Gov. Edwards talks special session; frustrations over lack of action by lawmakers

Gov. Edwards calls for Special Session

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - As state senators begin scrutinizing a $29 billion dollar state operating budget approved by the House of Representatives which Governor John Bel Edwards is adamantly opposed to, the governor talks about the frustration of needing special sessions to deal with the state's still unsolved budget crisis.

Special sessions are also costly.

Edwards package of bills including tax reform measures met stiff opposition in the GOP-controlled House.

"This is the last fiscal session before that $1.3 billion fiscal cliff. Not only did they reject what the task force recommended and what I recommended and of course, the overwhelming majority of my recommendations came from the task force, they failed to advance a plan of their own despite repeated assertions over the months leading up to the session that they would do that. So it is frustrating for me. It should be frustrating for the people of Louisiana because we're going to have to have a special session before the regular session next year to deal with something and that shouldn't be necessary. We need stability and we need predictability. There won't be better options on the table later than there are right now," said Governor Edwards during an interview with FOX 8 News.

Edwards issued the official call for what will be the second special of this year on Wednesday. It is to begin 30 minutes after the ongoing regular legislative session is mandated to end next Thursday.

"If we don't end up with a budget bill that works for the state of Louisiana or a capital outlay bill that works then we have to turn around and stay in session," said the governor.

"That's his prerogative as governor. Obviously, we still have a week left in the session and anticipate House Bill 1 eventually getting into a form that we can pass," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

Henry chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee and was instrumental in helping to fashion the House approved budget which was passed in lieu of the spending plan the governor proposed.

The House budget spends 97.5 percent of the revenues the state treasury is estimated to receive during the fiscal year which begins July 1 and Edwards said that would result in severe cuts to the La. Department of Health, and some other agencies.

"Ordinary legislative sessions don't end without drama. The difference this time is that there's drama and commotion without any potential resolution to these serious budget problems," said FOX 8 Political Analyst Mike Sherman.

Special sessions run up costs in a state strapped for dollars. Besides the one in February of this year, there were two soon after Edwards, a democrat, took office in a "red" state.

"And there have been sometimes they're absolutely essential. We shouldn't have to have a special session to get a budget, however because this is a fiscal session and I'm not saying that we will. Right now the way the budget is I will never sign it, it's a non-starter," said the governor when asked about the frequency of special sessions and their costs.

"It costs somewhere between $22,000 and $35,000 a day. This governor seems to feel that calling special sessions is his best way of providing leadership of how to get things done," said Rep. Henry.

And because lawmakers will not solve the so-called looming fiscal cliff during the nearly ended regular legislative session another special session will be needed later this year, or early 2018.

The fiscal cliff deals with the $1.3 billion in temporary taxes approved in response to the persistent money crunches. Those taxes expire January 2018, including a temporary one-cent hike in the state sales tax.

Governor Edwards has said he opposes extending that tax.

"Last year was the year of multiple special sessions. They never achieved systemic reform to our budget or sustainable reform, so I don't know what will change this year. Clearly, we're stuck in the same logjam we've been in since the governor took office," said Sherman.

Henry said some of the governor's package ran into opposition from both republicans and democrats.

"I think the governor would probably do better at really getting some specific legislation that he would like done, not these broad strokes that he likes to paint of 'I put up something, it didn't work, so now it's everybody else's problem.' He owns everything that happens in the building, good or bad at the end of the day."

And Henry defends against criticism from the Edwards Administration that republicans critical of Edwards' ideas failed to come up with their own and did not specify exactly where spending cuts should happen, especially in the health department.

"That's a common talking point amongst this administration and previous administrations. What that's referring to is they would like 144 elected officials, part-time elected officials in Baton Rouge to run the LA. Dept. of Health is in essence what they're saying and or I can assure you from my understanding the worst thing in the world for anyone would be for 144 part-time elected officials running the Louisiana Department of Health. He has a secretary that he has a tremendous amount of confidence in. She should be able to run the department as she sees fit. All we're talking about this year is not appropriating as much money as we think we're going to receive, that's what's causes mid-year cuts," said Rep. Henry.

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