As special session enters final stretch, lawmaker answers critics

As special session enters final stretch, lawmaker answers critics

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - With the latest special legislative session mandated to end Thursday, more and more state lawmakers are beginning to think that budget cuts in some areas may be unavoidable. And at the start of the final four days of the session, lawmakers felt safe in saying only $300 million more in revenue would likely come out of the session.

Last week, bad news came about revenues for the current budget year that ends on June 30. Business tax collections are expected to be down by $200 million for the current fiscal year and the shortfall for the new budget which commences on July 1 was short $600 million when the second special session of the year began.

"You're at $300 million and you've got a $500 million dollar hole, so the first couple hundred million of that would go to pay off the shortfall for the '16 year, but clearly significant shortfalls as it relates to TOPS, as it relates to K-12 education, as it relates to higher education," said Walt Leger, House Speaker Pro Tem of New Orleans.

Two bills to help approach that $300 million mark made it out of the House Ways and Means Committee for which Rep. Neil Abramson serves as chairman.

"They will help the bottom line and the good news is we reached compromise on it, parties came together, we worked together to try to raise some additional revenue to plug holes for our critical resources," said Abramson.

But since moments before the new democratic governor took the oath in January until now, Abramson has being coming under criticism by some in the legislature and beyond. Headlines spoke of his rubbing his own party the wrong way when he did not support Gov. John Bel Edwards' choice for House speaker, namely Rep. Leger. The job went to Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.

Then on June 6, the final day of the 2016 regular legislative session, Abramson was accused by some lawmakers of playing politics and holding up the critical state construction bill, HB2.

FOX 8 News interviewed Abramson to give him a chance to respond to the criticism. Abramson was asked if his accusers are wrong.

"They are wrong," he said. "There were a lot of legal and technical problems with the bill. We could not fix that in the regular session. We had to come back in the special session and do it the right way, and that was my name on the bill, and the position that I'm put in where I'm the author of the Capital Outlay, there's a lot of responsibility. We could not afford to do it wrong."

State senators were miffed that the bill was not voted on before the regular session ended.

"Yes, HB2 belongs to the legislature and not to Neil Abramson, and if he had a problem with it, I think it was his obligation to bring it up and try to fix it. I don't buy into his statement that they had legal and technical issues because the bill sat over there for over five days and we have plenty of people that fix legal technical issues all the time, but to hide yourself from the rest of the body and pretty much kidnap the bill, (and as I've said it was the first time I've witnessed a kidnapping where there was no ransom, you know, to me I think that was wrong," said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner.

Another state senator from New Orleans was quoted as saying Abramson is the person he trusts the least in the legislature.

When asked whether he was trustworthy, Abramson answered, "Absolutely, and you can see when we came back and we did HB2 correctly it flew through the system."

He said leadership attracts criticism.

"In my position in a leadership role, I know a lot of things are controversial, I know a lot of people want to play partisan politics, I have to look beyond that and I have to do what's right even though it might not be popular," Abramson said.

There is also speculation that he wants to run for the state senate after his term in the house ends and that he may switch to the GOP.  He said his focus is on the present and that is responding to the budget crisis.

"I have no plans about any of that stuff right now, that's what I keep telling everybody, people want to throw stuff out there to try to generate stuff to kind of play partisan politics with everything, we need to get rid of the labels, we need to get rid of the R's and the D's and everything else, we need to work together, compromise, we're Louisianians," he said.

Sen. Martiny said recently he does not know who he can talk to or trust in terms of the current house leadership and legislative negotiations.

"Because there's been a total breakdown in communication, it's one thing for people to disagree, I don't have any problem working with somebody that I don't agree with.  I do have a problem when you don't hear anything, and my comments were made out of frustration because before the last month, before the session ended we made it our business to make clear to the house that we had our calendar cleared, so we did not get jammed in the end and for the second time we got jammed in the end," Martiny said.

"Sure and there's been a bunch of different demonstrations of that, and so I understand, but we just have to kind of move forward," said Leger.

But bruised feelings aside inside the state capitol building state lawmakers know there is still a lot they must still work together on, given the size of the fiscal crisis.

"My concern is more that instead of trust that ideology is driving everything as opposed to logic and reason," said Leger.

"We have cut deeply, we're trying to raise additional revenue, but at the same time being sensitive to the fact that our economy is down and our families and our businesses are hurting, and we're trying to make all that work together," said Abramson.

He said even though some lawmakers are averse to higher taxes the governor's agenda has not totally been ignored and that he came up with a compromise proposal to try to push the governor's income tax proposal forward but the administration could not get enough votes to support it that proposal.

"Because of the sensitive nature of personal income taxes I had a proposal that we could use those additional resources if it was needed as a last resort, if we didn't need it we wouldn't use it, in the meantime we were going to go through fiscal reform which we have to next year to make all this work again, and in the meantime three years from now we would reimburse taxpayers as we went through the fiscal reform process," said Abramson.

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