BATON ROUGE — Seeking to ramp up pressure on Republican House leaders who have stymied his tax plans, Gov. John Bel Edwards called Thursday on Louisiana’s House speaker to outline his plan for closing a looming $1 billion budget gap.
Gov. John Bel Edwards called Thursday on Louisiana’s House speaker to outline his plan for closing a looming $1 billion budget gap, as Edwards tries to ramp up pressure on Republican House leaders who have stymied the governor’s tax plans.
“It is time for constructive dialogue,” Edwards wrote to House Speaker Taylor Barras, a Republican from New Iberia.
More than $1 billion in temporary taxes are set to expire in mid-2018, at the start of the next budget year, a problem that is called Louisiana’s “fiscal cliff.”
Earlier this year, the Democratic governor pushed a tax package to raise money to eliminate the shortfall. It included many ideas offered by a nonpartisan study group created by lawmakers to reform Louisiana’s tax structure.
House Republican leaders opposed the effort, and the bills were bottled up and killed. Barras and other GOP leaders sought to lessen spending in this year’s budget to shrink the size of the financial gap next year, but that proposal didn’t win final passage in the Legislature.
Edwards said he’ll travel Louisiana in the coming months to rally support for ideas from lawmakers, community leaders and others. He urged Barras to convene a bipartisan group of House lawmakers to come up with proposals and negotiate them with the governor’s office.
Without “bold changes,” Edwards warned that $1 billion in cuts in the state’s $28 billion budget “would be catastrophic.”
Barras didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a call for comment about the letter.
Lawmakers can’t address taxes in next year’s legislative session. Edwards had said he intended to call a special session for lawmakers to consider tax proposals to offset the fiscal cliff. But more recently, he’s said he won’t call such a session unless he’s certain House Republican leaders can rally enough support for some sort of proposal. He repeated that stance in the letter.
“I am hesitant to convene another special session without meaningful input from, and a concerted effort by, House leadership to help identify a viable path forward,” Edwards wrote. “Specifically, I need a good faith commitment to remove the partisan barriers and solve this problem.”
Alexandria Rep. Lance Harris, chairman of the House GOP delegation, has said it’s Edwards’ job as Louisiana’s top leader to devise ideas for addressing the shortfall and to try to persuade lawmakers.
“I’m a part-time legislator. I’ll be working on some things, but I can’t devote 100 percent of my time,” Harris said recently. “He’s the governor. He’s the CEO. He certainly should come up with a plan.”.