Capitol.adv HS 090.JPG

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La, Tuesday, January 26, 2016.

The group tasked with crafting a long-range plan for stabilizing Louisiana's turbulent state finances says it needs a little more time in light of catastrophic flooding that swept across Louisiana earlier this month.

The Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy was scheduled to have a final recommendation ready for lawmakers by Thursday. But this week its members asked legislative leaders to extend that deadline to the end of September.

"This will give the task force the time to complete testimony being given; fully discuss the alternatives available to the state in making long-term changes in the budget and tax process; and, to prepare and present our report to the Legislature, the Governor, and the public, including the long-term tax plan and recommendations for budget practices," the Task Force co-chairs wrote to House Speaker Taylor Barras and Senate President John Alario this week.

The 13-member panel whose roster includes economists, accountants, business leaders, state officials and others has been having regular weekly and in some cases twice-weekly meetings since it was formed by the Legislature in March — poring over the state’s budget history, tax policies and structural issues in the financial framework to find a long-term solution. It did not meet last week as the state dealt with the immediate aftermath of flooding that has left at least 13 people dead and thousands more displaced from their homes.

The Task Force had its latest meeting on Friday, during which leaders set the tone for the final stages of its work. It meets Monday through Wednesday next week.

"We now have to decide which way we want to go and how far we will go," said LSU economist Jim Richardson, one of the two co-chairmen of the task force. "Nothing will be easy. Everything easy has been done."

The task force was formed during the Legislature's first of two special sessions earlier this year on the state budget. Lawmakers raised taxes to patch immediate holes, but the state is careening toward a projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall in 2018, when those new taxes are set to expire.

Several members of the Task Force have expressed concern about the group's ability to wrap up its work and reach a recommendation that everyone can get behind.

Richardson said he sees the extension as a chance to finesse the group's findings. Monday and Tuesday will have the group largely wrapping up its research, while the rest of September will be used to fine-tune the recommendation report.

"We'll be making some tough decisions about how we want to move," he said.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.