Edwards issues call for 2nd special session

Published 4:10 pm Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday afternoon, Gov. John Bel Edwards officially issued the call, or agenda, for a second special session of the Louisiana legislature to address the remaining $600 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2016.

According to information from Edwards’ office, the special session will convene at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 6, and must adjourn by midnight on June 23. Without the special session, K-12 education, higher education, lifesaving health care services, and TOPS will face unnecessary cuts.

“We have critical priorities in health care, K-12 education, and higher education that need to be funded right away,” Edwards said. “We can’t just talk about wanting to fund these programs, we need to act. Delaying this special session would only contribute to the problems our state has faced for far too long. I have developed a package of proposals that would specifically address our immediate crisis without threatening the programs that the vast majority of the people of Louisiana consider to be important.

“Now is our chance to make bold decisions that will turn this ship in the right direction. I am confident we will garner the support we need to fund state government in a way that’s worthy of the people of our state.”

Edwards’ package of legislation includes several responsible revenue-raising measures, some of which have already garnered enough support to be enacted.

In addition to revenue-raising measures, the call also allows the legislature to address several issues that arose during the final minutes of the first special session, including reinstating the exemption on the state sales tax for food sales by youth organizations, such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts; admissions to athletic and entertainment events for public and private elementary and secondary schools; and meals at schools, universities, nursing homes, and mental institutions; among other items.

Currently, K-12 education, higher education, critical health care services, and TOPS face devastating cuts. Without additional revenue, K-12 education will face a $50 million cut, higher education will face a $47 million cut, and critical health care services and TOPS will face catastrophic cuts. Edwards said he is determined to find solutions that adequately fund these programs during this special session.

“There is no question in my mind that these programs are important, but there is simply no way we can adequately fund these priorities with the revenue currently available,” Edwards said. “No one, especially me, likes raising taxes or implementing painful cuts, but we are in a difficult spot living in the aftermath of year of budget gimmicks and tricks.

“It is time for all of us to make the tougher, wiser choices now, rather than the easier choices that feel good now but would hurt our state long-term. Doing the right thing will allow us to fund our priorities through 2017 when the legislature will convene and consider a comprehensive restructuring of the state’s tax code that will end the practices of sending hard-earned tax dollars to programs that simply aren’t benefiting our people.”

When Edwards took office on Jan. 11, he inherited a $1 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that ends on June 30 and a more than $2 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the largest budget deficit in the state’s history. Edwards proposed a combination of spending cuts and additional revenue.

Edwards cut more than $230 million in state spending for the current fiscal year and, by working with the legislature, raised additional revenue to avoid catastrophic cuts. However, the remaining deficit for FY 17 is still $600 million. This is the work that must be — and can be — finished in the upcoming special session.

The special session is necessary to address the budget crisis because the constitution directs that certain fiscal and tax matters cannot be considered during the current regular session, which ends on June 6.