State revenue shortfall once again main topic
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers return Tuesday for an all-too-familiar scene at the state Capitol: The opening of yet another special session aimed at balancing a hole-riddled budget.
When they gavel in late afternoon, the House and Senate will be convening their sixth special session in three years, all called by Gov. John Bel Edwards to address Louisiana’s persistent financial troubles.
This 14-day gathering, like a prior special session in February, will determine if lawmakers will agree to replace some expiring temporary taxes to stave off deep budget cuts. The special session earlier this year ended in stalemate in the House amid partisan disputes. Edwards said he’s hopeful the sense of urgency will drive action — and tax passage — this time.
“I’m actually very optimistic that the Legislature will return on Tuesday, put an end to this repetitive cycle of budget crises and actually move our state forward,” the Democratic governor said.
To kick off this latest session, Edwards is moving away from the traditional speech to lawmakers in the House chamber. Instead, he’s traveling to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, one of the college campuses threatened with budget cuts without tax renewals.
About $1.4 billion in temporary taxes passed by lawmakers in 2015 and 2016 to plug budget holes are expiring July 1 with the start of the new budget year. With other tax offsets, Louisiana is estimated to get $648 million less in general tax dollars next year.
Edwards wants lawmakers to raise $648 million to offset the gap — and to make whatever taxes are passed a permanent change, ending annual worries about massive budget shortfalls. Beyond taxes, lawmakers will need to work on next year’s budget, after the governor Friday vetoed a version that contained deep cuts.
The governor’s plan mainly involves sales taxes. He supports renewing up to half the 1 percent sales tax expiring in six weeks, to raise more than $400 million a year, and he also backs permanent removal of some sales tax breaks and the continued charging of sales taxes on business utilities. But Edwards also said he’s open to other tax ideas lawmakers might have.
Edwards is framing the plan as a net tax reduction because Louisiana residents still would pay less next year than they currently are paying this year. Critics disagree, saying the taxes were due to fall off the books and any renewal would constitute a tax hike.
Lawmakers say there have been scant negotiations ahead of the session, creating questions about whether the House will break through its gridlock this time, before the June 4 deadline.
During the last special session, there were multiple factions in the majority-GOP House. Some House Republicans refused to consider any tax measures. Other House Republicans willing to consider taxes favored sales taxes.
Democrats, particularly members of the Legislature’s Black Caucus, favored income taxes.