Edwards Says Tariffs Slowing Louisiana's Economic Growth
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Even as he touted Louisiana's economic picture, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that President Donald Trump's tariffs are causing "pain" for agricultural and petrochemical industries and stifling the state's growth.
The Democratic governor typically refrains from criticizing the Republican president. But he blamed the tariffs Trump has imposed on certain imports from other countries for federal numbers that showed Louisiana's personal income growth slowed to 2.3 percent in the latest quarter, lagging the national 4 percent rate and among the lowest rates in the country.
The tariffs' impacts on the economy are "exactly what was predicted and feared," Edwards said at his end-of-the-year news conference.
He described Louisiana soybean farmers who plowed up their crops and left them in the fields, with no market to sell them, and said the state's ports have seen shipping declines.
"Hopefully this will get resolved soon and the retaliatory tariffs that have been imposed by other countries, but particularly China, will go away and we can have a normal trade relationship with these countries," the governor said. "I think it would benefit us."
Despite the latest income data, the governor still described Louisiana's economic picture as positive, saying employment levels are near record-highs and touting economic development wins. He talked of stabilizing the state's budget with legislative passage of a seven-year sales tax renewal and winning praise from national credit rating agencies.
"The days of crippling deficits are behind us. We are budgeting smarter, more honestly and finally have the stability that we need," Edwards said.
The governor, a rare Democratic statewide elected official in the Deep South, used his remarks to highlight what he considers his top achievements during three years in office, as he seeks a second term. Edwards faces at least two Republican challengers in next year's election, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
Abraham and Edwards clashed Thursday over congressional passage of legislation overhauling criminal sentencing laws, similar to what the governor successfully pushed in Louisiana last year. Abraham was one of only 36 U.S. House members to oppose the federal criminal justice bill, which headed to Trump's desk. The president supports the measure.
Abraham said the legislation "dangerously lowers mandatory sentences then allows judges to ignore them." In his statement, the GOP congressman also took a swipe at the bipartisan changes passed in Louisiana and championed by Edwards, calling it "criminal rights activism."
Edwards said the state's overhaul — which expanded probation and parole opportunities and reduced sentences, mainly for nonviolent offenders — cut Louisiana's spending on prisons and ended its tenure as the nation's highest incarcerator per capita.
"Louisiana made the right decision, to get smarter on crime," he said.
On other issues, Edwards:
—Repeated his pledge that teacher pay raises will be his top priority for the 2019 legislative session. The governor said he doesn't expect a dispute over the state's income forecast with House Republican leaders to stymie the state's ability to boost the salaries. "I believe we're going to work through this," Edwards said.
—Said he will continue to ask lawmakers to raise Louisiana's minimum wage and enact new equal pay laws, describing his repeated failure to win passage of the proposals as among his greatest disappointments in office.
—Said he's hopeful the federal Affordable Care Act will withstand a court challenge despite a Texas federal judge's ruling that could throw out the entire health care law. "I'm not going to tell you that I've lost any sleep over it," said Edwards, a lawyer. "It's a district court judge's decision. I think it's unlikely to be affirmed."
By AP reporter Melinda Deslatte