Louisiana Lawmaker Wants Special Session On Budget, Taxes

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A state lawmaker from the Houma area wants his colleagues to convene a special legislative session to tackle Louisiana's continuing budget problems.

         Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Gray, sent a petition Tuesday to House and Senate members, asking for their support to call a 14-day special session starting March 30.

         Harrison wants lawmakers to consider removing special budget protections that leave public colleges and health services more vulnerable to cuts than other agencies. He also wants lawmakers to consider scaling back some of the state's tax breaks for businesses, after a review to determine if they are job creators or just giveaways.

         Louisiana has grappled with repeated financial troubles since 2008, faces a $1.4 billion budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 and could have another deficit to close before the current fiscal year ends.

         "We're in a situation, it's almost like Groundhog Day, year after year for many years now," Harrison said in an interview. "We've failed to sit down and really look at the inherent problem that we have."

         But Harrison's effort — which would require support in a written petition from a majority of House and Senate members — is a long-shot at best.

         The Legislature has called itself into session only once since the modern state constitution was enacted four decades ago, for the required task of redistricting and with the support of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Both chambers are led by allies of the governor.

         Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley oppose the idea of a special session, saying lawmakers can address the items on Harrison's list in the two-month regular legislative session that begins April 13.

         "I don't see any reason to come in early at the expense of the taxpayers when we can accomplish what he has in his petition in our regular session," Kleckley said.

         Jindal spokesman Mike Reed echoed similar sentiments, saying in a written statement that the administration doesn't think "it would be a good use of taxpayer dollars" when the same issues can be debated from April through June.

         Harrison said ancillary issues tend to distract lawmakers in their regular legislative session and take time away from debate that should be centered on the state's budget woes.

         "I've been here for eight years now, and I've never seen it be a priority," he said. "This is just a kind of shot across the bow. It's trying to get people to wake up to what's going on."

         Harrison's petition for a special session strikes at areas that lawmakers repeatedly cite as problems when they craft the budget each year, but that they have done nothing to change so far.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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