Louisiana lawmakers will return to the State Capitol next month for a special session to fill a $304 million mid-year budget shortfall.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday said he will call the state Legislature to shore up the budget over a 10-day special session beginning Feb. 13.
"We should not waste any time because we have to solve it," Edwards told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Friday.
Edwards is asking legislators to take $119 million from the state's rainy day fund, but he didn't reveal specifics about cuts that he will recommend to make up the rest.
He said he won't include tax hikes as an option for legislators to turn to, and he hopes to spare K-12 education, colleges and universities, social services and prisons. The cuts won't come easily, he warned. "They're going to be deep and they're going to be painful," he said.
The special session will be the third Edwards has called to address the budget since taking office last January.
"I'm the last person who wants another special session," Edwards said. "If there is a better option, I hope you'll bring it forward."
Legislators have not been entirely in agreement on tapping the rainy day fund, and several had questioned the need for a special session. Some Republicans in the House, including GOP Caucus Chair Lance Harris, of Alexandria, had previously said that more cuts could be used to spare the state's reserves. Many among them have said that the state's first goal should be to cut spending.
Gov. John Bel Edwards isn't planning to switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP.
"There are, I think, some legitimate concerns," Harris said Friday. "We should have addressed the over-growth of government many years ago."
He's asked the state Legislature to dedicate much of its regular session that begins in April toward overhauling the budget after years of repeated mid-year budget shortfalls.
"Every month it's a fire drill," Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican who joined the Legislature last year, said of the repeated shortfalls.
No one directly confronted the governor with concerns over the use of the rainy day fund in Friday's meeting.
Pulling money from it will require the backing of two-thirds of the members in the House and Senate.
"The idea that under these circumstances we wouldn't access the rainy day fund for its expressed purpose is unfathomable," Edwards said. "It's storming."
Edwards will release more details about his recommendations for cuts on Feb. 6.
"We are working very hard on a couple of moving pieces to see if we can get them to fall in place," he said.
Amid state budget problems, Gov. John Bel Edwards next month will recommend a freeze in basi…
His chief budget architect, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, said he has been meeting with agency heads in recent weeks to assess their finances and come up with a plan for the cuts.
"We want to be very calculated and specific with the recommendations we make," Dardenne said. "This is going to be a second wave of cuts that will have to be managed by these departments this year."
Last month, the budget committee addressed a $313 million shortfall that was leftover from the budget that ended June 30 by cutting the current spending plan and swapping some funding sources around.
Edwards said that, largely due to the historic floods that swept the state last year, some agencies are experiencing cash-flow problems. Much of those expenses tied to the flood will be reimbursed by the federal government, but that's not expected to happen before the budget ends June 30.
"Many of them have incurred tremendous expenses to respond to the flood," he said. "We have significant cash flow problems in state government today."
A special session typically costs the state about $50,000 a day, based on legislative estimates.
Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Chair J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said during the meeting that he would forego his pay for the special session because of concerns that have been raised about the cost.
Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said that legislators should be able to quickly move to resolve the budget gap.
"If there's enough coordination, between the House and the Senate, I don't see any reason that it would take 10 days," he said.