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Lawmakers race to come to terms on budget; other revenue measures

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) -

With the clock ticking fast towards a mandated adjournment this week, state lawmakers again find themselves in a race to give final approval to a balanced budget.

Legislators began the session with a $1.6 Billion shortfall in revenues for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"Constant, robust negotiations are going on, every waking moment right now,” said State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

Problem number one: the budget the house passed is not a carbon copy of the spending plan approved by the senate. Months earlier, the governor proposed a nearly $25 billion dollar budget.

"We obviously raised a lot of revenue in the senate," Sen. Morrell said. "The house has some problems with those sources of revenue. There is a wide gulf between where the house thinks the cigarette tax should be and where the senate knows the cigarette tax should be.” 

Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, initially proposed raising the cigarette tax over a dollar a pack. The house eventually approved raising it to 68-cents a pack, the senate 72-cents per pack.

"We tried to make them realize that we needed the increase to you know help offset the budget cuts,” Badon said of opponents or lawmakers against a higher tax.

And hanging over lawmakers' heads is the firm threat from Governor Bobby Jindal to veto new taxes, or fees that are not offset by other tax cuts or spending reductions.

"The thing is, are you going to give him cover and avoid a veto session or avoid a special session and give him the cover, so we can do what's right for the Louisiana people,” said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

But is Stokes prepared to provide such a covering to the governor.

"I may give him that cover, I'm undecided,” she said.

And given the governor's stance on new taxes, some lawmakers are also talking about a possible veto override session, and at the very least some said a special session could be needed soon after the session ends.

"The governor has made a pledge that he will sign the budget, however, he can go in and do some line items and eliminate revenue, therefore that would precipitate the legislature coming back into a special session probably late July in order to find the revenue that he has cut,” said Badon.

Still, in the remaining hours of the session, the back and forth negotiations continue, and some New Orleans area lawmakers are standing up for the film industry as legislation to trim film tax credits have yet to be finalized.

"I don't think that you can blame the movie tax credits for this… think it's reversed a lot of the brain drain, I've got productions in my district constantly,” said Rep. Stokes.

And no matter what legislators said, they will end the session on Thursday at 6 p.m. with a balanced budget in accordance with state law.

“As long as a guy like [Sen.] John Alario over on the other side is convinced that he's walking out of here with a balanced budget my money is on that man,” said Stokes.

Senate President Alario is viewed as an expert on the state budget and has spent decades in the legislature, serving in both the house and senate.

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