BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Louisiana lawmakers will start meeting Sunday in a special session aimed at tackling the state's massive budget deficit. On Saturday, members of Governor John Bel Edwards' administration warned, drastic cuts will come to state agencies and other services, if the legislature doesn't approve tax hikes.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne calls the budget situation facing Louisiana a crisis like one he's never seen before. Speaking to the Joint House and Senate Budget committee Saturday afternoon, Dardenne laid out a plan the Edwards administration thinks will solve the most pressing issue; plugging a $943 million budget deficit before the end of this fiscal year, June 30th.
"We're going to ask you to repeal a statute you enacted last year and enact a different statute this year in order to redirect an initial payment from BP for economic damages to the state," Dardenne told lawmakers.
That will bring in $200 million. Dardenne also wants to dip into the state's rainy day fund for $128 million. The plan also calls for reductions to be made to state agencies.
Some lawmakers worried thousands of state employees would lose their jobs if the money is taken away, but Dardenne says, "In all likelihood, with these cuts, hopefully not."
Governor Edwards wants lawmakers in their special session, to pass a number of tax hikes, to bring in new revenue. But some lawmakers pushed back against the idea, saying their constituents want to see changes made to state government first.
"The people of Louisiana, at least the ones I'm dealing with, think we're spending too much," State Sen. Conrad Appel said.
The state faces an even bigger problem; a $2 billion budget deficit for the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1st. Dardenne says public school funding would be shielded but every other agency plus colleges and health services would take hefty cuts if Edwards proposed tax hikes aren't passed, to bring in new revenue. A major concern for lawmakers; the possibility TOPS funding will be gone after this year.
"They're gonna get their TOPS money and they're going to finish out the year, the only caveat is if there's no revenue under the scenarios we've talked about and if those universities close those doors, then the TOPS scholarship recipients will have no classes to go to," Dardenne explained.
To give you an idea how severe the cuts to state agencies may be in the next fiscal year, Dardenne says, without new money coming in, every single agency will be asked to slash their budgets by 63 percent.
The special legislative session, focusing on the budget, starts Sunday at the Capitol.