Third session is 'last chance' to solve budget problem

BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards chided a group of House Republicans Monday for having blocked efforts to raise revenue to avoid budget cuts at the opening of the third special legislative session this year. He also said this was the “last chance” to solve the problem.

“Over the past several months, partisan politics have infested this building in a way we have never seen before,” Edwards said in an address to the Legislature. He added that “the constant mix of partisan angling” was “simply inexcusable.”

Edwards, a Democrat, also took a shot at national conservative groups that have tried to rally Republicans to stop the Legislature from extending any portion of an extra penny of sales tax that expires on July 1.

He said he hoped more lawmakers would “turn a deaf ear to the out-of-state special interest groups who threaten to influence our discourse.”

Edwards spoke as behind-the-scenes efforts to find a compromise focused on the possibility of extending four-tenths of a cent of the expiring sales tax.

Some lobbyists said that House Republican leaders also are focusing on re-allocating $63 million that the Louisiana Department of Health acknowledged last month that it had not spent.

Some said that the House leaders might tell Edwards that they would be willing to add that $63 million into the revenue pot along with extending one-third or four-tenths of a cent of sales tax as an alternative to approving the half-cent extension that Edwards wants.

In the last special session, which ended June 4, Edwards, Democratic lawmakers and most Republicans in the Senate supported extending a half of a penny of sales tax, while House Republican leaders were only willing to keep one-third of a cent.

Both proposals failed in the dramatic final minutes of the session when Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, one of about 20 Republicans who do not want to extend any of the sales tax, filibustered to prevent a final vote on a possible compromise.

The state’s portion of the sales tax is now 5 percent, so keeping one-half of a cent that was added in 2015 would reduce it to 4.5 cents while keeping only the third of a cent would make it 4.33 cents.

In the previous special session, lawmakers passed a $29 billion operating budget but failed to compromise over the amount they should extend the expiring 1 percent of the state sales tax, leaving the budget more than $500 million short of meeting the state’s needs.