BATON ROUGE — Time was growing short Thursday for Louisiana lawmakers to strike a deal on next year’s $24 billion budget and the tax plans that will finance it.
Work in the 60-day regular legislative session must end by 6 p.m.
House and Senate leaders were trying to reach an agreement on how to raise taxes, shrink tax breaks and scale back business subsidies, as a way to drum up hundreds of millions of dollars for the budget. The money would stop deep cuts to colleges and public health services.
Lawmakers also were haggling over whether to meet Gov. Bobby Jindal’s criteria for the tax changes he’ll consider. If they don’t, they risk a veto of some of the tax bills that would pay for the spending plans in the budget.
Jindal, who is expected to announce his presidential campaign in two weeks, is threatening to veto bills he considers a net tax increase unless lawmakers find a way to offset them with what he considers a tax cut. He’s closely guarded his record on a no-tax pledge he signed with an organization led by national anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
The Senate has agreed to create a tax credit — only on paper — that would satisfy Jindal’s terms. But so far, House members have balked. They have called that idea a deception to the public, designed solely to benefit the Republican governor’s White House ambitions.
If the governor gets his wish on a budget deal, it will be a rare victory in a legislative session that has shot down two of the centerpieces of his agenda.
Lawmakers rejected Jindal’s push to give special protections in state law to people who oppose same-sex marriage, killing the bill after its first hearing.
They also refused the governor’s effort to strip the Common Core education standards from Louisiana’s public school classrooms. Instead, they ended the legislative controversy with a compromise that leaves much of the long-term decision-making on standards to the state’s next governor and state school board members elected this fall.
By Thursday, lawmakers had cleared away nearly everything not connected to finances, leaving the final day’s focus the same as when the session started: how to close Louisiana’s $1.6 billion budget gap in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The Senate was seeking a much higher tobacco tax rate that also would sweep in more types of tobacco products than the House sought. Also, the House disagreed with the Senate’s plan to make deeper reductions to Louisiana’s generous film tax credit program. In addition, the House has resisted a Senate plan to raise a fee on car buyers by $50.
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said he was confident the House and Senate could reach an agreement to “save higher education, fund health care and have a balanced budget” on time.
But whether that will include the offsets sought by Jindal remained unclear.
Without a tax credit or some other offset proposal, about $371 million used by lawmakers in next year’s budget to pay mainly for public health care services and higher education risks a veto from the governor.
Ninety-four of the 105 House members signed onto a symbolic measure indicating a willingness to hold a veto override session if Jindal jettisons money tied to health care and colleges. The Senate has resisted the idea, and it’s unclear if the Legislature would have the two-thirds votes required to override the governor’s vetoes in such a session.