Next step: Will Louisiana lawmakers agree on budget cuts?
By MELINDA DESLATTE
Mar. 06, 2018
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After failing to raise any money in the just-ended special session, Louisiana's lawmakers are supposed to move to the next step, crafting a budget with the cuts required to eliminate a hefty shortfall only four months away.
Gov. John Bel Edwards doesn't believe the Legislature will agree to strip nearly $700 million in state financing from programs in the regular session that begins Monday. Legislative leaders also question if the House and Senate will make such politically charged decisions.
Already, plans are in the works for another special session on taxes with the assumptions the cuts won't fly. But Edwards said it will be a worthwhile exercise, to see if GOP lawmakers who say Louisiana wastes money can devise a plan for where to shrink spending.
"For those in the Legislature who insist that the state of Louisiana can simply cut its way to solving the cliff, they get the chance starting next week to show us how they would do that," the Democratic governor said.
People who rely on the state for services will wait months to know what gets funded.
HOW BIG IS THE HOLE?
More than $1.3 billion in temporary taxes passed by lawmakers in 2015 and 2016 expire when the new budget year begins July 1. Increases in other tax types will offset some of the gap, lowering the shortfall to $994 million.
Louisiana also is expected to get a bump in income tax collections from the federal tax changes, estimated to bring in $302 million in the upcoming budget year. That figure needs to be adopted by the state's income forecasting panel before lawmakers can spend the money.
Edwards and lawmakers expect the actual decline in state tax revenue from the current year to next year to sit around $692 million. The governor wanted lawmakers to pass replacement taxes, but the House deadlocked on all proposals to fill the gap in the 15-day special session that ended Monday.
Louisiana's operating budget this year is $28 billion.
WILL LAWMAKERS PASS A BUDGET?
Cuts grow larger with lost federal matching dollars and other financing sources tied to the spending of state tax dollars. The least protected budget areas — and the most vulnerable to slashing — are safety-net health programs, public colleges, the TOPS tuition program and public safety services.
Lawmakers seem skeptical that their colleagues will be willing to vote for the types of spending reductions required to balance the 2018-19 budget without additional revenue.
"We're going to go into this session and really see what we can cut. It's going to be a true test for everyone," said Rep. Julie Emerson, a Carencro Republican. She voted against tax bills in the special session.
Republican Senate President John Alario said he'd like to see lawmakers pass a budget in the regular session. But he added: "I don't know if practically that's possible."
GOP House Speaker Taylor Barras said "it would be difficult" to pass a budget in the regular session, though he expects lawmakers to hear the testimony normally involved in crafting spending plans — to learn about possible cuts.
ANOTHER SPECIAL SESSION
Edwards, Alario and Barras are working on plans for another special session on taxes that could start as early as mid-May.
They are talking about ending the regular session 10 to 20 days earlier than its June 4 deadline, then holding the special session during those days. Alario and Barras said they support the idea, though calendar details remain to be worked out.
Holding the special session during the time the regular session would normally run could save taxpayers the expense of another session, which costs $50,000 to $60,000 a day.
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