image.jpeg

House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Gov. John Bel Edwards chat in New Iberia after a briefing on flooding Monday, August 15, 2016.

Monday is "high noon" at the State Capitol when the Democratic governor releases his deep cuts budget and the House Republicans are supposed to whip out their counter-proposal to gun down a $1 billion-plus deficit that arrives on June 30, sharp.

But this is Louisiana, where politicians are less Gary Cooper, facing the killer alone if need be, and more Grace Kelly, "let’s just leave town."

Gov. John Bel Edwards previously scooched off his hard “put up or shut up” deadline. Last week, he delayed the release of his budget proposal because of the cold. House Republicans last week started polling their members to see which fiscal ideas — mostly the governor’s — have enough support to rally behind.

“It’s the same ol', same ol'. All the stuff we’ve been talking about for years,” said one of the representatives about the questions on the GOP poll.

Party leadership has been mum about their polling. But eight Republican representatives, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to comment, told identical stories about the polling.

Meanwhile, the cost of loans to the state may be going up as the big Wall Street rating agencies are hinting broadly that Louisiana’s credit rating is about to go down because of government’s failure to get its fiscal house in order.

But state law precludes lawmakers from voting on most tax-raising measures during even-numbered years. Unless legislators meet in a specially called session and find some money, their only vote this year will be on a budget with deep cuts to services like university operations, health care for a quarter of the state’s residents, the popular TOPS college tuition grant, and state parks.

Not wanting to replicate the four brutal special sessions Edwards has called during his two years in office, the governor has said he’s not inclined to call another in February unless everyone can generally agree on what to do.

That’s proving to be a tall order.

Seventy votes are needed in the 105-member House to approve most tax-related fixes.

Of the 60 Republicans, 20 or so are part of the “Gang of No,” who has voted against almost every revenue-raising measure the governor wanted. A handful, fewer than 10, has shown a willingness to join with the 41 Democrats on certain issues.

The largest faction of Republicans are the rank-and-file representatives who are aligned with business and look to House Speaker Taylor Barras, of New Iberia, and Majority Rep. Lance Harris, of Alexandria.

That’s pretty much the reason for the poll. “We’re trying to see where we can come to a consensus with what the governor proposes,” said one GOP representative.

Since the end of the 2017 sessions in June, House Republicans have been meeting and negotiating to see which great ideas they had would percolate up. Edwards insists the House Republicans come up with their own plan, if they can’t get on board with his. Barras counters that the governor’s recommendations don’t have enough detail.

Republican members were asked how they felt about just keeping the additional penny added to the sales tax to address a past year’s deficit and set to expire on June 30. Or maybe a portion of the penny?

How about stripping most of the 180-plus exemptions to sales taxes from one or all of 5 percent now collected for the state? Or making services such as insurance, data processing, cable and satellite televisions start paying sales taxes?

Members were asked about making permanent some of the reductions in tax breaks that were passed as temporary revenue raisers in 2015; reducing or removing the ability to claim all excess federal itemized deductions on state income taxes; and compressing brackets that would raise personal income taxes.

They also were asked if they could support any of those plans if they were linked to other revamps, such as requiring the state to publish every transaction online or requiring copays for Medicaid participants.

If a common practice among those with private insurance were adopted, Medicaid patients would be required to pay up to $8, depending on their financial situation, each time they visited a doctor or clinic. State Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, says state government would able to realize about $170 million.

Only the leadership knows the poll results, and they’re not talking. But the legislators interviewed by The Advocate think agreement can be found with something along the lines of making permanent previous reductions in tax breaks, expanding who has to pay sales taxes and revamps like Medicaid copay.

“A lot of these ideas impact the future,” one representative said. “But, the only way to raise money fast enough is through sales taxes.”

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.