Gov. Edwards calls for cooperation, bipartisanship at the start of 2017 legislative session

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For the fifth time in little more than a year, Governor John Bel Edwards took to the podium in the House chamber, calling on lawmakers to work together.

"I refuse to allow governing in the State of Louisiana look anything like what is going on in Washington. It's not working for them and it won't work for us," Gov. Edwards told the joint session of the legislature.

Some of the governor's goals are likely to generate bipartisan support he is asking for, including criminal justice reform aimed at tackling Louisiana's top-ranked prison population. An increase in the state's gas tax – one of the governor's other goals – may also generate some support from lawmakers.

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Other ideas, however, will be harder sells, including tax reform. The governor is calling for increased taxes on businesses and upper income earners, in exchange for reducing the sales tax and the individual income tax for an estimated 90 percent of Louisianans. Overall, the plan would generate more revenue the governor says is needed to pay for things like TOPS and K-12 schools.

House Republicans and business leaders are already pushing back on those recommendations.

"There's been no major cuts, there's been no major catastrophes. Why can't the state of Louisiana spend the same amount of money this year that we spent in the year we are in," asked Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, head of the House GOP.

The governor fired back at those calling for cuts, saying there is nothing left to trim. "Exactly what is it you intend to cut," Edwards asked. "What college or hospital do you want to close? What road in your district would you rather not see built or repaved?"

Regardless, lawmakers must do something this session about the budget if they want to avoid a looming fiscal cliff. Next year, the temporary taxes put in place to deal with last year's shortfall will go away, meaning a new deficit of about $1.3 billion.

"If we don't act now, we're going to have some very, very dark days next year," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.

"We need to make a decision. We need to find the cuts, we need to reform the revenue base, and figure out how we are going to stop this dialogue, because this dialogue is killing our state," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

Starting Tuesday, lawmakers will begin debating a variety of measures modifying the state's individual income tax.

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