Compromise will be Louisiana’s only solution to a billion-dollar budget shortfall, Gov. John Bel Edwards told lawmakers Monday, opening a 17-day special legislative session.
Since state law prevents lawmakers from addressing revenue in the regular session starting March 12, this special session will give legislators the most immediate chance to offset the expiration of temporary sales tax revenue July 1. Much of the gap derives from the penny of state’s sales tax passed in 2016, as a short-term measure. In remarks before both legislative chambers, the Democratic governor told House Republicans that the days of temporary fixes are over.
“This can has been kicked down the road so long that the only place for it to go is right off the cliff,” he said, ahead of the state’s fifth special session in two years. “If we all work together, I’m actually optimistic this could be the last.”
Lawmakers will begin hearing revenue measures Tuesday. Edwards recommends replacing roughly $994 million in expiring revenue, largely through compressing income tax brackets and taxing certain services. Failure to pass such tax measures, he said, would prompt extensive cuts to public safety, state-backed hospitals and higher education, namely the TOPS tuition assistance program.
“If we wait to address the cliff, if we don’t make it abundantly clear that the scholarships we promised our students are fully funded, we’re going to start losing the incredible young people whose job it will soon be to carry this great state forward,” he said. “There are thousands of parents who lie awake at night waiting for us to act.”
Whether the required two-thirds of the Republican-led House will support the governor’s proposals remains uncertain. House Speaker Taylor Barras suggests renewing part of the penny. Others in the GOP favor more widespread cuts.
“The problem is, I don’t think the Republicans have actually counted votes from their members,” said Rep. Ted James, a Democrat. “It seems like a very few have made decisions for the bulk of the group.”
While no lawmaker has offered how they would extract $1 billion from the state’s general fund, Edwards thanked Barras for recommendations. In a letter last month, the speaker proposed tighter spending control measures, a website that shows users where state dollars go and changes to Medicaid requirements and co-pays for able-bodied recipients.
“I believe this is a good faith starting point,” the governor said. “I recognize that these are tough decisions we are making, but our ability to compromise is essential.”
Edwards has previously supported stricter work requirements for Medicaid patients. In an interview last week with BRProud.com, the governor suggested he is willing to consider replacing part of the expiring sales taxes on a permanent basis.
“By definition, compromise means you get some of what you want in exchange for accepting some of what you don’t want,” he said Monday.
Legislators must finish their special session by midnight March 7. Failure to address revenue measures could propel them to an additional session after the regular session ends June 4. Special sessions inn Louisiana typically cost $60,000 a day.
“I want to reiterate what a disservice that would be to the people of this state who we’ve been elected to serve,” he said. “We’ve been through this song and dance before.”