BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Speaking before state legislators, the Louisiana governor made a call for cooperation, but will it fall on deaf ears?
"For the next 17 days, I'm asking you not to think as Democrats or Republicans, but think first and foremost as Louisianans," Governor John Bel Edwards said before House and Senate lawmakers.
Legislators are gathered for the fifth special session in just over two years. The focus is once again the state budget. Starting July 1, a penny of the state sales tax falls off the books, creating a budget shortfall somewhere in the ballpark of $1 billion. After failing to do long-term budget and tax reform last year, lawmakers are now left trying to piece together a fix.
"The can has been kicked down the road so far that the only place left for it to go is right off the cliff," Edwards said.
Like in the past, higher education and the TOPS scholarship are facing the knife. The governor's worst-case budget proposal includes an 80 percent cut to TOPS. The health department is also up for cuts, including to programs that provide services for disabled children. Parents in yellow shirts were at the capitol in force, begging lawmakers to spare their kids.
"It's exhausting, it's my seventh session in two years," said Ashley McReynolds. Her 11-year-old son receives one of the healthcare waivers that is facing cuts.
Lawmakers from all political stripes seem to agree that taxes are needed to fill in at least part of the budget gap. "There's going to have to be, I mean, it's just not going to fit without some help," said Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall.
But the consensus ends about there. Already, legislators are drawing a line in the sand. Many Republicans are open to keeping part of the penny of sales tax, while Democrats are expressing opposition.
"Some of the sales tax, I don't have the problem with that," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.
"I cannot continue to play this game, a full penny, half penny," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. "It is a really regressive sales tax. It will hit the poor more than anyone else."
Lawmakers have until Wednesday, March 7 to reach a deal or they could be back for another special session. Every day lawmakers spend in Baton Rouge costs taxpayers anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000.