BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The special session is over and lawmakers' work is finished. After 17 weeks and four sessions, lawmakers found a compromise to solve the fiscal cliff.
One lawmaker said the repeated failure of the previous votes had humbled House members, and Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, said the 4.45 percent sales tax compromise she authored was "the sweet spot."
But a little bit of everything had to go right for lawmakers to solve a decade-old problem three days before the June 27 deadline.
"None of us here at the capitol won during this special session," said Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. "Not me, not the legislature, not Democrats, not Republicans, but the people of Louisiana did win."
Edwards and House Speaker Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, held a meeting Friday morning to lay out the compromise agreement. Before this session, Edwards and Barras were often publicly at odds. Within hours of the bipartisan meeting, Republicans and Democrats split their differences and extended 4.45 percent of the state sales tax until 2025.
Edwards said before the session began that lawmakers were running out of time and the growing sense of urgency might lead to quicker action. "The cliff was six days ahead of us," Edwards said Sunday. "The facts didn't change and the options for us to consider didn't change."
The legislature narrowed the $648 million budget shortfall to $507 million in the first special session by eliminating some tax exemptions and redistributing money. It also eased some Legislative Black Caucus members' concerns by increasing the earned income tax credit. Some members of the Black Caucus would not vote to extend the sales tax in previous sessions because they said it disproportionately affects the poor.
Republicans agreed to extend more of the tax as long as TOPS and higher education were fully funded, Davis said. Republicans sponsored a 4.25 percent extension of the tax bill in the first special session, 4.3 percent in the second, and 4.4 percent in the third. Democrats consistently argued for more.
"I don't want to be known as somebody in favor of taxes," said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville. "But I'll be damned if I'm going to cut $100 million from higher education in the State of Louisiana when I know that's what we need to make this state what it can be."
TOPS, higher education, and healthcare are fully funded. The elderly will not be kicked out of nursing homes, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will continue. In the end, most government services will not be cut at all.
The tax expires in 2025, essentially creating another fiscal cliff. Edwards said he would continue to work for tax reform, but acknowledged that the legislature would probably not take on that challenge during next session because it is an election year.