By Elizabeth Crisp
Gov. John Bel Edwards doesn't expect to call the Louisiana Legislature into another special session to address the costs associated with flooding that has hit south Louisiana, he said this week.
"I don't want anybody out there thinking that the fiscal situation in our state is going to limit in any way what we will do going forward," Edwards said. "The fiscal condition of this state is not going to limit what we do to make sure that people get the assistance they need."
The Legislature ended 19-consecutive weeks of legislative sessions in June, including two special sessions that Edwards called so legislators could shore up the state's finances. When Edwards took office in January, the state was hurtling toward an estimated $2 billion shortfall for the budget that began July 1. After raising sales and cigarette taxes and passing other revenue-generating measures, lawmakers bridged most of the gap, but had to pare back spending in some agencies.
The tight budget has left some wondering whether additional spending in response to the flood could spark the need for more budget shifting or cutbacks that would require a special session.
Then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco called a special session in 2005 to address recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Edwards said he doesn't think that will be necessary this time around, though it's still early in the flood recovery process.
"We were managing our cash flow very carefully before this happened," Edwards said.
No official damage estimate has been calculated yet, but Edwards said the scope is "huge."
"I don't like to dwell on the economic impact. the toll right now is on people and that's where we are focused," Edwards said.
Twenty parishes have qualified for federal disaster declarations to date. According to FEMA, more than 66,000 people have registered for aid, and more than 9,000 flood insurance claims have been filed.
Additionally, the governor has estimated that some 8,000 people are staying in area shelters.
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