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Special session call expected

by Minden Press-Herald

Rep. Reynolds: Ideas on the table

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana lawmakers will learn today if they are returning to the state Capitol after the Mardi Gras holiday to debate replacing $1 billion in expiring taxes, to avoid deep budget cuts.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’d need to call a special session by Friday so lawmakers have enough time to debate taxes before the regular session begins in mid-March, when next year’s budget is crafted.

Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, believes the call for a session is coming today. “I believe the call for a special session will be made [Friday.],” he said. “[It is] most likely starting on the 19th.”

Edwards is meeting Friday with Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras to discuss tax ideas.

The Democratic governor is expected to announce his special session decision after that meeting, with Edwards calling the session if he determines enough progress has been made in rounding up House Republican votes for replacement taxes.

Barras said Thursday that “from all indications” he’s expecting Edwards to call the session. The Republican House speaker has said he supports holding a February session to determine how much tax revenue will be available to spend in the budget.

The $1 billion budget gap stems from the July 1 expiration of temporary sales taxes passed by lawmakers in 2016, planned as a bridge to a larger rewrite of Louisiana’s tax laws that never happened. House Republican leaders blocked previous tax proposals pushed by the governor.

If lawmakers want to replace any of the expiring revenue with taxes, that requires a special session. No lawmaker has offered a proposal for how to close the gap entirely with cuts.

In January, Edwards presented a worst-case-scenario $25.3 billion state operating budget proposal that would strip the money. The $1 billion in cuts would balloon to $2.8 billion with the loss of federal matching dollars and other financing sources. The plan would end many safety-net health programs and eliminate 80 percent of the financing for the TOPS college tuition program.

Rather than make those cuts, Edwards is pushing a tax package that could raise or maintain higher taxes on businesses and middle- and upper-income earners. But even his proposal isn’t enough to close the full budget shortfall.

It’s unclear where there may be agreement between Edwards and lawmakers.

Reynolds said he expects a special session to be productive. “My opinion is this [special session] is a prudent move and I think it will yield positive results,” he said. “There are plenty of good ideas being discussed.”

Barras said an Edwards proposal to charge sales taxes on services like cable television and Netflix is a non-starter with House Republicans. Some GOP lawmakers are suggesting renewal of all or part of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax, but Edwards opposes the idea.

In exchange for tax votes, House Republicans also are seeking Edwards’ commitment to support spending control legislation, such as tightened limits on spending growth and new cost-share and work requirements for some Medicaid patients.

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