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Trying one more time


Latest tax special session to begin June 18

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling lawmakers back to the Louisiana Capitol on June 18 for the third special session this year aimed at replacing expiring taxes, hoping he can broker a deal with House GOP leaders to avoid deep budget cuts looming in three weeks.

The Democratic governor Friday outlined the dates and parameters for the 10-day special session, which must end by June 27. Only sales taxes and certain budget items can be considered this time.

Louisiana is expected to bring in $648 million less in the budget year starting July 1, a shortfall tied to the loss of temporary taxes. Edwards called special sessions in February and May aimed at filling the shortfall. Both collapsed without closing the gap.

Lawmakers will head into this next session with the governor and House Republican leaders still at odds over how much money should be raised.

“We have one more opportunity to get this right for the people of Louisiana,” the governor said in a statement. He added: “We know the path we need to take, and now it’s time to come together as Louisianans to solve this problem.”

In the final minutes of the most recent special session, lawmakers passed a budget that makes the cuts required to stay in balance and keep agencies operating in three weeks. College campuses, the TOPS tuition program, public safety programs and the social services department are among programs that would be slashed.

Edwards announced Friday that he has signed that budget into law, though he’s hoping more dollars will be added to the spending plan. He vetoed a prior budget proposal that contained similar cuts, but the new financial year is growing ever nearer. Also, the budget includes a roadmap for how any new money would be spent.

“While this budget is not perfect by any means, it clearly lays out the choice the Legislature has leading up to the special session,” he said. “This budget funds our health care priorities and lays out a plan to fully fund TOPS, higher education, sheriffs, children and family services, our district attorneys and other critical priorities.”

The upcoming session will be Edwards’ seventh special session since taking office in 2016, all dealing with Louisiana’s financial problems. The upcoming special session is estimated to cost taxpayers $50,000 to $60,000 per day.

Tax negotiations are expected to pick up where they left off when time expired Monday, centered on the expiration of a 1 percent sales tax hike that would drop the state sales tax rate to 4 percent in July.

The Senate agreed to renew one-half of the expiring tax, to have a 4.5 percent sales tax rate on July 1. That bill would have fully financed the budget that passed.

House lawmakers disagreed on the rate on the last day of session, with a bipartisan majority supporting a 4.5 percent rate and House GOP leaders pushing a 4.33 percent rate that garnered about one-third House support. Neither proposal reached the two-thirds threshold to pass before Monday’s midnight deadline.

Edwards supported the Senate version.

House GOP leaders asked for items involving Louisiana’s spending cap and government audits to be included in the parameters for the next session, but Edwards refused. The governor did, however, announce he’s signed a transparency bill pushed by Republicans, aimed at beefing up a state website for taxpayers to track how dollars are spent.