STORY BY Neil Melancon
Governor-elect Jon Bel Edwards told farmers at the Louisiana Farm Bureau convention back in June that not only is he a card-carrying Farm Bureau member, but if elected, would get to work for farmers and agriculture.
Edwards is a member of the Tangipahoa Parish Farm Bureau and as he told the Louisiana Farm Bureau Board of Directors last week, he’s ready to promote the state’s largest industry—agriculture. He said his administration would be working closely with both Farm Bureau and other state ag groups.
“I’m excited about it,” Edwards said. “They do a great job for the State of Louisiana. I enjoy working with Ronnie Anderson and the board and the individual agents around the state, as well.”
One place Edwards will have a challenge is returning funding to the LSU and Southern University ag centers, as well as the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Jim Engster, a political analyst and radio host, said the significant shortfalls in the state budget mean there will not be a quick fix once the Edwards administration takes over.
“He’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do on the budget,” Engster said. “There’s a long way to go to get the state whole in some areas, colleges and universities being first and foremost. He’s going to have some difficulty because he, like other candidates, basically took a no-tax pledge.
“He says he will not raise taxes, but he will look at tax exemptions,” Engster added. “If there’s enough money there, there should be some ability to restore funding in areas like farming and agriculture at the universities.”
Edwards said he recognized the dilemma and was already trying to figure out how to restore funding to higher education.
“We have to have a funding formula to make sure that those ag centers are adequately funded, otherwise we are not going to have the state that we want to have,” Edwards said. “Not just as it relates to agriculture, but for all purposes. That’s something I’ve already started talking to the folks at LSU and Southern about.”
In regards to the revenue to restore that funding, Edwards said he was primarily looking at places where tax credits were not providing significant results.
“I said it with respect to corporate taxes, with respect to individual income taxes, some of the things we need to do with tax credits for example to reduce or eliminate those that are costing too much and not producing enough return on investments,” Edwards said. “That doesn’t change. I am not a different person or have different positions today then what I had two weeks ago.”
Edwards indicated he would be calling upon the Legislature to help restore some of that funding, possibly through a special session, although he declined to name a date for when it would be held.
“Fixing the structural budget deficit is going to be the goal and that’s what we’re going to accomplish but the dates almost take care of themselves,” he said. “If you just look at when the regular session starts you look at when Mardi Gras is you see the window there. I’m going to work with the leadership in the house and the senate to make sure that we get the dates right and we are able to get a job done within that period of time, but we’re certainly talking about in February.”
Edwards is currently operating his transition team out of Kirby Smith hall at LSU and has namedBen Nevers as his chief of staff as well as former gubernatorial opponent Jay Dardenne as his commissioner of administration. Edwards will take the oath of office on the steps of the state capitol in Baton Rouge on January 11th.