The Louisiana Legislature reconvenes Monday for its seventh special session under Gov. John Bel Edwards, and the third this year. The governor wants to raise $575 million to prevent budget cuts by making changes in sales taxes while Republicans in the House favor raising less money.
If you’re like us, you’re having trouble keeping straight what happened during each of the earlier six special sessions. In every case, the governor and the state Senate sought more revenue and higher taxes and fought a pitched political battle against conservatives in the House. Here’s a summary of what happened:
1st Special Session
Dates: Feb. 14, 2016, to March 9, 2016
Purpose: A month after everyone took office, Edwards wanted the new Legislature to address a $950 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year left by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the outgoing Legislature and a $2 billion shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year that would begin July 1.
What happened: The Legislature balanced the current year budget by passing a combination of spending cuts, one-time fixes and tax increases on consumer purchases, tobacco, rental cars, short-term rentals and beer, wine and liquor. The Legislature also curbed some sales tax breaks. The sales tax measures and a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax were approved to last 27 months, at the insistence of conservative Republicans in the House. They said this would pave the way for the Legislature to undertake comprehensive tax reform in 2017. The final tax and budget votes came in the chaotic waning minutes of the special session and left Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, tearing up in frustration over the messy finale.
2nd Special Session
Dates: June 6, 2016 to June 23, 2016
Purpose: Edwards wanted the Legislature to raise $600 million for the upcoming fiscal year because lawmakers had not approved all of the tax measures sought by the governor during the first special session.
What happened: The Legislature approved only $263 million, with House Republicans resisting more revenue measures, including one that would have raised $88 million by ending an income tax break that generally benefits upper-income taxpayers. The Legislature’s decisions meant that the Edwards administration had to plan for cuts to K-12 schools, LSU’s medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport, state museums, prisons, the governor’s office, the Legislature, the judiciary, schools for the deaf and visually impaired, the attorney general’s office and dozens of other programs. TOPS received only 70 percent of its funding. The Legislature also created a commission through House Concurrent Resolution 11 to study how to reform the tax system in 2017. The final votes in the House came 45 minutes before the scheduled adjournment. The two special sessions were sandwiched around the regular session and meant that the Legislature met consecutively for 19 weeks, the longest stretch in its 204-year history.
3rd Special Session
Dates: Feb. 13, 2017 to Feb. 22, 2017
Purpose: Edwards wanted the Legislature to address a $304 million shortfall in the current budget year.
What happened: Lawmakers closed the midyear budget deficit – the 15th in the last nine years – by cutting spending for the Department of Health ($40 million), the state Legislature ($3.5 million) and taking $99 million from the state’s rainy day fund. Senators insisted on the rainy day figure while conservatives in the House favored a lower amount. The House approved the $99 million after it became clear that enough moderate Republicans had joined Democrats to support the higher figure.
4th Special Session
Dates: June 8, 2017 to June 16, 2017
Purpose: To pass the state budget for the fiscal year that would begin on July 1.
What happened: The Legislature went into the special session immediately after the regular session ended with the Senate having passed a budget and the House refusing to agree during a chaotic final few minutes. The difference: The Senate wanted to spend $50 million more than the House. It was the first time in nearly two decades that the Legislature failed to approve a budget during the regular session. Lawmakers resolved their differences in the special session by passing a plan more in line with what Edwards wanted that fully funded TOPS and the spending needs of the state’s public colleges and universities. Note: lawmakers during the regular session did not pass the tax reform proposals approved by the blue-ribbon commission – they had pledged to undertake tax reform in 2017 when approving the temporary tax measures in 2016 – as those measures mostly died before the House Ways and Means Committee.
5th Special Session
Dates: Feb. 19, 2018 to March 5, 2018
Purpose: To address a $1 billion shortfall for the fiscal year that would begin on July 1, caused by the failure to address the issue during the preceding two years.
What happened: The special session collapsed two days before the scheduled adjournment when mistrust between Democrats and Republicans in the House caused the House to defeat sales and income tax proposals. Amid the finger-pointing afterward, Democrats noted that most Republicans opposed the income tax measure – which primarily would have hit upper-income taxpayers – while Republicans noted that three African-American members unexpectedly voted no, and the measure failed by only two votes. Passage of the income tax measure was supposed to lead to passage of a ¼-cent renewal of the expiring 1-cent sales tax.
6th Special Session
Dates: May 22, 2018 to June 4, 2018
Purpose: To address a $650 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, down from the earlier $1 billion estimate because of revenue raised by a tax law change passed by Congress.
What happened: The Legislature raised $85 million, but in the final half hour of the special session, the House rejected one measure that would renew a ½-cent of the expiring penny – it got 63 of the needed 70 votes – and another that would renew 1/3-cent. That proposal got only 38 votes and was backed by the House Republican leadership. The failure to pass either measure led Edwards to call the seventh special session.
Mark Ballard of The Advocate Capitol news bureau contributed to this rerport.