Special session called for state lawmakers

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, February 9, 2016

As the state’s fiscal year winds down with a near $1 billion revenue shortfall, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday he would call an early, special session of the legislature in order to straighten out the state’s finances.

The session will begin Feb. 14 and end no later than March 9.

In a press release, the governor announced lawmakers would either have to slash the budget and cut services, raise taxes or do some combination of those things.

Edwards said he had 36 proposals that could fill the $750 million gap in the state’s finances.

Included in those proposals is the possibility for spending cuts, cutting state contracts, using savings, some of the BP settlement, raising business and personal income taxes or other taxes, including the cigarette and alcohol taxes. Edwards has also proposed revival a rental car tax and instituting an online retail sales tax.

Whatever happens, Edwards said, will not come easily.

“This is a season of hard choices for Louisiana,” Edwards said. “We have lived through seven years of mid-year deficits and budget cuts across state government.  Now, we have three and a half weeks to decide how to fix a $750 million budget shortfall with effectively only three months in which to make cuts to critical state services and collect more revenue for the state.  This is not the plan I want to submit to the legislature, but unfortunately, these are the options we have to choose from in the short-term.”

Locally, state Rep. Malinda White echoed the governor’s sentiments.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” she said on Monday.

White, who is a Democrat as is the governor, said both Democrats and Republicans will have to work together to make sure the pain is applied evenly and fairly.

“Nobody likes taxes, but what (former Gov. Bobby Jindal) did, did not work, and that’s obvious,” said White. “I don’t think it should be a party issue. It has to be a matter of survival for Louisiana.”

State Sen. Beth Mizell, who is a Republican, said last week she expects the short session to be tough.

“We have no money. It’s going to be a hard road to get it reconciled,” she said, of the state budget. “Hopefully we can come to a not-too-terribly painful conclusion where we meet the services we’re obligated to meet. It’s going to be a tough session.”

Both White and Mizell are new to state politics, although White is a former Bogalusa city councilwoman.

White said she’s keeping an open mind about what may be cut or what taxes may be raised.

“I’m pretty open,” she said. “There are certain things I don’t want to see cut that I think would be detrimental to our district. I don’t want to see our district cut so deep that it hurts our district.”

However, White was adamant that whatever comes, it needs to be felt by all.

“Moving forward we will have to have structural change that will be shouldered by everybody and not by a select few,” she said.

White noted that the state has faced deficits in the past and survived them, and she is confident Louisiana will survive this one, too.

“It won’t be easy, but I want it to be done with so we can move forward,” she said.

The regular session will begin March 14 and wrap up no later than June 6, and it is possible lawmakers will have to make further budget cuts or tax hikes during the regular session, too.

Edwards said the state will face an additional $1.9 billion budget hole for the 2017 fiscal year, if the same state services that are available now are available next year.09099