BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The governor says time is running out for lawmakers to address the state's budget mess.
"Very soon, our toes will be dangling off the fiscal cliff," Gov. John Bel Edwards told a Senate panel Sunday afternoon.
Edwards presented his worst-case budget plan, taking into account a billion-dollar shortfall, projected to kick in July 1 when temporary taxes fall off the books. Edwards admitted the shortfall will likely be in the ballpark of $700 million, thanks to federal tax changes.
Under the proposal, state colleges and healthcare for kids face cuts. Hospitals that partner with the state to provide healthcare are threatening to back out of their agreements. The TOPS scholarship program is funded at just 20 percent.
"This is the reality we're forced to live in until we summon the courage to make the changes we all know we need to make," Edwards said. "The entire economic stability of our state is at risk. Again, this is not a scare tactic, it's a reality."
However, not everyone agrees. In recent weeks, House Republicans have taken to Facebook, posting videos criticizing the governor and questioning the size of the actual shortfall. Appropriations chair Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said it could be whittled down to just $380 million but did not explain how.
"I can assure you that we're going to work every day to get that $1.2 billion deficit that he believes we have whittled down to the smallest number possible," he said.
Earlier this year, lawmakers met for two weeks for a special session but did nothing to address the shortfall. On Sunday, Edwards once again called on lawmakers to end the current session early, returning immediately for a special session to pass taxes and fill-in the shortfall.
"I remain flexible on how we fix it. I am not flexible as to whether we fix it," he said.
Later this week, the Revenue Estimating Conference will meet. Made up of legislators, administration officials, and economists, the panel will determine what the state's revenue picture looks like. This will give lawmakers a better sense of how big the budget gap really is.