Edwards: Too many House lawmakers lack urgency on budget gap
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s state senators opened their budget hearings Sunday with grim warnings from Gov. John Bel Edwards that the “clock is running out” on avoiding steep cuts to services, as he pushed back against House Republican claims that he’s exaggerating the problem.
Edwards told the Senate Finance Committee that House GOP leaders seem to have a lack of urgency about the problem looming on July 1, caused by the expiration of temporary taxes.
“Most concerning to me there continues to be a reluctance on the part of too many in the House, particularly in leadership, to recognize or deal with the budget at all,” the Democratic governor said.
House Republican leaders have suggested Edwards is inflating the size — and impact — of the shortfall to push a larger-than-needed tax package.
“They want to raise more taxes and extract more money out of the taxpayers’ back pocket,” Rep. Lance Harris, chairman of the House Republican Delegation, has said of the governor’s numbers.
The governor said the drop in general state tax revenue between this year and next is estimated to total $692 million. But House GOP leaders expect a shortfall of about $539 million instead, saying Louisiana didn’t spend all the money collected this year.
Harris and House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, a Republican, said they are seeking ways to cut spending, enact savings and use available dollars to shrink the size of the budget hole. In a Facebook video, Henry said he thinks the gap can be cut to $380 million, though he hasn’t explained how he would accomplish that.
The Appropriations Committee is expected to release its recommendations for next year’s spending plan within a week.
Edwards criticized suggestions that Harris floated to use $150 million in unbudgeted cash from this year to pay an extra month of Medicaid payments, lessening financial obligations next year. The governor described that as a short-term gimmick and said he will veto a budget that contains any such maneuvers.
Edwards is pushing for lawmakers to end the regular legislative session early, to hold another special session aimed at replacing the expiring taxes, after a special session in February failed to generate any money amid a tax negotiation meltdown in the House.
Without replacement taxes, Edwards said deep slashing would hit health services, public colleges, the TOPS tuition program and public safety services.
“Inaction risks the health and lives of too many of our most vulnerable citizens,” he told the Senate Finance Committee, which later heard of health care programs proposed for elimination if deep cuts are levied.
House Speaker Taylor Barras, a Republican, has said he supports a shortened regular session and plans for a second special session. But Barras hasn’t committed to a calendar proposed for making that early adjournment happen.
As senators started digging into the details of next year’s spending plan, some Republicans on the Finance Committee also pushed back against the governor’s perspective.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, said “there’s absolutely no guarantee” lawmakers will agree to taxes to fill budget gaps. Sen. Jim Fannin, a Jonesboro Republican, suggested the Edwards administration was asking for too much money.
“We’re growing government in this state quicker than our revenue is growing and quicker than we’re producing the quality jobs,” Fannin said.
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