Louisiana State of the State Address 2000
By Stateline Staff
BATON ROUGE, Louisiana - April 24 - Following is the text of Gov. Mike Foster's 2000 State of the State Address:
During the past special session, you helped to stabilize our budget problems by renewing the three cents. You also helped pass Louisiana, Inc., which will help us attract high paying jobs and compete in the 21st century economy. Economic growth is the prescription to our budget problems. If our state's economy had grown by a mere percent and a half more last year, we would not have a fiscal problem this year. This is why we offered a new approach to economic development for Louisiana...an approach that has worked elsewhere. I thank you for the first step in bringing budgetary stability and for embracing this new approach for economic development. Today, we can begin the hard work of bringing meaningful change to the fiscal condition of our state, because you did your work in the special session. You passed important local bills, brought primary budget stabilization, and started us on a new road in economic development. Not only that, don't forget the special session and this fiscal session will cost our taxpayers a million dollars less than a full-blown regular session. I deeply appreciate your efforts to do more for our citizens while using fewer of their tax dollars to do it.
Let us understand where Louisiana finds itself. Four years ago, our state stood at a crossroads. The choice was to embrace business and education changes or allow failure to embrace us.
We stood for change.
We made change a reality.
We started building a new Louisiana.
Today, our state stands at another crossroads: embrace changes in the way our state is financed or watch as the very changes we have made falter...
Watch as the momentum of change is lost...
Watch as our common future again becomes clouded by the inability of our state to respond to demands of a new era...
We must not falter.
We cannot lose the momentum.
Our future must be clear.
We must respond to these demands.
I have my own ideas. I am certain you have others. As we proceed through the coming weeks, it will be incumbent on each of us to work in good faith to meld our ideas into a common solution. To insure this good faith, I will briefly give you an overview of my thoughts for the upcoming session.
Before we talk about revenue, we must talk about reducing spending. This is the conservative way. It is my way. It demonstrates to our citizens that we will operate in good faith with their tax dollars. I have proposed and will ask you to ratify cutting $330 million out of this budget. After these cuts, our proposed budget will still be more than $300 million dollars less than our current operational budget. In short, we are not playing the political game of reducing the growth in government spending and then calling it a cut. I am asking you to make a real cut in the cost of government... Cuts that will cause the state to have 800 or more fewer state employees. If you do this, you will make history. You will have done something no other legislature has done: really cut the size and cost of government and stopped it in its tracks. I challenge you to join with me in this historic endeavor.
While embarking on this endeavor, I am very mindful that government must help those who truly cannot help themselves...and that government must provide those services which are vital to human opportunity. Thus, even after these spending cuts, there will be some budget holes still left. I hope these are as great a concern to you as they are to me. These include:
continuing to provide critical drugs to over 300,000 of our citizens on Medicaid. For example, heart medication, insulin and mental health drugs that keep people alive and productive. The program that keeps them alive requires several hundred million dollars to fund.
restoring the cuts made to nursing homes, doctors, hospitals, ambulance services and facilities for the mentally disabled. These providers are the backbone of our health care system because day in and day out they care for the elderly and the sickest among us.
the medically needy program which helps those who have catastrophic medical bills. We must remember that this program serves all families whose bills far exceed their income. When someone becomes permanently ill with a disease such as cancer, even those with good jobs and savings are at risk of losing their medical care because they can no longer pay.
the charity hospital funds for the working poor not on Medicaid. These hospitals mean the difference between life and death for some of our poorest citizens who are working but do not have insurance or Medicare or Medicaid coverage...
the bulk of supplemental pay for police, fire and sheriff deputies... And
other critical programs such as non public school assistance... The DARE program... K-3 reading and math programs which are critical to preparing our fourth graders for high stakes tests and which has already put Louisiana in the top six in gains in fourth grade reading after only one and a half years of funding.
These are only a few examples. There are others, and they are serious.
In the short run, I do not believe we can turn our collective backs on our citizens who depend on these services and programs. In the long run, indifference will cost our taxpayers even more money. While we challenge ourselves to greatly reduce the spending of government, we also demand of ourselves to be responsible in providing services to our citizens. We must find this balance. Ultimately, it is what this fiscal session is about.
Finally, I am prepared to go the extra mile... To do what it takes over the next five months... to engage in a conversation and a course of action with you and the citizens of Louisiana on tax restructuring and the proper funding of our education initiatives. However, if sound and good ideas are put forth to move in this direction during this session, I am prepared to be open to move as far as we can in this direction. I make this commitment, because this administration has a long history of resolve to free our state and our citizens from ignorance, poverty, illiteracy and the lack of skills. I do not make this commitment because of threats to the public good. To those who seek to move government by threatening the disruption of vital governmental services, you are making a very bad mistake... A mistake our people, this legislature, and this administration will not tolerate.
Responsible government demands that we do what is both practical and possible. It requires that we find the balance between services and spending. These are not easy jobs. However, none of us were forced to run for the positions of public trust we now hold.
The administration has met repeatedly with the leadership of both the House and the Senate. Though the fix we propose is not perfect, and not something that we relish recommending, we all feel a responsibility to the state that transcends political expediency and local parochialism. We will propose sin taxes on beer, liquor, tobacco and gambling, some adjustments in the way telecommunications are taxed and last, a one-half cent sales tax with exemptions for food, utilities and drugs that we sincerely hope will not be permanent. It is our fervent hope that the sales tax portion of this recommendation can be dispensed with through real tax reform or some revenue-neutral switch in other tax areas in the near future.
I say again to you: our work is cut out for us between now and the fall of the year, to gain public support for real, meaningful tax reform that will free us from having to make these kinds of decisions for the rest of our four years here.
If we move forward in good faith...
If we focus on what is best for our state...
If we concern ourselves with the future of our state rather than the politics of the past...
If we place our collective fate in the hands of the Almighty...
We will be surprised at how much we can accomplish and how far we can go in this upcoming session to make Louisiana a better state.
At this crossroads, let each of us recommit ourselves to changing Louisiana.
God bless the United States and God bless Louisiana.