Senate president calls next year's state budget a disaster
BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Many state lawmakers said the just-ended special session gave new meaning to painful, but more legislative discomfort awaits them.
"Next year's budget is a disaster because additional funds weren't found, some compromise wasn't made," said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.
The special session which kicked off on Valentine's Day was called by the new governor, John Bel Edwards to erase the almost billion dollar deficit for the current fiscal year.
Sen. Alario is in his 44th year in the legislature, having served both in the house and senate. He said the deficit could be twice the amount given at the end of the session.
"We started at $950 million dollars short, and a lot of that was addressed and whittled it down to either $30 million, somewhere between $30 and $60 million dollars we think as of this time," said Alario.
The evening the session ended, Governor John Bel Edwards quickly warned of the consequences. He said he had proposed a balanced package of spending cuts and tax increases to not only tackle the current year's deficit but the over $2 billion dollar funding shortfall for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Legislative action brought that deficit down to around $800 million.
"Many institutions and agencies are going to have to move forward with large scale cuts, reorganizations and all sorts of things that are going to flow out of this."
And all of it must be tackled in the regular session that begins Monday, but lawmakers are barred from approving tax increases in regular sessions.
"It's going to be a difficult time and I'm not sure that when we get through that it's going to be the budget that the people of the state would want," said Alario.
While Governor Edwards did not get his way fully on tax increases, the one-penny hike in the state sales tax did get through the legislative process. It will take effect April 1 and remain in place for 27 months. Numerous sales tax exemptions were also removed.
Alario said the business community stepped up to shoulder more tax burden.
"Prescription drugs, food, and utilities for persons will be exempt, utilities for businesses are going to get taxed now when they weren't being taxed before. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Chemical Association stepped up and said listen, we know you've got a serious problem, they agreed to take five-percent tax on their utilities for these three months and an additional three-percent for the next couple of years," said the veteran state legislator in his Westwego office.
But the revenues the higher sales tax will generate will not be enough to solve the budget crisis, so talk of yet another special session is not being dismissed.
"We cannot have another special session before 6:01 pm on June the 14th, and so we have to fashion a budget between now and then with the revenue we have available that's going to be $800 million short," said Governor Edwards.
'It may also be an educational process for those who didn't think we had such a serious problem, when they get into the budget now and find out all the shortfall that are going to occur in education and in healthcare, we've got a threat of our public-private partnerships collapsing," said Alario.
Alario admits the final day of the session was nerve wracking.
"It was frustrating for me, particularly at the very end of the session, the House of Representatives brought us over conference committee reports within the last half hour our staff didn't have an opportunity to review them, at one time there was a scare that the sales tax was going up," he said.
That turned out not to be the case.
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