The Louisiana Legislature will start another special session at the State Capitol next week to try — once again — to stabilize the state budget that has been held together with repeated Band-Aid solutions in recent years.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a broad call to begin a tax and budget-focused special session May 22, with legislative leaders on board for a Friday end to the current regular session.
It will be Edwards' sixth special session called since taking office in January 2016 — all to address the state's shaky finances.
"I think there is a greater sense of urgency now, but there is also a greater sense of clarity," Edwards said of other attempts that have ended without long-term stability.
The latest special session is meant to address a $648 million "fiscal cliff" the state faces when more than $1 billion in temporary tax measures expire June 30, including a one-cent sales tax increase that legislators approved in 2016. Those temporary taxes were intended to be a "bridge" to a more permanent structural budget fix, but after a regular session last year and five special sessions, lawmakers haven't identified a more lasting replacement to plug the hole.
The most recent special session held just three months ago collapsed in the Republican-controlled House with lawmakers repeatedly rejecting tax proposals.
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The regular session is technically scheduled to end June 4, but the looming "fiscal cliff" has sparked calls for an early end to ultimately save the state money. Calling legislators into a special session costs taxpayers roughly $60,000 a day, according to legislative estimates. By calling a special session for May 22 to June 4, lawmakers won't have extra days at the Capitol.
The Legislature cannot take up most revenue-raising measures during regular sessions in even-numbered years, under state law.
The Senate is scheduled to take up the budget on the floor Tuesday – a critical step toward shutting down the regular session early. The House passed its version of House Bill 1, which carries the state's annual spending plan, on April 19, and the Senate Finance Committee passed its own version on Friday, advancing it to the full upper chamber.
Edwards has widely panned both proposals, saying that they would cut critical state services.
"The budget proposal that was passed does not reflect the priorities of our state. It's not worthy of the people of Louisiana," he said. "It would be the height of irresponsibility if we were to allow that to happen."
A special session can only address issues specifically outlined in the governor's proclamation.
Edwards said he purposefully made the call, which includes 32 items, broad to give legislators more options, but he said that there is nothing that lawmakers haven't already debated in numerous sessions in the past two years.
"There are not new options to consider," Edwards said. "They don't get better with age. It's not like a good wine."
Louisiana legislative leaders are still aiming for a May 18 end to the legislative session to allow a special session to begin possibly as soo…
But just after his formal call was released, some House members released to reporters a letter in which they urged Edwards to allow them to also consider legislation to call for a constitutional convention – an effort that would require support from a supermajority of each chamber and that the House already rejected during the regular session. That item doesn't appear in Edwards' call.
Fifty-one members – mostly Republicans – signed the letter, including House Speaker Taylor Barras and Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.
Edwards had said earlier during his news conference that he was avoiding including items that could become a distraction during the two-week special session, but he said he had shared a draft of his call with Barras and Senate President John Alario before it was officially released.
Edwards said he continues to support extending part of the soon-to-expire temporary sales tax hike and charging sales taxes on some purchases currently exempt in state law, a process often referred to as "cleaning pennies" in the Capitol. He also said he thinks that lawmakers should move to permanently eliminate some tax breaks that have been put on hold since 2015 but will become active again on July 1.
Those ideas were among proposals during the earlier 15-day special session special session that ultimately failed after the House repeatedly rejected tax measures.
Lawmakers have increasingly been voicing support for revenue proposals this time around, as the size of the budget hole has become smaller thanks in part to a federal tax overhaul.
Jay Dardenne, Edwards' chief budget architect, said he will call a meeting Tuesday of the Revenue Estimating Conference, a panel that determines how much revenue the state can expect to collect during the budget year and, thus, how much money the state can spend in its budget.
"That should not be any cause for joy because we're not going to recognize any new revenue," Dardenne said, speaking to the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday ahead of Edwards' news conference.
He said he wanted to assure legislators that they are working with the most updated figures before raising revenue.
"I think we all now recognize that it's time to deal with the reality we are facing," Dardenne said. "We need to fix this. We need to fix it now."