The special session, which began on Feb. 14 will at 6 p.m., today. Gov. Edwards will hold a press conference at session's end.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has not been quiet about challenges he said he is facing with the legislature during the three week special session in attempts to cut down a nearly $1 billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year and next – the largest budget deficit in Louisiana’s history.
Edwards has released a multitude of statements and held several press availibilities to address both the strides and contentions taking place during the session. Last week, Edwards released a statement on the session’s progress after the Louisiana Senate voted to pass a new penny sales tax measure that would be combined with the $160 million in spending cuts proposed by the governor and the use of additional funds and revenue-raising measures to close the budget gap. Edwards is calling for the additional penny sales tax to be removed after a new, more stable way of taxing personal and corporate income is put in place by the legislature and Louisiana voters.
“I want to thank the members of the legislature who are working with me to solve this historic problem,” Edwards said. “The suggestion that we should sit back and let this problem continue into the next year is reckless and jeopardizes Louisiana’s already weakened credit rating. After eight years of irresponsible budgeting that repeatedly pushed problems down the road instead of solving them, the people of Louisiana expect us to end that kind of behavior. I will continue to work with both parties in the legislature to come to an agreement that will stabilize our state budget this year and going forward.”
On Jan. 19, Gov. Edwards outlined a comprehensive proposal to solve the budget deficit. However, to date, no comprehensive alternative has been proposed by the members of the legislature fully correcting the budget deficit for this year or next. The House of Representatives voted on a measure to make more than $100 million in cuts through H.B. 122. Even with these proposed cuts, coupled with the revenue raising measures already approved, the legislature still has not secured enough funds to fill the current year’s $940 million shortfall.
“Since we first identified this historic problem, I have called on the legislature to work with me to stabilize our budget with a combination of strategic spending cuts and a responsible way to raise additional revenue that doesn’t overly burden our citizens,” Edwards said. “While the comprehensive plan I proposed is not something I wanted to present, it does represent the best path forward for our state.
There are some who are suggesting that we further ask individuals to shoulder more of this burden to fix our budget without asking businesses to contribute in a balanced approach. Unfortunately, we are running out of time and some members of the legislature appear ready to accept the catastrophic cuts that will take place when we adjourn. If my plan is not acceptable, it is up to those members to offer an alternative, which has not happened. We will be here working until the very end to solve this problem, but if some members refuse to accept this reality, they should be prepared to defend these cuts to their constituents.”
Edwards held a live televised press availability on March 4, the day after he met with President Bill Clinton for coffee and oatmeal cookies, as he referenced at the press conference, when asked had he met with the former president during his visit.
“The legislature has wasted multiple days this week when they should have been voting – they should have been legislating,” Edwards said. “As a result, while I am certainly going to keep working as hard as I can, I am less optimistic today as I stand before you than I was last week.
We have the largest budget deficit in the history of our state this year and next year. I can’t stress enough to you that we’re nowhere near where we need to be at this time.”
Edwards said that by session’s end on March 9 at 6 p.m., state universities will know what the cuts will be to their budgets, both current year and next year.
“They will have to act immediately,” Edwards said. “All of these plans have to be done – people who think we can solve this problem at another time are gravely mistaken.”
On Saturday, a 22 cent tax increase on cigarettes passed in the Senate. Beginning April 1, smokers in Louisiana will pay a total of $1.08 in taxes per pack of cigarettes. The increase will help fill the budget shortfall. As of press time, the governor’s proposed alcohol tax increase had not yet passed – if passed, it would be the first increase to alcohol taxes since 1948.