Louisiana Lawmakers Holding Tax Talks Ahead Of Next Session



 

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ahead of a third special session this year, Louisiana lawmakers are restarting talks about a possible sales tax deal that could lessen budget cuts that hit state services in three weeks.

Senate President John Alario said House and Senate leaders, along with other lawmakers, were meeting Monday to try to broker a tax compromise. Alario said he expects additional meetings ahead of the special session opening next week.

The hope, the Republican Senate leader said, is to open the special session with the parameters of a deal in hand.

"That would be an ideal situation," he said. "It's possible."

Louisiana is expected to bring in $648 million less in the budget year starting July 1, a shortfall tied to the loss of temporary taxes. Gov. John Bel Edwards called special sessions in February and May aimed at filling the shortfall. Both collapsed without closing the gap, the latest session ending with angry words and recriminations about who was to blame for the failure.

"It's absolutely important that we move past all that," Alario said. "We need to move on. It's too important for the people of this state."

Edwards has called a third special session, a 10-day gathering to start next Monday, aimed at replacing some expiring taxes and avoiding deep cuts. Only sales taxes can be considered.

The budget that takes effect July 1 would slash spending across most agencies outside of health care services to stay in balance if no additional dollars are raised by lawmakers.

The TOPS program would cover only about 70 percent of tuition costs. College campuses would take new cuts after nearly a decade of reductions. A wide array of public safety programs would be slashed. The food stamp program would be eliminated.

Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras and House GOP leader Lance Harris didn't return phone calls Monday about this week's legislative meetings.

Tax negotiations are expected to pick up where they left off when time expired June 4, centered on the expiration of a 1 percent sales tax hike that would drop the state sales tax rate to 4 percent in July.

The Senate agreed to renew one-half of the expiring tax, to have a 4.5 percent sales tax rate on July 1. That bill would have fully financed the budget that passed and avoided steep cuts.

House lawmakers disagreed on the rate on the last day of session, with a bipartisan majority supporting a 4.5 percent rate and House GOP leaders pushing a 4.33 percent rate that garnered about one-third House support. Neither proposal reached the two-thirds vote required.

Edwards supported the Senate version, which raised less money than he wanted.

Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, a Democrat, said the talks between the House and Senate are aimed at trying to determine what hurdles exist to reaching an agreement, particularly among two-thirds of House members.

"What we can do to help them get a consensus, or is there no way to get to a consensus?" he said.

- by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter

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