Calling a special session at the height of Mardi Gras season is a surefire way to grab state lawmakers’ attention, and Jeremy Alford says that appears to be what Gov. John Bel Edwards is plotting, thanks to a $313 million deficit in the current fiscal year.
“Perhaps because the state has been here before—one shortfall after another for nearly a decade now—the immensity of this challenge might be missed on some,” Alford writes in his latest column. “Even if lawmakers tap the so-called rainy day fund for $119 million, as allowed by law, they would still have to cut as much as $194 million from the budget year that ends on June 30.”
The governor’s special session is expected to begin in mid-February and conclude by the end of the month, Alford says. Under that scenario, lawmakers would only have four months of government operations—March through June—to apply nearly $200 million in reductions.
“Think about it this way: State government will need to cut on average $50 million in services and/or payments per month for the final four months of the fiscal year,” writes Alford. “If nothing else, how the special session shapes up in terms of its policy agenda and how lawmakers react to it will give us a good preview of the regular session that’s slated to convene on April 10. It promises to be another tough one, with incoming tax revenue already projected to come in $400 million less than anticipated.”
Adding to the drama for the regular session, Alford notes, is an additional $1.5 billion in temporary taxes that roll off of the books in 2018—which the governor wants replaced or somehow addressed in the spring.
“Conservative lawmakers are already in a grumpy mood about those prospects and it’s doubtful that a special session—called just in time to interrupt Mardi Gras—will improve morale,” Alford writes. “However, if Edwards can craft an agenda for the special session that’s agreeable to lawmakers, the resulting goodwill might help the regular session kick off on a positive note. This is a reasonable goal, especially since the special session is likely to focus on cuts and spending reductions, rather than the creation of new revenue like taxes.”