Gov. Edwards: Session starting Monday is last opportunity to avoid deep cuts

(WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards said despite two unsuccessful special sessions this year on the budget crisis, he is optimistic the third special session, which begins Monday, will succeed in addressing the budget crisis.

"I believe that we're going to be successful," he said. "Not that it's going to be easy, but it's obvious what we need to do. There was a good compromise that came out of the Senate previously, it's not what I wanted, not everything that I wanted, but it's a reasonable place to land somewhere between where I was and where some of the House leadership was."

The governor referenced a proposal approved by the state Senate recently that called for keeping one-half of the expiring fifth penny of the state sales tax in place to help erase the nearly $700 million shortfall for the new fiscal year.

"It gr ants tax relief to the state of Louisiana by more than half a billion dollars comparing this year to next year, but yet it funds our TOPS without a reduction, and our higher education without a reduction," Edwards said. "Pretty much everything else gets cuts, but they're strategic in nature, they're not with a meat cleaver. It's a good place to get to, and I think the road map is pretty well set because that approach got 38 votes in the Senate for the budget, overwhelming vote in the House."

But the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives favored keeping only one-third of the penny, and some lawmakers are opposed to a tax extension altogether. Kenner Republican State Rep. Julie Stokes weighed in on the one-half penny proposal's chances in the upcoming special session.

"I think it should (pass). We should put aside all the bickering and do what's right," she said.

She said people are concerned about the budget shortfall and the fallout.

"I just met with some folks at the independent care facilities that are getting ready to have millions, and two million dollar cuts. They can only pay their employees $11 an hour now. We've got to step up and do what's right," said Stokes.

Edwards, a Democrat who took office in 2016, said the Legislature must take the appropriate action this time to prevent painful budget cuts.

"This is the last opportunity," he said. Whatever happens this time, we will start the new fiscal year July 1 with that particular budget, with that particular revenue. But I'm optimistic, and Sabrina I'll tell you we need to fix this because we have so much momentum in our state right now."

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