Louisiana lawmakers are heading into yet another special session, but as the dust settled from a chaotic end to the most recent one, several questions remain.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has not yet formally issued a call for a special session, though he has confirmed he intends to before the new budget year begins July 1.
"It will be a short, concentrated special session," Edwards said early Tuesday morning, without providing many details. "It will be called in a way that it will end several days before the next fiscal year. Obviously, I am going to do everything I can to work, so we can continue the momentum."
By law, he's required to give seven days notice, so another session cannot begin before next week.
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Until Edwards makes the official proclamation, which he is expected to do in the coming days after meeting with legislators, the exact scope of the session also remains unknown.
Special sessions cost taxpayers about $60,000 a day. The next one will be the seventh since Edwards took office in January 2016 — all to address structural issues in the state's budget.
Louisiana currently faces about a $650 million fiscal cliff when more than $1 billion in temporary tax measures expire June 30. Lawmakers have repeatedly tried, and rejected, attempts to plug part of that hole with a partial extension of a sales tax hike that would otherwise expire.
Without any major revenue-raising measures, a budget approved Monday in the final 30 minutes of the most recent special session would require deep cuts to higher education, public safety and other state services.
Health care, which has been among Edwards' priorities, would be protected from cuts in the current budget.
But 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.
Funding for the state's inmate housing program, human services, efforts to implement the "Raise the Age" initiative juvenile justice initiative, salaries for district attorneys and victims rights coordinators, and more also would face deep cuts.
"We have to do better, because this is not going to be the budget that carries us into next year," Edwards said of the budget that the Legislature passed in the special session. "It is unworthy of the people of Louisiana."
Edwards vetoed a similar budget that was passed during the regular session, calling it "catastrophic" to state services.
It's unclear whether he will veto the latest version as well.
This HB1 that passed Monday requires that additional revenue be distributed on a "pro rata" basis, meaning that legislators may not be able to plug in funding only for pet priorities, like TOPS, without addressing other cuts if HB1 remains in place.
Just hours after the second special session of the year ended, the Louisiana House Republican Caucus has vowed that it "will not waver" as the…
Officials were still examining Tuesday the across-the-board nature of how any leftover cuts would be addressed.
The Legislature agreed in the most recent session to tap some smaller pots of revenue, including the continued suspension of an income tax break, which could generate about $34 million next year, and redirecting about $53 million from the Louisiana's settlement from the 2010 BP oil spill.
But even that remains in question, as state officials review several factors that could lower the amount available to plug in the holes.
"It's just hard to know," Patrick Goldsmith, director of the House Fiscal Division, said. "There are a lot of moving parts."
Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said he remains hopeful that the Legislature will agree to pay for the state's priorities, including fully-funding TOPS and higher education.
"I'd like to see us come to some agreement about how much revenue we can raise," he said Tuesday.
He said he hopes that the break from the State Capitol will give lawmakers a chance to think about what matters most to the state. "I'm hoping cooler minds will prevail," he said.
Just hours after the second special session of the year ended, the Louisiana House Republican Caucus released a defiant statement.
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"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 GOP Caucus leaders said. "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."
House Republican leaders had backed extending 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.
State Rep. Malinda White said Tuesday she won’t accept pay when the Democrat returns from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge for the next special session.
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.
Alario suggested that perhaps a compromise could be brokered ahead of the next session between the one-third and one-half proposals, say at a .45 percent extension, rather than .33 percent or .5 percent.
But he noted that there was more support for the half-penny than the one-third proposal. The House voted 63-41 in favor of half, and 38-66 in favor of one-third.
"That's some indication that the House would like to see the budget fully funded," Alario said.