Lawmaker: 'We sales taxed our way out of this' as special sessio - FOX 8, WVUE,, weather, app, news, saints

Lawmaker: 'We sales taxed our way out of this' as special session ends

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Even as several bills were passed in the last minute, Louisiana legislators failed to complete what they set out to do at the beginning of the special session. 

"This was not our best day. I cannot stress that enough," Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday. 

On Feb. 14, lawmakers began to tackle the $900 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and a $1.9 billion shortfall for the 2016-17 fiscal year. 

When the special session ended, there was still a $30 million shortfall for this fiscal year - that will lead to cuts to higher education and healthcare - and there is an $800 million shortfall for next fiscal year. 

"When you look at it right now, we sales taxed our way out of this," Orleans Senator J.P. Morrell said. "I don't feel like anyone who leaves here today should be proud."

Lawmakers increased sales tax a penny per dollar, increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco and did away with some sales tax exemptions, which means almost everything purchased, except for groceries and prescription drugs, will cost more in Louisiana on April 1. 

Democrats and Republicans also closed the budget gap by cutting some tax exemptions to businesses. 

Edwards was not pleased lawmakers in both sides of the aisle could not agree to balance the budget. 

"Whether it was cleaning pennies or adding a new penny, there was a broad base refusal by the legislature by a whole to move beyond that to other tax types, to other taxpayers in a meaningful way," Edwards said. 

Metairie Rep. Stephanie Hilferty believes the additional penny sales tax and taking off some tax exemptions distributes the burden to citizens and businesses equally. 

"We had sales tax exemptions when you look at the list it's pages and pages. It's been going on for decades of legislators adding an exemption that would help a certain specific industry or a certain specific business," Hilferty said. 

Last month, the Moody's Corp. reduced the state's credit rating because of the financial mess.  

Edwards said with the failure to balance the budget, the rating could fall even further. 

"It wasn't just that Moody's downgraded us. They put us on a negative watch going forward, which means they're looking to do it again," he said. "We've already received letters from Saks telling us that they are very concerned whether we have the funding in place so that the programs we offered at a higher education institutions can continue."

With the way the budget stands now, state universities can remain open for summer school and through the fall, but the TOPS program is still in a state of uncertainty. 

Those unknowns leave Louisiana residents feeling the financial burden, especially as lawmakers still must find more revenue in just a few months. 

"We're still looking ahead. We're right on the cusp of fiscal year 16-17. We run on a July to June fiscal year. We are coming very close to that year so there still work to be done. 

Edwards said he will have more of a grasp on how this deficit will affect health care in higher education on Thursday.

Legislators will be back in Baton Rouge on Monday for the regular session. 

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