LA Gov.: $300M Deficit Could Trigger Special Session Need

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday he expects a special legislative session to rebalance Louisiana's budget will be needed if a looming midyear deficit reaches $300 million or more, as projected.

         "That number is so large that it would necessitate a special session," the Democratic governor said.

         House Republican leaders, however, hope to avoid a special session.

         House Speaker Taylor Barras said he'd prefer the governor and the House and Senate joint budget committee to slash spending in the $27 billion state operating budget on their own without calling the full Legislature back to Baton Rouge.

         "I think that everybody's general feeling is that we're hopeful that (a special session) wouldn't be necessary," said Barras, R-New Iberia.

         At issue are the constitutional limits on how and where Louisiana's governor and lawmakers can make cuts when a midyear budget gap emerges. The size of the gap will be decided next week by the state income forecasting panel, the Revenue Estimating Conference.

         If the governor and the joint budget committee max out on cuts they're allowed to make and a deficit remains, a special session would be required to finish rebalancing the budget. Barras said that maximum wouldn't be hit unless the deficit tops $450 million or more.

         But Edwards suggested the parameters for where he and the joint budget committee can splash spending are so restrictive that if the deficit hits $300 million, a special session would be needed to give lawmakers more flexibility to cut across agencies.

         Otherwise, cuts would fall heaviest on areas that have fewer protected dollars, mainly public colleges and health services.

         "The larger the number, the broader the spectrum of the budget we would need to open up for reductions. Otherwise, you concentrate all of those cuts on just a few areas, and they are just extremely painful, more painful then we can bear," Edwards said.

         The governor wants to use the state's "rainy day" fund to help backfill whatever deficit emerges, but that only offers about $120 million.

         Calling lawmakers into a special session to determine how to slash spending could be a thorny political request, while also costing money for the special gathering. The special session would come ahead of a regular legislative session scheduled for April, in which the governor and legislative leaders plan to tackle a large-scale rewrite of Louisiana's tax laws. Any political battles in a special session over cuts could make those tax negotiations more difficult.

         Barras said if a special session is held to rebalance the budget, he'd want it to focus solely on cuts, not ways to raise more money to fill agency holes.

         House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said talk of a special session is "premature," until the size of the deficit is known and until the governor presents options for closing it without a special session.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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