A sign of the current state of Louisiana’s budget and political landscape: The special session dedicated to solving the state’s “fiscal cliff” that began this week has already gone through a tumultuous round of stalemates and broken deals, and has even left a lawmaker in tears over the negotiations.
Clearly things are not playing out exactly as Gov. John Bel Edwards, who projected cautious optimism ahead of the session, and lawmakers initially envisioned. Higher education leaders have pushed hard for lawmakers to solve the issue sooner rather than later, worried if TOPS and higher education funding remains in limbo until June recruiting efforts will suffer.
There is still hope yet; the session isn’t scheduled to end until March 7. And the latest reports from the State Capitol indicate a break in the gridlock could be on the horizon.
Regardless of how it plays out, these tumultuous first days of the special session suggest the House of Representatives—where tax increases must originate—is still embracing the contrarianism that has left much of Edwards’ agenda on the floor of basement committee rooms over the past two years.
The Republican-led House kicked off Edwards’ tenure by breaking with decades of tradition, installing its own GOP choice, Taylor Barras, as speaker of the house. Since then, Republicans have successfully thwarted some tax hikes, leaving the Legislature at large with the task of finding budget cuts to make. Edwards has called lawmakers into five special sessions to take up tax and budget measures.
Currently, House GOP members have shown some willingness to extend part of the fifth sales tax penny passed two years ago under the guise of a bridge to permanent tax reform (tax reform that has remained elusive). Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for certain income tax changes that would hit higher-income taxpayers.
Assuming those proposals pass—which is certainly not a given—it’s not even clear they would fill the entire $994 million budget gap Edwards says he wants to fill.
If the first week is any indication, higher education leaders should not consider themselves out of the woods for a summer special session yet.