BATON ROUGE, La. — Friday is the latest deadline in negotiations over whether Louisiana will have a special legislative session aimed at closing a $1 billion budget gap, as Gov. John Bel Edwards continues to haggle with House GOP leaders over what sort of taxes they might accept.
The Democratic governor said he needs to call the session by Friday so lawmakers have enough time to debate taxes before the regular session begins March 12. The target for starting the special session is Feb. 19. Edwards said he expects it would run about two-and-a-half weeks.
But first, Edwards will decide if he has enough buy-in on taxes from House Republicans.
The governor said he doesn’t want to call a special session to close the budget gap unless he reaches agreement with House Republican leaders who blocked previous tax proposals. Edwards had another negotiating session by phone Monday with House Speaker Taylor Barras.
“I think we made some progress,” Edwards said Tuesday as he stopped at a community health center threatened with cuts. “Hopefully by Friday we’ll have something worked out.”
The governor said the Republican House speaker offered some “revenue options,” though Edwards wouldn’t say what those tax proposals were.
The $1 billion budget gap stems from the July 1 expiration of temporary sales taxes passed by lawmakers in 2016, planned as a bridge to a larger rewrite of Louisiana’s tax laws that never happened.
If lawmakers want to replace any of the expiring revenue with taxes, that requires a special session. No lawmaker has offered a proposal for how to close the gap entirely with cuts.
Edwards has tried to box House Republicans into agreeing to a set of replacement taxes, to avoid deep slashing to health care and education programs, but he’s been unable to get commitments from GOP leaders so far.
Deadlines he’s set to reach terms have been extended multiple times. Meanwhile, the governor and lawmakers have edged closer to the final days that a special session could be called under the constitutional guidelines and still have enough time to complete legislation.
Barras has said House Republicans won’t support taxes without passage of spending control legislation at the same time, such as tightened limits on spending growth and new cost-share and work requirements for some Medicaid patients.
Some lawmakers are calling on Edwards to convene a post-Mardi Gras special session even if he can’t strike a pre-session deal with House Republicans. A bipartisan group of 14 state senators sent a letter Monday to the governor saying the session is needed to balance next year’s budget without damaging programs.
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