Second special session leaves budget crisis unsolved

Second special session nears end, but budget crisis remains unresolved
Published: Jun. 23, 2016 at 10:33 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2016 at 11:08 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Hours before the deadline for ending the latest special legislative session, state lawmakers conceded they would not raise the amount of new revenue that Gov. John Bel Edwards said would be required to avoid deep budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Republican leaders in the House did not have an appetite for additional tax hikes, and some Democrats said they understood the need to take into account constituents' wishes - but said the fallout would not be pretty.

"Some clearly just said they don't want any more taxes, but there are some in several areas - especially where safety net hospitals are and critical services are needed - are saying, 'listen we need the services,'" said Rep. Rodney Lyons, D-Harvey.

Opponents of new taxes deflated a lot of the governor's agenda for this special session. One item that seemed to never have much of a chance would have reduced deductions that individuals could take on state income tax returns. Senate President John Alario gave up midday Thursday on his efforts to revive the proposal because of a lack of votes.

House Republicans said they went along with some tax hikes, especially during the first special session.

"We've raised roughly $1.5 billion, so it's not like we haven't raised any money," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

Gov. Edwards called the second special session after he said the budget for the fiscal year which begins July 1 was $600 million short. Lawmakers we spoke to said revenue raised this session only amounts to $250 million to $270 million.

Some New Orleans lawmakers were clearly frustrated, given the cuts that could happen in the area.

"Disappointing and mostly a waste of time," said Sen. J. P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

"It's simply wasn't enough," said Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans. "We should have raised more revenues. Now we're putting at risk our safety net hospitals, we're putting at risk our funding for K-12."

"The public-private partnerships will be funded at about $50.5 million; higher ed will be fully funded at about $55 million," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

"You can sensationalize and say that we're up $2 billion because of the federal money coming in for Medicaid Expansion, but when push comes to shove, then you really study the information. There are going to be a lot cuts," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

The TOPS scholarship program will be funded at 70 percent.

"The change this year, it's going to be pro-rata," said Higher Education Commissioner Dr. Joe Rallo. "So basically at 70 percent, that means you're going to get 70 cents on the dollar so you have to come up with the 30 cents.

Rallo fears that less TOPS money will cost the state some college students.

"The better students, students with 28, 29, 30 ACTs are already being courted by Mississippi and Alabama and Texas," Rallo said. "They're allowing them to pay in-state tuition, so they are already leaving us."

"The budget will be the budget that the House and many vocal citizens said that this is the budget they want," Morrell said. "They think government should shrink, they think that there's secret money in a money tree that's going to fall out and address these issues. That's really not going to happen."

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