Legislators in Baton Rouge are racing to meet the March 9 deadline to plug a nearly $1 billion hole in the state’s budget – and that’s just to get the state through until July 1.
“It’s been an intense couple of days,” Rep. Gene Reynolds, District 10, said. “Hopefully we’ll come to some solution soon.”
As of Tuesday, Reynolds says there are four bills on the table that could pass by the March 9 deadline. The Senate has House Bill 122, which would make cuts across the board to state agencies for a total of $100 million. Reynolds believes it will pass on principle.
House Bill 61 cleans up and takes some exemptions off of the existing one-cent sales tax. Reynolds clarified that these do not include those that are constitutional, such as food.
Another bill under consideration, he says is the tobacco tax, which would generate about $16-$18 million in revenue.
And although there has been talk about raising the taxes on alcohol, Reynolds says there is no consensus on that yet. Two other bills up for consideration, House Bill 56 and 87, call for a reduction of the insurance premium tax for certain Louisiana investments. Reynolds says it won’t be on individuals.
“We think these four bills would offset some of the cuts and keep from closing schools and hospitals,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds says the House Fiscal Division released numbers Monday and there have been a total of $166,528,410 in cuts so far, and another $328 million has been pulled from the rainy day and BP oil relief funds.
Revenue off the House Floor so far is about $290.8 million.
Still underfunded at this time is $175,770,162. He says funds that still need money include the Minimum Foundation Program, TOPS, corrections, local housing, hospital provider payments and optional Medicaid programs and the last draw for higher education.
The new one-cent sales tax hike will go from four to five cents on the dollar, and if passed, would begin April 1.
“The new one-cent sales tax raises over $200 million that we have to have, but it has a trigger in it that when it reaches a certain amount it rolls off,” he said.
He says he understands no one wants to pay taxes, but it will be necessary to give legislators time to work on fixing the budget.
“I know people don’t want taxes, but if I can’t stop closing down our schools and our med schools if we didn’t put this in there, then they’ll never forget that,” he said. “A lot of these taxes are temporary, and this is strictly to get us to July 1.”