Anticipating an as-yet uncalled February special session, Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan to address the looming $1 billion-plus shortfall the state faces when temporary taxes expire in the summer.
Edwards, a Democrat, appeared on Newell Normand's radio show on WWL Radio on Wednesday to discuss the effort after he met up with House Republicans during their retreat. He was not asked about any other topics.
"I know we are going to fix the problem," Edwards said. "Let's go ahead and get the problem fixed in February."
Edwards has for months questioned whether a special session would be effective, if House Republicans don't join him in coming up with ways to fill a hole in the state budget when a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase expires June 30 and some temporarily halted sales tax exemptions return.
Those measures were put into place shortly after Edwards took office in 2016 as a "bridge" to a more permanent structure. The Legislature, with an opportunity to take up such legislation this year, didn't. Lawmakers cannot take up certain revenue measures during general sessions in even-numbered years, creating the need for a special session before the regular session that will begin March 12.
"It's a huge amount of money," Edwards said.
House Republicans for months have rebuffed Edwards' budget talking points, arguing that deeper cuts to the budget are needed. Though the structure of the state budget locks up certain areas of funding, leaving health care and higher education particularly exposed.
"No one wants those cuts," Edwards said.
Edwards hasn't submitted a detailed recommendation for solving what has been dubbed as the "fiscal cliff" next year, he said, because he wants to remain flexible to legislators' ideas. He said he expects to meet with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, on Thursday for further discussions.
Also on Thursday, the Legislature will get an updated picture of the state's budget forecast.
Edwards said his starting point for addressing the budget is a set of recommendations that a blue-ribbon panel of non-legislators spent months developing and released early this year. Edwards said he thinks the state's 5-cent sales tax should revert back to 4, with some tax exemptions removed. He also said he thinks that some temporary cuts to tax credits should be made permanent.
"I feel like we can meet the challenge by broadening the base," he said.
State Rep. Julie Emerson, a Carencro Republican who is communications chairwoman for the House GOP Caucus, said that Edwards' appearance came as a surprise but was welcome.
"We all need to work together on it," she said of efforts to shore up the state's finances. "I feel like the visit was positive."
Republicans have held several meetings on the issue — broad discussions, as well as smaller talks, broken down by topic.
"Every single time we do it, we get closer to consensus," Emerson said. "We've learned some of the things that are non-starters."
One point they generally agree on: There will need to be at least some further cuts to government spending to get the House on board.
"I don't see a way that we raise a billion or a billion and a half," she said. "You will see some cuts."
Emerson said Edwards stressed to the group that he's not in favor of merely extending the sales tax hike past its current expiration date.
"It was kind of a nonstarter for him, unless it was a bridge or reduced to half or something like that," she said, noting she's also not in favor of such a plan.
She agreed with Edwards' assessment that there may be an opportunity to collect more sales tax by eliminating some exemptions.
"I do think that's a place you might have more conversation," she said.