Special Session Kicks Off Today As Lawmakers Return To Baton Rouge
The special session kicks off today to address a one-billion dollar shortfall. Legislators have until March 7th to find a fix to the looming fiscal cliff or else cuts will occur in the areas of higher education and health care. Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin says the governor has talked privately with House Speaker Taylor Barras on solutions, but “I don’t think that means by any stretch that anything is a done deal, that they have worked anything out in terms of real detail.”
Early reports say legislators are making progress on a fix to the one billion dollar budget gap. Erwin says even though a deal isn’t currently in hand, he expects some agreement to be made.
“There are enough reasons to get something done in February that will push them together to do that (fix the fiscal cliff), but you never know with this bunch,” says Erwin.
Edwards is calling for the replacement of the expiring sales taxes with permanent tax reform that would eliminate certain deductions for businesses, and the GOP wants spending reductions.
Democrats say they will not allow a full renewal of the expiring one penny sales tax, as they feel it unfairly targets the poor. Franklin Representative and Democrat Sam Jones says he wants to see a budget deal that ensures crucial programs are not underfunded.
“(I want) A predictable budget where fully fund our hospitals, our education system, fully fund tops, and finally get to a point where we can give some attention to our infrastructure,” says Rep. Jones.
“I’m less optimistic that what they pass will be permanent or resemble much in the way of tax reform, and I think that is really unfortunate,” says Erwin, who doubts the governor will get the legislation he wants.
But Shreveport Representative Republican Alan Seabaugh says he’s beginning to see the framework for a grand bargain. “The one penny sales tax goes away, reinstituting a half penny which would be 440 million dollars, with half of that dedicated to funding TOPS,” says Rep. Seabaugh.
Meanwhile, Erath Representative Blake Miguez says the GOP caucus is demanding the creation of the Louisiana Checkbook.
“Every penny that is spent, you can go online and see bar graphs and charts, every dollar that is spent in state government," points out Rep. Miguez. "That should have happened a long time ago.”
He says the program would increase transparency, and would closely resemble Ohio’s Ohiocheckbook.com
Along with implementing Medicaid co-pays, tighter eligibility, and work requirements, Miguez says he also wants to see a state spending cap that is tied to private sector economic performance.
“Were not going to let state government outgrow the private sector because we understand the private sector funds state government,” expresses Rep. Miguez.
Political analysts have warned that the special session could be a political minefield, with Republicans attempting to make sure the governor does not leave with a “win” that could propel him to another term in office. Jones says so far, the negotiations have been fair. “Were not quite Washington yet, but we’ve had some Washington D.C. type moments,” says Rep. Jones.
Erwin says he doesn’t expect an agreement to be made that can secure the 70 House votes and the governor’s signature until late into the session. The special session ends March 7th.