BATON ROUGE — Louisiana lawmakers have grappled with financial woes across three special legislative sessions since their terms began fewer than 18 months ago. No end’s in sight, with lawmakers now certain to be called back for a fourth budget and tax session.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras agree that lawmakers won’t reach a deal to fix a mid-2018 budget gap in the remaining two weeks of the current regular session.
They say a special session is inevitable sometime before Louisiana hits what is called the “fiscal cliff,” when temporary sales taxes expire June 30, 2018 and leave a projected budget hole of more than $1 billion.
“It sounds like that’s where we’ll be,” Barras said of the special session. “The when’s probably more the question, I suppose.”
Told of Barras’ comment, Alario replied Thursday: “I agree with him, unfortunately.”
Special sessions carry a price tag ranging from about $50,000 to $60,000 per day.
The House has blocked all tax hikes to offset the financial hole and shows no sign of budging, with a strong anti-tax sentiment from Republicans in the majority-GOP chamber. Tax plans submitted by the Democratic governor have gone nowhere, bottled up in the House tax committee.
With most tax bills required to start in the House, senators who have shown more willingness to raise taxes can do little.
Barras, a Republican, said any revenue-raising bills right now face heavy resistance from the public, which is why he says many House Republicans are reluctant to consider them this session.
“Outside this building, if it’s not pretty obvious, no one wants a tax passed,” he said late Wednesday night. “Inside the building we continue to talk about options. But outside the building the resistance keeps getting stronger and stronger. I think it’s an economic reality that’s out there.”
Alario, a Republican, called the House intransigence on taxes a disappointment.
“I had hoped we could complete our business while we’re here, knowing that the cliff is coming and wish we could have got it done,” the Senate president said. “But if it’s not, no use crying about it. We’ll move on and try to solve it when we get into a special session.”
The current legislative session must end June 8. It’s the last regular session in which taxes can be considered before the 2018 revenue drop-off.
Barras said he thinks lawmakers would be more likely to consider tax measures when they near the tax expirations, after they’ve determined if other state revenue sources have improved and what size hole they may need to fill.
Edwards said Thursday a special session “should be completely unnecessary.”
“There will not be options before us that are different or better than we have right now,” he said. “I guess there are certain people whose toes have to be dangling off the edge of the cliff and they have to be able to look straight down and see it before they are motivated to do something. It shouldn’t be that way.”
House Republican leaders pared back spending in the budget proposal for the upcoming financial year that begins July 1 in hopes that cutting government now would lessen the mid-2018 gap. With that action, they believe the shortfall, estimated to be as much as $1.3 billion, could be cut in half.
But Edwards added a further wrinkle Thursday, threatening to veto the budget if lawmakers send him something like the House proposal, which he calls a “non-starter.” That would trigger a more immediate special session than the one expected to fill the mid-2018 shortfall.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion that we get a (budget) that’s acceptable. And if we don’t, well, the special session obviously comes right away,” he said.