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Increasing taxes could be a tough sell during La. second special session

Louisiana State Capitol (Source: WAFB) Louisiana State Capitol (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

The governor’s revenue-raising ideas for the second special session may be a hard sell among Louisiana lawmakers, and ultimately the future of TOPS may play a role in drumming up support. 

The legislature is set to begin a second special session on June 6, just half an hour after the regular session wraps up. The governor called the additional session in part to bridge the gap of the remaining $600 million shortfall in the state’s budget. 

The governor has offered an extensive list of ideas to raise more revenue, including reducing tax credits given to businesses as well as changing income tax brackets. 

"I think what you’re going to see is his vision of the scope of the things he's willing to consider is a lot broader than probably the House of Representatives, which has a more narrow scope on the things they would be willing to consider," said Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR). 

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, has said publicly that he does not believe state lawmakers will be able to stomach further tax increases. 

"I think members are pretty worn out from raising taxes from the special session, they’re worn out from being here for the regular session," Henry said. 

In an interview Tuesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards countered that, saying that the Republicans he has spoken to are on board with some tax measures. 

"I expect that we’re going to work together, Republicans and Democrats alike, my office, the House, the Senate, all of us together, as the people of Louisiana should expect and demand of us so that we stabilize the state of Louisiana," the governor said. 

On the Senate side, President John Alario, R-Westwego, expressed some confidence that certain measures could get through. Like the governor, Alario said a plan taxing health insurance premiums and hospitals in exchange for some federal money would be feasible. Still, he sets the bar a little lower in terms of expectations. 

"Realistically, probably you need closer to $450 million," Alario said. "I don't think we need to get to $600 million, I think we need to set some priorities and do something less than that and make some reductions in those requests of those budget items to make that actually work." 

Ultimately, the success of the session may come down to how the governor sells it to lawmakers. As it stands in the budget plan adopted by the Senate Finance Committee, many different departments face deep cuts, including higher education, the Department of Health and Hospitals, and the Department of Corrections. The state partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured could see a $60 million cut. 

Most important for the purpose of garnering support for the revenue proposals, however, may be TOPS. The scholarship program is funded at 48 percent under the Senate Finance proposal. 

"If he wants to raise revenue, part of his strategy is to end the regular session with a shortfall in something that the legislators really want to fund, and TOPS would be one of those things," Scott said. 

However, even for Henry, who in his proposal as House Appropriations chairman had TOPS fully funded, the risk of leaving TOPS with that large of a crater may not be enough to get him to vote for tax increases. 

"If this is a game the administration is going to play for the next three years, that if they don’t get their way they’re going to threaten to cut TOPS every year going forward if we don't raise more revenue, I think this may just be the way things are going to be," Henry said. 

There is one thing that lawmakers agree with the governor on, which is to fix some of the last minute items passed during the end of first special session, including putting sales taxes on things like tickets to high school football games and Girl Scout cookies.  

The full Senate will take up the budget Wednesday, at which point they could vote to fund TOPS and other budget items differently. The second special session, meanwhile, starts on Monday. 

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved. 

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