- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana’s next governor asked business leaders in New Orleans to offer advice - especially when they disagree with him - as he prepares to deal with a budget crisis.

Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards got a friendly reception as he addressed a luncheon crowd Friday during the annual meeting of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce. But he acknowledged that many in the room likely didn’t share his party affiliation. He’s a Democrat in a mostly Republican-friendly state.

And he predicted there will be opposition from various sectors as he prepares to deal with current cash flow problems and a budget shortfall looming for next year that he said could range from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion.

He promised an open administration and urged chamber members to approach him with suggestions.

“Come interact with me, and my administration,” Edwards said. “Don’t just go to your corners and then start throwing grenades, because we’re never going to get to where we have to get to in the state if that happens.”

The governor-elect described deep budget problems facing Louisiana, including cash flow shortages, the impending shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and his desire to shield higher education from further budget cuts.

He also touched on some of the problems that he said contributed to the state’s financial woes, referencing tax hikes enacted under the so-called Stelly Plan that were rolled back in 2007 and 2008. The Legislature’s economist estimates Louisiana has lost $800 million in yearly revenue from the roll-back.

However, Edwards stopped short of saying he would seek to reinstate the Stelly-era income tax brackets, saying “all options are on the table” as he looks at ways of dealing with the deficit.

“I wanted to explain what the genesis of the problem was,” Edwards said later when asked about the Stelly reference in the speech. “I just want people to understand the size of the problem and what I think the genesis was.”

Edwards will be sworn in Jan. 11, taking over the office from term-limited Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

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