BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Lawmakers returned to the capitol Tuesday to begin the special legislative session, but Governor John Bel Edwards was not there.
Instead, Edwards addressed the state from the Earl K. Long Gymnasium on the campus of UL Lafayette. It was the first time Edwards has opened a session from anywhere other than the capitol since he secured the office in 2015. There have been nine legislative sessions during his tenure.
"I figured you wouldn't mind a little change of scenery before getting back to work in Baton Rouge," Edwards told lawmakers during his speech.
Over the next two weeks, lawmakers will try to raise revenue to cover some or all of the $648 million budget shortfall created when temporary taxes fall off the books at the end of June. Edwards said it's time for legislators to stop the political posturing that he says has prevented budget progress.
"I believe Louisiana is best served when we come together and listen to one another, which is what I've been willing to do all along," he said. "But what I can't accept is disagreement just for the sake of being disagreeable."
Edwards promised to work with legislators, regardless of party affiliation. He challenged lawmakers to fund healthcare, higher education, and TOPS. "We've got to change it up," he said. "We need to do it now so that we can stabilize our state and so that we can budget responsibly and allow our revenue to grow with our economy."
Even though many of the options to raise revenue are the same from the legislature's first attempt this year, some legislators remain optimistic the state can solve its budget deficit.
"I'm very confident we'll come together," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. "The next two weeks will probably be the most important work that I've done in my seven years here."
James said he's offering a compromise bill that would allow him to consider supporting the extension of a portion of the fifth penny of state sales tax, which legislators seem to be leaning on to try to close the money gap.
Many legislators say they are optimistic they'll raise some revenue this time, including Edwards, who stressed the importance of lawmakers' decisions in the next two weeks.
"Will we seize this opportunity to get this train on the tracks?" Edwards asked. "Or will we make the choice to fall off the fiscal cliff?"
The session must end June 4. Debate over revenue measures begins Wednesday.