BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State lawmakers returned to Baton Rouge Monday for the start of a special session aimed at fixing the state's $304 million budget shortfall.
Speaking before a joint session of the legislature, Governor John Bel Edwards called for bipartisanship. He asked lawmakers to reach across the aisle to balance the state's finances.
"After years of budget challenges, there simply are not easy options left," Edwards said.
However, those calls may go unanswered. Partisan lines were already drawn in the sand before the session began. To sure up the budget, the governor's plan includes use of $120 million from the so-called "Rainy Day Fund" – savings set aside for budget emergencies.
"Not using the budget stabilization fund in my view would be a mistake. Not using the budget stabilization fund would inflict more pain on Louisiana than is necessary or advisable," said Edwards, who said he wants to use those dollars to spare higher education, corrections, and more from cuts.
Many Democrats raiding the fund, including Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. Barrow wore yellow Monday night in support of healthcare waivers that help the disabled and elderly. They are often put on the chopping block when the state's budget is tight.
"We have been cutting for the last couple of years and honestly there's nothing left to cut," Barrow said. "Every cut we make has a face behind it."
However, a block of House Republicans is already objecting to the use of the Rainy Day dollars. They prefer to cut now, saying it would prevent the cycle of budget shortfalls going forward.
"If you do that, it leaves us a $120 million hole next year that we are going to have to deal with," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria.
Other Republicans are open to using the dollars as a last option, but they want to see overall tax and budget reform in the regular session later this spring to put an end to the shortfalls.
"We need to stop the rain, we need everybody to grab onto their courage and do the right things, evaluate the situation and find cuts or whatever is needed to make the rain stop," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.
In April, the legislature will convene in a regular session to make bold reforms to the state's broken tax code. During that session, the legislature will consider several reform measures recommended by a bipartisan task force that will give businesses and families predictability and stability in the tax code, while bringing in sufficient revenue to fund state government.
The governor's comments at the beginning of the special session are as follows: