Louisiana in for another special session before the end of June


Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has announced plans to call another special session, in an effort to close a projected $648 million budget gap.

Update: 12:45 a.m. CST:

The governor blasted House leaders for the chamber’s failure to pass sales tax bills, saying the state would not need a special session had any of the measures passed.

“It’s a crying damn shame,” the governor told reporters shortly after the session adjourned at midnight Monday. “It’s a total collapse of leadership,” he said.

Edwards said the upcoming special session would be shorter than this most recent one, adding it would end days before July 1, when any tax measures would likely take effect.

This special session would be the third of the 2018 calendar year and the seventh since Edwards took office in January 2016.

The governor did not say whether he plans to veto the budget passed in the session’s final hour.

“I’ll look at all my options tomorrow,” he said.

Update 12:10 p.m. CST:

Boos and shouts capped the final seconds of Louisiana’s second special legislative session this year, as House Republican leaders filibustered against reconsidering a major sales tax proposal.

With about a minute left, Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) and House leaders ran down the clock, preventing members from returning Rep. Lance Harris’ bill to the floor. It would have replaced one-third of the expiring fifth penny of sales tax.

Harris’ bill seemed to be the only option left, after the House rejected a separate sales tax proposal from Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans). His measure would have renewed half a cent of the tax.

This is not the first time state lawmakers could not agree on revenue ideas during a special session. A session earlier this year ended in a similar stalemate.

Update: 11:52 p.m. CST:

Louisiana lawmakers passed a $29 billion budget Monday in the final hour of their special session, with House members agreeing on Senate amendments.

The spending plan would fund 70 percent of TOPS tuition costs, while making hefty cuts to college campuses. The estimated $500 million in reductions would extend to other state programs as well.

The proposal resembles the budget that Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed last month, at the close of a regular legislative session.

The state faces a projected $648 million budget gap when more than $1 billion in temporary taxes fall off the books June 30.

Original story:

Louisiana legislators spent the closing hours of a two-week special session behind closed doors Monday, seeking to bridge months-old rifts over tax and spending proposals.

The divisions have sat heavily between the House and Senate floors. Several members from each chamber retreated into joint conference committees, after the Republican-led lower chamber rejected Senate changes to spending and revenue bills.

Before the committees met, some House lawmakers sought to bring the full budget to a floor vote. Rep. Rob Shadoin filed a motion, hoping to speed up the spending talks, ahead of a midnight deadline.

“We should get this item checked off of our agenda right now,” said Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans).

Shadoin ultimately withdrew his motion, citing limited support, though his supporters maintained that the Senate’s budget outline resembles compromise.

“This is not a perfect budget, but that’s what compromise is,” Leger said.

House Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) told lawmakers that if negotiations imploded close to the session’s midnight deadline, he would return the Senate’s version of the spending bill to the floor.

“At 11:45 p.m. tonight, if everything falls apart, I will ask you all to concur in the Senate amendments,” Henry told the body. “There is no greater guarantee.”

The Senate’s model budget would fully fund the TOPS tuition program, college campuses, safety-net hospitals and nursing home residents. State agriculture, parks, museums and senior centers would still face cuts, as would the offices of the attorney general and juvenile justice.

House members have stuck to a spending bill that assumes a smaller $400 million tax footprint. Their plan would cover 90 percent of TOPS tuition costs, though cuts to the state’s health department would jeopardize mental health and substance abuse programs.

The chambers also remain divided over which percentage of an expiring fifth penny of sales tax to renew. Senators moved to levy a 4.5 sales tax rate, before House members voted Monday to strip it away and return the proposed rate to 4.33, as initially drafted by Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria). The discord prompted additional closed-door negotiations.

A separate conference committee debated whether to expand a tax credit for lower-income earners. Democrats with the Legislative Black Caucus made the break a centerpiece of their stance during the special session’s final hours, though House Republicans voiced concern over its estimated $21 million cost.

As lawmakers entered the night with no budget or tax deals in place, many of them doubted that they would broker compromise before the midnight deadline. Failure to reach agreement would all but likely prompt another special session — the third of 2018. Special sessions cost the state an average of $60,000 a day.

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