“Here we are again.”
For the third time since taking office earlier this year, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed a meeting of the House and Senate on Tuesday — marking the start of the second special legislative session.
“I’ve called you back here — even though it might feel like you’ve never left — because we’ve got unfinished business to tend to,” said Edwards, a Democrat. “That unfinished business is the difference between whether TOPS is fully funded, whether hospitals in the districts you represent remain open to serve your constituents, and whether we’re going to stabilize our great state and put this budget crisis behind us once and for all.”
State lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 regular session at 6 p.m. on Monday but returned in a special session just 30 minutes later. This morning, legislators began work on a series of bills that they hope to quickly decide before the special session ends on June 23.
The special session is meant to give legislators a chance to try to bridge the estimated $600 million shortfall in the budget that begins July 1, as well as correct errors from previous legislation. Legislators also will have to wrap up work on the state construction spending bill, which lingered after a tense standoff in the regular session’s final hours.
Lawmakers raised $1.2 billion for the budget by raising taxes in a special session earlier this year.
“While we all may be getting weary of what is beginning to feel like a never-ending legislative process, there is still more important work left to do. The people who sent us here expect us to finish the job,” Edwards told legislators.
There was little applause during the 20-minute address, as the visibly tired legislators enter their 16th week in Baton Rouge.
During the regular session that ended Monday, legislators passed a nearly $26 billion budget that has significant cuts to the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, the state’s safety net hospitals and other state services.
Edwards has asked legislator to consider a “menu” of options that he has put forth as they try to generate additional revenue to close the gap, including reducing some corporate tax breaks and scaling back a tax break that primarily benefits middle- and upper-income individuals.
“The good news is that the people of Louisiana know we are in a fiscal crisis and they expect – actually they demand – that we make the hard decisions necessary to fix it,” he said. “Many of these proposals have been discussed in Louisiana for years; the only difference is that we don’t have the option of waiting any longer.”