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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Ending Louisiana’s regular session early a calendar challenge

Ending Louisiana’s regular session early a calendar challenge

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's governor and legislative leaders agree they want to end the regular session early, to free up time for another tax session aimed at staving off steep budget cuts. But they have yet to settle on the calendar, a logistical step crucial to making that agreement work.

Gov. John Bel Edwards wants lawmakers to wrap up their regular session in mid-May, rather than on June 4, to start a special session on taxes May 14. The Democratic governor said that would keep taxpayers from having to pay extra for another special session, after more than $750,000 was spent on a failed tax session in February.

"There is no reason that the Legislature cannot conduct the business before it in the next 60 days and adjourn early," Edwards wrote in a letter to Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras and GOP Senate President John Alario asking for legislation to set a specific end date.


An estimated $700 million shortfall looms when the new budget year begins July 1, caused by the expiration of temporary taxes.

Partisan gridlock in the House blocked every tax bill in the February special session called by Edwards to close the hole. The Legislature can't consider taxes in the regular session. Public colleges, the TOPS tuition program, safety-net health services and public safety programs remain most vulnerable to cuts.

Edwards, Alario and Barras have said they don't think the budget could entirely be balanced with reductions without damaging critical services, though House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry and House GOP leader Lance Harris want to try.


Barras and Alario said they support the shortened regular session and plans for a second special session.

"We're attempting to schedule it that way," Barras said.

The Senate sent over a proposed tightened schedule. But Barras is uncertain about putting that commitment to early adjournment in legislation.

"I hesitate with a date certain just in case we get to a point where we may not make that date," he said. "I might feel better about that in a few days, but I'm not feeling certain about that now."

With more than 1,100 bills filed, Barras said he's concerned about giving everyone enough time to have hearings and get their bills through the House and Senate.

The chambers have geared up for a faster-than-usual pace on regular session work. The Senate held rare committee meetings on opening day and started passing bills to the House on Thursday. Barras plans an accelerated schedule as well, saying some committees with the heaviest workloads will start meeting twice a week.

Alario said he won't pursue legislation to set calendar dates without agreement from Barras: "It takes two to tango."


Edwards questioned whether lawmakers will agree to pass a budget in the regular session with the deep cuts required to keep it in balance. Alario and Barras said lawmakers should try to reach an agreement to add in any extra tax dollars that might be raised in a special session.

"Maybe it means less money we'll have to raise," Alario said.

Before making any cuts, House Republican leaders want revised figures.

Louisiana's official budget gap stands at $994 million. Federal income tax changes are expected to boost state tax collections and lessen the shortfall's size to $692 million. Louisiana's income forecasting panel hasn't made those changes yet. Barras, panel chairman, hopes to set a mid-April meeting to revise the forecast, but he said he's waiting for economists to feel comfortable they have enough data.


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