Third time's a charm? Gov. John Bel Edwards is certainly hoping that's the case after two special sessions in the past four months have collapsed with the House repeatedly rejecting legislation that would fill a looming budget gap with sales taxes to prevent deep cuts to state services.
"This was a sad night for the great people of our state," Edwards said early Tuesday morning after the second special session of the year collapsed in a chaotic frenzy in the House at midnight Monday. "You saw a minority in the House let politics take priority over people. Our state deserves better."
Can't see video below? Click here.
Edwards, a Democrat, said he'll call yet another special session later this month.
"It will be a short, concentrated special session," Edwards said, without providing details other than it will end "several days" before July 1.
By law, he's required to give seven days notice, so another session cannot begin before next week. Edwards said he's optimistic that the next one will end with approval for more revenue that that has evaded lawmakers in the past two.
"We have to do better, because this is not going to be the budget that carries us into next year," he said of the budget that the House gave final approval to on Monday. "It is unworthy of the people of Louisiana."
Louisiana lawmakers failed to reach a tax deal by Monday's deadline, cratering their second special session this year without agreement and pa…
Special sessions cost taxpayers about $60,000 a day. The next one will be the seventh since Edwards took office in January 2016, saddled with about a $2 billion budget gap. In 2016, the Legislature agreed to a temporary one-cent state sales tax hike -- from 4 percent to 5 percent -- to help address that initial shortfall but it is among the taxes expiring on June 30.
The state faces a $650 million fiscal cliff when more than $1 billion in temporary tax measures expire June 30, including the sales tax hike.
Without any major revenue-raising measures, a budget approved in the final 30 minutes of the special session Monday would mean deep cuts to higher education, public safety and other state services.
The popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships would be slashed by 30 percent and college and university campuses would be cut by nearly 25 percent, according to early estimates.
The Legislature finalized some smaller sources of revenue, including the continued suspension of an income tax break for taxes paid to other states, which generates about $34 million next year, and redirecting about $53 million from the Louisiana's settlement from the 2010 BP oil spill to shore up the state's finances. Due to the flurry of legislation in the final hour of session and the late hour that it ended, it wasn't immediately clear what impact that $87 million would have on agency cuts, but House Bill 1, which carries the state's annual operating budget, had a provision that directed additional revenue to be distributed on a pro-rata basis.
Edwards had vetoed a budget adopted in the regular session, calling it "catastrophic" because of cuts to state services. He would not say early Tuesday morning whether the most recent HB1 will also be vetoed.
"I will look at all my options tomorrow," he said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed the Legislature's spending plan for the coming year, calling the version of House Bill 1 that passed both the…
Much of the Monday final day's action unfolded behind the scenes as Edwards and legislative leaders attempted to broker a deal that could pass both the House.
Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to make up revenue through a partial extension of the expiring sales tax that was passed in 2016. The House and Senate have disagreed over the size and scope of the sales tax proposal.
After earlier stalemates, the House last week agreed to extend one-third of the expiring sales tax and temporarily suspend some sales tax breaks, which would mean that the state's sales tax rate would go from 5 percent to 4.33 percent on July 1 to raise about $370 million toward the fiscal cliff.
The Senate, with support from Edwards, advanced a proposal to keep one-half of the expiring tax hike, setting the new state sales tax rate at 4.5 percent and generate more than $500 million.
Both proposals ultimately were rejected in the House in the final moments of the special session, while the Senate had agreed to multiple avenues.
For taxpayers, the difference between the two competing proposals would be about 17 cents on a $100 purchase.
But conservative House Republican leaders repeatedly insisted on the one-third rate.
"It's something. It's better than going home without anything," House Republican Delegation Chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, told members before the final vote on his one-third proposal, which was defeated 38-66 with opposition from a mix of Democrats who said it didn't go far enough to prevent cuts and Republicans who said they opposed extending the sales tax increase.
After multiple attempts and with less than an hour left in the special session, the Legislature appeared to bust through a logjam when it approved its first revenue-raising bill -- part of a larger compromise with the Legislative Black Caucus to modestly increase a tax credit for families who earn less than $48,000 a year – roughly 42 percent of the state tax filers -- in exchange for support for the sales tax hike that would disproportionately impact the poor.
Under the proposal, the earned income tax credit will go up 1.5 percent -- from an average of about $98 to $141, analysts have said. It has been estimated to have benefited as many as 500,000 households. But in its amended form, the change will not go into effect until 2019 and it will expire in 2025.
After what appeared to be progress after a long, stop-and-start day that left many House members lingering around their desks, waiting for scheduling updates or the latest negotiations news, the House devolved into a chaotic final hour as the mandatory midnight end to the session neared.
The clock ran out on the House as members, many on their feet, yelled about an attempt to try once more on an extension of part of a one-cent sales tax hike that will expire June 30.
Members cajoled each other about wanting to have a chance to vote to pass legislation so they could go home. House Speaker Taylor Barras at midnight said time was up, drawing a rowdy response from the chamber.
"I'm really disappointed in the whole process," said Rep. Andy Anders, a Vidalia Democrat who serves as dean of the House as currently the chamber's longest-serving member.