As deadline looms, La. governor and legislators air out tax differences

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - Amid a tightening deadline on state revenue solutions, final agreements between Governor John Bel Edwards and House Speaker Taylor Barras remain cloudy.

Since state law bars lawmakers from debating taxes during this spring's regular legislative session, a special session would provide the only chance for lawmakers to replace $994 million of revenue that expires July 1. Edwards' self-imposed deadline to hold the session is Feb. 19. Law requires him to give one week's notice when he calls a special session, meaning he only has until Monday to do so.

Legislators would need to complete a special session before the regular session begins March 12. The governor has argued that a special session in the final weeks of June would not provide state agencies with enough time to offset cuts, in the event of a shortfall.

"I think we need to do it in February for a lot of reasons," the governor said Thursday.

The governor, however, has held out on a formal call, citing unresolved disagreements with the Republican-led state House. The governor has rejected calls by some Republican lawmakers to renew the expiring extra penny of sales tax on a long-term basis.

"It disproportionately penalizes the most vulnerable citizens," Richard Carbo, the governor's deputy chief of staff, said this week. "It doesn't align with where Louisiana's economy is going.”

Lawmakers first introduced the extra cent two years ago, seeking to fill budget gaps. While it has led Louisiana to feature the highest combined sales tax in the country, it raises roughly $880 million a year.

"Because of the volume of dollars that need to be considered, with some options falling off the table, it may need to continue being part of the discussion," the House speaker said.

Whether a plan to renew sales taxes would garner support among two-thirds of the House remains unclear.

Edwards would rather extend a 4 percent sales tax to services like Internet streaming, massages, gardening, home cleaning and security. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Barras questioned the palatability of the governor's proposal.

"Some of those revenue enhancement ideas are just not gaining traction among members," he said.

Despite the divisions, both Edwards and Barras have voiced confidence that a compromise will prompt a special session

"I'm optimistic we'll actually be able to get that done," said the governor.

"I'm encouraged by the progress," said the speaker, saying there is a "more than 50 percent" chance of a session this month.

Both leaders will meet again Friday afternoon, before Edwards ultimately decides whether to summon legislators for the session. Barras said he does not blame Edwards for delaying the call to convene.

"He's trying to give the most amount of time possible for compromise," he said. "I'd rather come up with a good deal than worry about a deadline."

Regardless of whether a special session is called, neither the Republican speaker, nor the Democratic governor have drafted a plan that would fully close the state's $994 million gap. Figures provided Wednesday by the Legislative Fiscal Office estimate Edwards' initial tax plan would offset $761 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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