La. governor faces a rough start during the second special session

La. governor faces a rough start during the second special session
Gov. John Bel Edwards (Source: WAFB)
Gov. John Bel Edwards (Source: WAFB)
Gov. John Bel Edwards (Source: WAFB)
Gov. John Bel Edwards (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Despite a call for action from the Louisiana governor, the first day of the second special session was a rough one for the Edwards administration.

A House committee put the brakes on many of the governor's major tax and revenue-raising measures during a meeting Tuesday. Overall, the measures they allowed through would bring in at least $187 million next year – still a far cry from the $600 million Gov. John Bel Edwards hopes to raise during the special session.

"I can't be with this without the opportunity to do reform stuff," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, during a debate over one of the tax bills. Stokes expressed support for some measures, but said she ultimately could not vote for them without a wider tax reform plan.

Early in the day Tuesday, the governor gave his third speech before a joint session of the legislature this year. While he called for lawmakers to pass a capital outlay budget and also fix some mistakes from the first special session, his main focus was on filling in the $600 million shortfall in the state budget.

"Our students can't wait. Our hospitals can't wait. Our disabled citizens can't wait," Edwards said. "Nobody likes the diagnosis of this fiscal crisis, and nobody likes the prescription, but it's time to take our medicine."

Throughout the speech, the governor laid out his ideas to fix the budget. Just one hour later, however, lawmakers began to demonstrate that making those ideas a reality will be an uphill battle.

The majority Republican House Ways and Means Committee killed a bill that would have reduced tax credits for corporations. Sponsored by Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, HB 32 would have raised an estimated $4.3 million in additional revenue next year.

The committee also stalled a series of other bills that, combined, would have brought in more than $500 million during the fiscal year starting July 1.

"I believe I would like to voluntarily defer House Bill 11 and leave it open for maybe a rehearing," said Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, to the committee while moving to table his bill for the time being. Backed by the governor, Shadoin's HB 11 would reduce how much of the federal deduction individuals can claim on their personal income tax.

Louisiana is one of just a handful of states that allows individuals to claim 100 percent of their federal deduction.

If the amount individuals could claim d ropped 57.5 percent, as this bill looks to do, Louisiana could bring in an estimated $116.7 million next year.
The bill faced pushback from lawmakers looking for wider tax reform as well as members of the small business community.

"This sort of tax increase at this stage, knowing that we're in a recession, knowing that we have tough times out there ahead of us, is a challenge to our members - the jobs creators of our state," said Dawn Starns, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Other bills also struggled to gain passage, including one that would have condensed tax brackets. HB 40 would have brought in an estimated $388 million next year.

Some revenue measures did pass through on to the House floor. The committee also advanced a bill that would clean up some of the mistakes that were made during the end of the first special session, including placing sales tax on things like Girl Scout cookies and high school football tickets.

The committee also advanced a bill for the capital outley budget, which was not passed before the end of the regular session on Monday, causing frustration for some lawmakers and the governor.

The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to consider more revenue measures Wednesday morning. Some of the governor's big money bills, including the tax brackets bill, could come up again in committee as well, but given the short length of the special session that may not be possible.

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