Louisiana lawmakers will return to the Capitol this month for another special session to try to shore up the state's finances. Again.
Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the long-anticipated special session call Friday afternoon, bringing state legislators back to the State Capitol at 4 p.m. on Feb. 19. The special session must end by March 7.
The call comes without an agreed-upon path for avoiding the looming "fiscal cliff" the state faces when temporary tax measures expire July 1. Edwards, who had repeatedly said he wouldn't call a special session if he didn't think it would be fruitful, said Friday he thinks talks are moving in a positive direction.
“There is a growing consensus among lawmakers that the fiscal cliff can and should be addressed in February, and I agree,” Edwards said in a statement after meeting again with House Speaker Taylor Barras and Senate President John Alario on Friday. “This special session will give us the opportunity to make reforms that we all know are needed in Louisiana to stabilize our budget and tax code making it more predictable and fair for Louisiana taxpayers."
By Friday's end, Louisiana should know whether the state Legislature will meet in another budget-crunching special session this month.
Lawmakers cannot take up most revenue-raising measures during their regular session that begins March 12, prompting the push for a precursory special session.
"After multiple meetings with House and Senate leadership, I feel confident that we are coming to an area of compromise that will allow us to make the changes we need to continue the momentum that we are seeing in our state," Edwards said.
It is a familiar position for the Legislature. This will be the fifth budget-focused special session in two years. The first special session of the term that began in 2016 was held late February through early March that year. Special sessions cost the state about $60,000 a day, according to legislative estimates.
The items on the agenda for the upcoming 17-day special session are also familiar.
Edwards' proclamation includes 17 items, including continuing cuts to some tax credits and deductions, rolling back some sales tax exemptions, taxing some business utilities and general consideration of the state sales tax.
A one-cent sales tax hike approved in 2016 is one of the key measures set to expire July 1. At the time it was seen as a bridge to a more comprehensive budget overhaul during the 2017 session, when lawmakers could take up revenue measures. But those efforts were unsuccessful last year.
There has been a push among some Republicans to extend all or part of the expiring sales tax hike to help shore up the budget, again. Edwards has said he does't support relying on the sales tax as a permanent solution.
Two items on Edwards' list have already been deemed unlikely to pass because they lack support in the Republican-controlled House: Altering the state income tax brackets and applying sales taxes to some services.
"The rest of them are still up for discussion," Barras said Thursday. "It's been an ongoing discussion of all the options and variations of those options."
In addition to the potential revenue-raisers, Edwards included four items on House Republicans' wish list: An enhanced budget transparency site, co-pays and work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients and a retooled spending cap, that relies on state growth metrics. House Republican leaders are looking to couple those measures with items from Edwards' revenue list. They say each would help curb spending in future budgets.
It's unclear how far lawmakers will go toward closing the $994 million shortfall the state faces, but there has been some pushback against filling the entire gap.
An analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Office sent to members this week estimates that Congress' recent federal tax re-write will boost the coming budget by about $57 million and the following year's state budget by about $283 million because it will shrink the deductions that people get from their state tax bill.
The next update in the state's revenue projections won't come until March. The Legislature will build its budget for the cycle that starts July 1, during the regular session and based off any measures they approve during the special session.