'Unfortunately, it's not a fast process': GOP leader House Speaker Taylor Barras counsels patience on solutions to budget problem _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, speaks with legislators before Gov. John Bel Edwards' Joint Sesson address.

House Speaker Taylor Barras counseled patience for the many people — led by Gov. John Bel Edwards — who are urging Republicans in the House to accelerate their pace on bills aimed at raising taxes to help solve the state’s short-term budget crisis.

“I understand that members are anxious about making progress. But unfortunately, it’s not a fast process,” Barras, R-New Iberia, said in an interview Sunday. He noted that the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee — the first step in the legislative process — was hearing testimony in a special Sunday session as it continued a weeklong process of working through some 100 tax bills.

The committee has yet to begin taking votes and might not do so before Tuesday, Barras said.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, got his committee members to agree that they would hear testimony on all the various measures before voting, to have the total picture of what they were considering. The bills would raise taxes on sales, tobacco, telephones and alcohol and would close tax breaks available to companies and individuals.

The tax bills are part of a three-pronged effort by Edwards to close a $900 million gap by June 30. Besides $350 million in tax increases, Edwards is cutting spending by at least $160 million and is proposing to use $328 million in one-time money.

Barras said he expects the Ways and Means Committee to discuss more tax bills on Monday before the full House meets at 5 p.m., instead of voting on the bills in committee throughout the day, as Edwards wants.

If the committee does not vote on the bills until Tuesday, the measures normally would not go before the full House until Thursday, which is about the midpoint in the 25-day special legislative session.

Barras said he might seek to accelerate the process by having the Ways and Means Committee begin voting on the tax bills Monday night or, alternatively, if the committee votes on the bills Tuesday, to have the full House take up the measures on Wednesday through a parliamentary move known as “suspending the rules.”

Edwards told The Advocate Friday night that he fears time will run out on the 25-day special legislative session without voting on all of the tax measures if the House doesn’t move quicker.

“It has to happen soon, just because the clock is ticking,” Edwards said.

The bills that pass the House must go to the Senate for consideration. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, wants the Senate to receive the tax bills on Wednesday, but that seems unlikely.

Besides the tax measures, Edwards and lawmakers are waiting for the Republican House leadership to move forward on a bill from the Appropriations Committee that will spell out the budget cuts the Republicans favor. Until now, the Republicans have called for reducing the size of government without specifying their cuts — cuts that could very well upset their constituents.

Edwards and lawmakers also are waiting impatiently for House Republicans to specify the long-term structural changes they want in programs involving the state’s pension program for public employees; sentencing of state inmates; ways to reduce waste and fraud; and changes to how the state spends money on roads and bridges.

State Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, who heads the Republican House Caucus, said on Sunday that his goal is to get that list to Edwards on Monday.

Asked whether the list would contain demands or requests of the governor, Barras said, “It’ll be a request that he consider some reform subject matter going forward that the Republicans have been interested in for years.”

At a caucus meeting at lunch on Monday, Republicans are expected to discuss and debate where they stand on the tax bills, the spending cuts and the list of requests that Harris is in charge of preparing.

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges.

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