The Louisiana Legislature is going to give it one more shot to address the $650 million fiscal cliff the state faces when more than $1 billion in temporary taxes expire at the end of the month.
The Legislature will begin its third special session of the year at 4 p.m. Monday and, once again, consider a proposal to prevent deep cuts to state programs including the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, colleges, welfare programs and public safety.
The Louisiana Legislature reconvenes Monday for its seventh special session under Gov. John Bel Edwards, and the third this year. The governor…
Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to give a short session-opening address about 5 p.m., urging lawmakers to agree to extend one-half of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax. House Republican leaders have been steadfastly opposed to the half-cent proposal and continue to push for a smaller fraction.
Edwards, a Democrat, spent much of the week leading up to the next session in meetings with small groups of legislators — often House and Senate members from the same districts at the same time — to try to encourage votes in the conservative GOP-controlled House, where previous attempts have been thwarted.
Without additional revenue, the budget would cut the popular TOPS scholarships by about 30 percent, reduce college and university state funding by nearly 20 percent, prompt 2,000 state employee layoffs, eliminate food stamps in Louisiana, shutter senior centers for the elderly, close state parks and possibly lead to the release of inmates, the Edwards administration contends.
Edwards' message in recent meetings with lawmakers focused largely on the local impact to members' districts — what cuts would mean for sheriffs, college students and families who rely on food stamps.
The special session must end by 6 p.m. June 27, but some officials said they hope it can end ahead of schedule. Special sessions cost taxpayers about $60,000 a day. The first special session this year cost $643,000 — the bulk of that in per diem and mileage expenses for legislators. The second special session's costs are still being calculated, but it was held when the Legislature would have normally been in regular session to save money.
"Most of the legislators have a keen interest in getting in and getting out," Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said in a recent meeting with The Advocate editorial board.
But as the Legislature has demonstrated repeatedly this year, that may not be so easy.
While the session's main objective is to reconsider revenue, the House Appropriations Committee plans to meet early in the week to hold a hearing on the Louisiana Department of Health budget. The health department, which oversees the Medicaid program and public-private partnerships to run safety-net hospitals, was spared from cuts in the budget the Legislature adopted in the special session and that Edwards signed into law.
House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry said some members have questions about what he believes are newly identified efficiencies in the health department's budget.
Health Undersecretary Jeff Reynolds said the department had previously revealed much of the $67 million boost during the regular session, but about $24 million came from an adjustment in estimated Medicaid growth at the request of Republican senators.
Louisiana lawmakers will be back at the State Capitol on June 18 for the third special session of the year and a last-ditch attempt at address…
With a $13 billion budget based largely on estimates and projections of people and health care costs, the Edwards administration has defended the health department as having a budget that has historically been hard to pin down.
"They don't know where they are going to be until the end of the year," Dardenne said.
The fact that the budget is up for discussion at all in this session is largely because of a mistake in the drafting of House Bill 1: It says that the revenue raised in the "second extraordinary session" will be divided up among the priorities in the supplemental section of the bill, so it has to be tweaked to say revenue from the third special session.
But some House Republicans view it as an opening to tapping into other areas of the budget — namely health department funding, which is the largest agency budget in state government.
"What I'm being told is we can do that," Henry said. "If members choose that they want to reduce an agency — a supplemental allows for that."
He said he doesn't plan to push for an entire rewrite of HB1, though.
Dardenne said he worries that rehashing the budget could "blow up the session."
"That would be a shame," he said.
Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said any attempts to relitigate the budget that passed both the House and Senate would at the very least be a distraction in the 10-day session. A similar HB1 passed in the regular session, but Edwards vetoed it.
"Twice, the Legislature passed a budget with items on this 'wish list' to be funded should additional revenue become available," Carbo said. "After they called that a 'responsible' approach, it would be a waste of time and hint that they're trying to run out the clock and sink the session again with just days remaining until the end of the fiscal year."
Louisiana lawmakers are heading into yet another special session, but as the dust settled from a chaotic end to the most recent one, several q…
The days leading up to the start of the next special session offered little clarity, and lawmakers continued to express doubt over whether this latest effort will turn out differently than the two earlier sessions, which collapsed after the House repeatedly rejected sales tax proposals.
Advocates on both sides have ramped up pressure on legislators in recent days.
The conservative anti-tax Americans for Prosperity has been rolling out what it calls the "Takers Dozen" — a list of Republicans who have voted in favor of tax bills — and has been highlighting their votes online and on the ground. Additionally, prominent anti-tax activists Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and Stephen Moore, who founded the Club for Growth, dismissively tweeted about Louisiana's tax proposals, drawing more national scrutiny.
On the flip side, the Louisiana Democratic Party and its supporters have taken to publicly thanking via social media each member who voted in favor of taxes in the past sessions. Rebuild Louisiana, a group that backs Edwards, took to TV airwaves with an ad featuring the governor explaining state programs that are at risk. In the spot, Edwards describes his proposal as a tax decrease because, under his proposal, the state sales tax rate would go from 5 percent on June 30 to 4.5 percent on July 1, and he blames House Republicans for its failure to pass.
College students and parents also have become increasingly involved in recent days. A rally will be held at the Capitol on Wednesday to oppose cuts to TOPS and higher ed.
Tax measures require 70 votes in the House, which means any approach must have bipartisan support.
Both the half-cent and one-third proposals failed to meet that threshold in the House in the most recent session. The difference is about $150 million for programs, which must distributed equally among unfunded priorities under HB1.
For taxpayers, the difference between the two competing proposals would be 17 cents on a $100 purchase.
Just hours after the second special session of the year ended, the Louisiana House Republican Caucus, which has positioned itself as the largest opponent to Edwards' agenda, vowed it "will not waver" in the third.
"Since the first day of this legislative session and throughout the special session, the Louisiana House Republican Delegation has been crystal clear in its opposition to growing the size of government," the caucus said in its statement. "We will enter into the upcoming special session laser-focused on reducing state spending and meeting the critical needs of the state. Our commitment to the taxpayers will not waver."
Maybe it’s time to come up with a new word and stop calling these unscheduled legislative sessions “special” — or to use the formal government…
Some Republican lawmakers also are worried that members of the Legislative Black Caucus will vote against the sales tax bill, after successfully gaining a modest increase in a tax break for the working poor last session, which was viewed as leverage to build support for the sales tax. The Edwards administration denies that there is concern of this on its part.
Sales taxes disproportionately affect the poor, but Edwards has said he doesn't believe Louisiana's is as regressive because sales taxes are not charged on food, prescription drugs or residential utilities.
"The governor never wanted to extend any portion of the penny," Dardenne said. "Income tax became something the Legislature didn't want to touch. That was a concession."
Dardenne said he sees little logic in supporting one-third or two-fifths of 1 percent, but not one half, and suspects that it's more about opposing the governor.
"It kind of came out of nowhere, just to say 'We're not going to give you half a penny,'" Dardenne said.
Dardenne, a Republican who served as secretary of state and lieutenant governor before an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2015, said politicians will already face backlash for supporting the 1-cent sales tax hike in 2016, and he doubts voters care about the fractional differences now up for debate — either lawmakers voted in favor of the tax or not.
"Then they are in the position of voting for taxes but not fully funding TOPS," he said.