Rep. Edwards: Jindal created a fiscal mess

State Rep. John Bel Edwards on Monday accused Gov. Bobby Jindal of creating calamity for Louisiana’s next governor through bad budgeting and poor political decisions.

“He’s just trying to keep balls in the air long enough to exit the stage,” Edwards said during an appearance at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Edwards, D-Amite, is running for governor in 2015.

Edwards made Jindal the focus of much of his speech even though the governor will not be on the ballot. Term limits prevent Jindal from seeking a third consecutive term.

The 2015 election is shaping up to be a crowded race. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne are running for governor. Another possibility among Republicans is state Treasurer John Kennedy. Edwards is the only announced Democrat in the race although that could change if New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu decides to enter late in the game.

Like Vitter, Edwards drew a crowd for his Press Club appearance. Also like Vitter, Edwards offered criticism of Jindal’s job performance.

Edwards said the state appears to be $150 million in the hole less than a month into the new state budget year. He attributed part of the supposed shortfall to the Jindal administration grabbing $70 million to repay treasury loans that kept higher education afloat last fiscal year.

Next state budget year, legislators will have to find more than $1 billion to cover expenses that will be met this year with revenue that is expected to evaporate.

Edwards ridiculed Jindal’s mantra about Louisiana outperforming the rest of the South. He questioned how that can be the case when the budget still needs to be cut and shortfalls materialize.

“We didn’t just tighten our belt and do more with less. We’re doing less with less,” he said.

Another area of concern highlighted by Edwards is the dwindling financial reserves at the Office of Group Benefits. OGB provides health insurance for state workers, retired workers and dependents. A recent report revealed that the reserves could drop from $237.2 million to $5.6 million by the end of the 2015 state fiscal year. The problem seems to be that the Jindal administration cut premium costs, lessening the financial burden on state agencies during a tight budget year. The premiums that were collected didn’t cover claims, forcing OGB to draw down the reserves.

Edwards said the spending of the reserves points to a cannibalistic approach by Jindal. Edwards predicted that current and retired workers will grapple with reduced benefits and higher premium costs as a result.

Edwards also is unhappy that Jindal rejected an expansion of the Medicaid program, which provides health insurance to those who otherwise would not have it. Jindal rejected allowing an additional 250,000 people onto the Medicaid rolls, saying the expansion would be too costly to the state in the long run. Edwards said the expansion would help the working poor and create additional jobs for nurses, doctors and custodians.

“My Christian faith that leads me to be pro-life leads me to accept Medicaid expansion as well,” Edwards said.

Vitter didn’t escape Edwards’ criticism. Edwards said Vitter would be Jindal on steroids as governor, pushing more state property sales and more privatizing for the sake of privatizing.

“We need a proven leader from the middle. You can’t govern from the far left or the far right because you’re not going to continue to have a consensus,” Edwards said.

Follow Michelle Millhollon on Twitter, @mmillhollon. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.