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Louisiana lawmakers deal same ‘song and dance’ with budget shortfall looming

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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) -

For the third year in a row, Louisiana public servants at the state level find themselves in the same position of trying to fix a budget shortfall in a way that it does not occur year after year. 

“We’ve been through this song and dance,” Governor John Bel Edwards said while addressing nearly the entire legislative body. “The budget I presented to you last month was not my choice. It was my obligation, and while the constitution imposes on me that obligation to present a balanced budget, my full obligation, not just to you but to the people of Louisiana, is to be honest about the situation we face and the choices that are before us.”

Governor Edwards implored legislators to find a mixture of spending cuts and increased taxes. Edwards wants to increase the state sales tax by .5 percent to address the state’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall that will occur at the end of June. 

The governor blames a handful of legislators for “kicking the can” which leads to threats of cuts to higher education and healthcare each year. 

“Do we stick to the status quo or do we map out a new and better future for Louisiana? I am imploring you, let’s turn this tide together,” Edwards said. 

But while many in Baton Rouge speak of compromise, there is an obvious divide on the floor of the House. 

Caught in the middle are thousands of Louisiana residents like north shore’s Carmen O’Mara who depend on state programs and funding to assist her adult son with autism. 

“We have some legislators that are very friendly to us but we’re not really sure all the time even though you can see the votes how they’re influenced before they vote,” O’Mara said. 

“There’s a number of us that could deal with it and make the choices we need to make but I’m really not convinced it can happen in that room,” Kenner Representative Julie Stokes said. 

Stokes said at at the root of the reoccurring budget problem is information. Both sides use figures and numbers to benefit their own political agenda and not the people they represent, according to Stokes. 

“I would never say that (they lie). I love my colleagues but I do believe everyone distorts the truth the way that they want it to look,” Stokes said. 

The 17 day-long-session’s only goal is to address the budget shortfall, but there is the possibility legislators could be called back for yet another special session after the end of the regular session in June. 

Governor Edwards said one of his major goals is for lawmakers to fully fund the TOPS program, unlike last year when only one semester was fully funded for Louisiana students.

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