State lawmakers reach compromise, still fall short of fixing budget

State lawmakers reach compromise, still fall short of fixing budget

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A compromise reached by state legislators still leaves an estimated $30 million gap in Louisiana's budget for the current fiscal year and at least a $500 million shortfall in the next fiscal year's budget.

The compromise came late on Wednesday night, with just minutes to go before the 6 p.m. deadline.

"At the end of the day, we could have closed the gap a little closer," said Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, the Speaker of the House.

"To go home and leave it all on the table and not fully solve the problem. It's just disappointing," said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans. "I feel like no one who leaves here today should be proud."

After days of indecision and stand-offs between House Republicans and the Senate, the bills designed to fix the budget problems only emerged out of conference committee with less than an hour to go.

"It's unprecedented to be drilled with bills of this magnitude at the last minute," Morrell said.

The first of the three, HB 62, raises the sales tax by one penny to five cents total. That tax will last for 27 months.

The second, HB 61, removes many exemptions from the existing sales tax. Those exemptions largely help businesses and industries by reducing tax.

Those many exemptions will be removed for all four pennies of the sales tax for a period of three months, ending with the start of the new fiscal year. At that point, those exemptions will be reinstated for two of the four pennies for a period of 2 years. After that, those exemptions will be fully reinstated for all four pennies.

As part of the agreement, manufacturing machinery and equipment will receive a 1-cent sales tax for 27 months as well.

Finally, HB 122 will introduce $106 million of across-the-board cuts to the state budget.

"It's never fun to raise revenue. We're not celebrating here because it's tough times in the state," said Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, who wrote HB 61.

This year's remaining $30 million will require cuts to colleges and healthcare.

"Tomorrow higher ed is going to have to make a lot of hard decisions," Morrell said.

Next year's $500 million to $800 million shortfall will also require that cuts be made to higher education and the Department of Health and Hospitals, unless lawmakers modify current state laws and unlock statutory dedicated funds.

"There's no way to trim it, there's no way to can even do it right now. That's a looming amount of money," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

"We did what we felt had to keep the ship afloat and puts some patches in but at some point we need a new ship," Morris said.

Lawmakers can only make cuts to the budget during the upcoming regular session, which begins on Monday. They cannot create new tax legislation.

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