Gov. Edwards urges lawmakers to help him solve budget 'mess'

Gov. Edwards urges lawmakers to help him solve budget 'mess' during second special session

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - For the second time this year, Gov. John Bel Edwards delivered a special session address to state lawmakers.

"Here we are again. Probably seems like we never left," Edwards said Tuesday to a joint gathering of House and Senate members inside the state Capitol building.

The annual regular session of the legislature ended Monday evening. Thirty minutes later, the latest special session began.

In February, the first special session began to tackle the state's persistent money problems, but neither that session nor the regular session wiped out the lingering $600 million shortfall.

"We still have a real mess on our hands, and the longer we put off cleaning up that mess the more damage we do," the governor said.

The current funding shortfall for the budget year that commences July 1 leaves the popular TOPS college scholarship program with insufficient funding. The same is the case for K-12 schools and state hospitals, according to the governor.  He proposes reducing tax breaks for businesses and individual taxpayers.

"Nobody likes the prescription, but it's time to take our medicine," Edwards said.

For individual taxpayers, he proposes changing tax brackets and limiting deductions on state tax returns.

"The best part about this proposal is that 74 percent of the people of Louisiana don't itemize their deductions, and this will have no impact on them. And at 57.5 percent, the deduction fully protects charitable donations and mortgage interest deductions," Edwards said.

Many Republicans in the legislature are pushing back, given that $1.2 billion in tax hikes were approved during the first special session.

"Clearly there needs to be revenue raised, and we need to concentrate on revenue. Also we have to concentrate on reform. I didn't hear anything from the governor about reductions in spending, We're one of the highest-spending states in the United States," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

He said he is not satisfied with the current cuts to state services.

"I'm concerned about the medical center in New Orleans, I'm concerned about infrastructure which is absolutely left out of this proposal, I'm concerned about TOPS, I'm concerned about all the higher ed schools, we have problems but we have to look at the whole spectrum of the budget not the revenue or taxation side, we have to look at the spending side," Appel said.

Still, the Republican leader of the state Senate thinks the proposals to generate more funds are reasonable given the ongoing budget crisis.

"The program he's laid out seems to be a fair approach where nobody gets hurt too badly. There will be a little hair cut here and there," said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

Many Democrats from the New Orleans area have lined up behind the governor's agenda.

"Hopefully we're able to fix the problems and the send the message to the people of Louisiana that we take this seriously, we're not going to play games with their lives," said State Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans.

This latest special session got underway as there are bruised feelings between some House members and some members of the Senate over the state's construction budget.

"It doubles down on the work we have now," said Carter.

The capital outlay budget did not get approval in the regular session. Some state senators point to what they call political shenanigans by the House.

"I think one of the bodies lacks a sense of urgency in resolving some of these issues, and I certainly hope over the next week they prove us wrong," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

House leaders balked at Senate changes to the proposed construction budget.

Lawmakers must reach agreement on HB2 during the special session, as well as correct errors made to pieces of legislation during the first special session.

The governor urged lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and complete the task at hand.

"I'm asking you to get the job done right, and to get it done right now," Edwards said.

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