Gov. Edwards outlines plans to balance state's budget

Gov. Edwards outlines plans to balance state's budget

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Only a week into office, Gov. John Bel Edwards is forced to address the state's massive $750 million budget shortfall and projected shortfall next fiscal year of $1.9 billion.

On Tuesday, the governor and his team outlined some ideas to make up the money, including adding an additional one-cent sales tax and tapping into the state's rainy day fund.

"If we want to simply provide the state services next year that we are providing this year, we are $1.9 billion short," Edwards said Tuesday.

The message from the governor is clear: The state is in dire straits.

"We have reached the end of the road, and while these threats are not new because we do seem to hear them year after year, certainly the severity of the problems that we will have if we don't act are very real," Edwards explained.

The most pressing goal for Edwards' administration: to plug the current $750 million budget shortfall.

Commission of Administration Jay Dardenne, explains, "We will tap the rainy day fund to the tune of about $128 million."

Dardenne adds, "We'll be looking at a re-positioning of the non-coastal dollars that are coming from BP."

If approved by lawmakers, the state will also cut at least 10 percent from $1.6 billion in discretionary state funds. And the governor wants to put an additional one cent sales tax in place.

Kimberly Lewis Robinson, the Secretary of the Department of Revenue, explains, "The constitutional exemptions of course on food, utilities and prescription drugs, would still apply to that one penny."

The next fiscal year starts on July 1, and 2017 has an expected $1.9 billion shortfall. The governor also outlined long term solutions Tuesday to tackle that mess, including raising the tobacco tax, making changes to the income tax brackets and repealing a utilities sales tax exemption for businesses. Without these necessary moves, Edwards predicts widespread cuts to critical services.

"You're going to see hospital closures, you're going to see tops scholarship money that will not be available, you are going to see the most severe cuts to public K-12 education that we have ever seen," Edwards said.

Funding to universities and supplemental pay for law enforcement could also be in jeopardy.

Lawmakers will gather for a special session to consider and vote on Edwards' proposals February 14th. The session is expected to last until March 4th and if approved, items like the additional one cent sales tax would go into effect April 1st.

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