Special Session 2018: La. legislators vent frustrations with options to address fiscal cliff

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With day one of the special session in the books, tensions are already flaring at the state capitol.

During a committee hearing Tuesday, lawmakers vented their frustrations about the scope of options they have to address the state's project $1 billion fiscal cliff. "This is all I have to work with. We are in a limited session right, and I want to try to fix the problem," said Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson.

It was not supposed to happen this way. Two years ago, lawmakers voted to create a panel to come up with ideas to fix the state budget and overhaul the tax system. However, last year, lawmakers pushed those ideas. Now, they are scrambling to fill in the blanks.

The state goes off the fiscal cliff starting July 1, when a penny of the state sales tax falls off the books. State legislators are considering a handful of taxes to fill in at least part of the budget hole. Some of the ideas are directly from the task force, including changes to the income tax. However, those ideas are facing push back from Republicans and are likely dead on arrival.

Democratic Rep. Ted James did not hide his frustration in committee. "I sat here, and I heard you say I want real tax reform. They gave this as an idea of real tax reform. I am not in the business of punting my responsibility," he said.

Meanwhile, Republican Kenny Havard wants to modify the state sales tax, removing or reducing certain exemptions, including those that help industry. His idea is also not necessarily generating support. "I'm concerned about the message that this would send if we put this as permanent policy," said Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central. Ivey said he wants comprehensive reform and will not vote for a piecemeal approach.

"We can train monkeys to sit down here and push no and yes, and they don't have to do anything," Havard fired back. "Someone's got to come down here and put a bill on the table."

Lawmakers may begin voting on tax bills as early as Wednesday. Some bills did gain momentum at the capitol Tuesday, but their impact on the current budget shortfall is limited at best. House Republicans are backing bills aimed at restricting state spending. They also would like to see a new budget transparency website. Those bills got through committee and are headed for the House floor.

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