits are at risk.
Crafting a solution to the fiscal cliff really hasn't been stopped by differences in policy. Of course, there are disagreements about certain policies that crop up between my Administration and certain members of the legislature. And there are policy differences among many of you. But that's a natural part of our democracy. It's healthy. We can work our way through those disagreements.
But everyone in this Chamber knows the real reason we're back here today for our 7th special session is not disagreements over policy - it's politics. And that's simply inexcusable. The people of Louisiana deserve better than that. Our students deserve better. Our children deserve better. Our seniors and veterans deserve better. Our constituents should not be used as political pawns because a handful of people have decided to play a game of partisan chess with our budgeting process.
So that’s why I want to thank the vast majority of you – Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike – who worked incredibly hard over the last five months to move our state forward. Your willingness to cast aside partisan labels for the common good is commendable. And You should be applauded for your efforts.
It's my hope, that in the coming days, more of your colleagues will join your efforts, turn a deaf ear to the out-of-state special interest groups who threaten to influence our discourse, and open their minds to a brighter future here in Louisiana.
One that has a thriving higher education community that attracts and maintains our best and brightest young students to stay here and become business leaders, inventors, doctors, teachers, and community leaders.
We all want those things.
Wherever you go, you can see the progress we’ve made together. But we’ve only just begun. If we want to achieve the progress WE are truly capable of, now is the time to make it happen.
Just look at what’s going on in Louisiana. More people are working our state than ever before. The unemployment rate is at a 10-year low. Every day, new business opportunities are popping up across the state. In the last year, we attracted the largest economic development deal in our state’s history. All these reasons are why our economy is doing better. In fact, no state's decline in unemployment exceeded ours last year.
This is our last chance to finally achieve the stability Louisiana needs so that we can continue our tremendous momentum of creating jobs, attracting new businesses and industries, and educating the next generation of workers.
But friends, let’s not fool ourselves - if you think we’re frustrated, just think about how frustrated the people of Louisiana are by now. For two years, they have been waiting for solutions, waiting for the legislature to act. That action must come now.
This will be our last opportunity to give them the security they need and the peace of mind they deserve so that they can get back to living without fear of the services they depend on being eliminated, or carved up on the chopping block. There won’t be another opportunity to get this fixed before the end of the fiscal year on June 30th.
We’ve been teetering on the brink of the fiscal cliff for too long, and the clock is winding down. We will start the next fiscal year on July 1 whether or not we fix the cliff.
This is it - our last chance to adequately fund our priorities AND reduce the tax burden on the people of Louisiana by more than $550 million. That would result in a budget proposal that is more than $200 million less than the standstill budget many of you called for last year.
It is a responsible way forward. It protects our state’s hardworking taxpayers while we continue to ensure state government is more efficient, more effective, and more accountable to the people.
We have been through this exercise more than enough times now. All the while, my door has been open to you. I have said again and again: together, we must listen and learn so that we can lead. Our citizens deserve nothing less.
While there are 10 days in this special session, I know, and you know, we can get it done sooner. No delays. Let’s not keep our people waiting any longer than is necessary.
There is no reason that we should still be here when the clock strikes 6 p.m. next Wednesday evening. Louisianans don’t want to see more political posturing, they just want to know that we will honor our commitments to them.
This is our chance to hit the reset button, to put the failures of past sessions behind us, and finally do what we’ve been saying we want to do.
The bipartisan compromise plan that more than two-thirds of you supported in the last special session had something for everyone, but everything for no one. And that certainly includes me, as it cuts more than $60 million more than the plan I proposed.
It was truly a compromise. It had spending cuts, revenue renewals, and a reduction of the tax burden on the people of Louisiana. These are meaningful, measurable improvements that will favorably impact every single person in the state.
It had all of that, and still adequately funded our most essential priorities.
That plan is still available to us. We can – and should -- meet in the middle and finish the job.
The last few months have been difficult for all of us.
Over the past several months, partisan politics have infested this building in a way we have never seen before. It is not a welcome occurrence. Trying to craft a solution to a difficult budget situation is hard enough on its own. But the constant mix of partisan angling just makes it that much harder for all of us.
But for those keeping score based on politics, let me tell you now that – in the end – none of us in this chamber will win.
I won’t be the winner.
Speaker Barras will not win.
President Alario will not win.
The House won’t win.
The Senate won’t win.
Republicans won’t win.
Nor will democrats.
None of us here today wins. But this is not about us – if we fail, the biggest losers will be the people we represent. The people of Louisiana lose. And that is unacceptable.
However, if we all summon the courage to do what we know is right, put politics aside, and put Louisiana first, I’ll tell you who will win:
The mother, father or student that otherwise can’t afford to write that tuition check. If TOPS is properly funded, they win!
Every student who attends a technical college, community college, or university with stable funding . . . they win.
The sheriff’s department that will be able to house our inmates more efficiently and far cheaper than it costs in the state’s correctional facilities, they win.
The district attorneys that prosecute criminals and keep our communities safe, they win.
The 2,000 state employees showing up for work every day and serving the people of our state who are worried if there will be a pink slip on their desk come June 30th, they win.
Our national guard, which as we speak, is prepared to support us should any natural disaster come our way this hurricane season, they win.
You see, with a compromise, the people of our state will win. And that’s the point. That’s why we’re here. It never was supposed to be about us.
It has always been about the people we serve. Let’s make sure they win. It’s about Louisiana, your Louisiana, my Louisiana,
This is our Louisiana.
So, let’s get this done. No delays. No excuses. Let’s seize this opportunity. We all know we can, and Louisiana will be better for it.
God bless you and God bless the great state of Louisiana.