Gov. Edwards: 'I can extend' special session deadline, but revenue fix still urgent

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - Seeking to replace $1 billion in revenue that expires this July, Gov. John Bel Edwards sought ideas from state Republican leaders at a meeting Monday afternoon.

The conclave included the governor, state House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) and House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), among other legislative leaders. It comes less than two weeks before the governor's Jan. 19 deadline for legislators to craft tax and spending proposals. Edwards suggested Monday that, if lawmakers show progress, he would extend that deadline and call a February special legislative session.

"If we're making progress and we're just not quite there by the 19th, I can extend it," Edwards told the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday. "But you can't extend it indefinitely, for purely logistical reasons. We have a certain window when the special session would fit."

Were the governor to call a special session to begin in February, it would have to conclude before the regular session begins March 12. Under Louisiana's constitution, legislators cannot consider tax bills during regular sessions in even-numbered years. Lawmakers failed to pass permanent revenue fixes during regular and special sessions last year.

"Saying no to everything and offering no alternatives is the biggest part of the problem," said Edwards, who took office in January 2016. "We've been waiting literally two years to get a plan from the Legislature. If that doesn't change, we're not going to have a session."

The governor said without a special session, spending cuts would be imminent. He will present his executive budget Jan. 19. State law mandates him to propose a budget that reflects the funds available.

"It's not going to be pretty," he said. "It will not reflect a budget that I want to see implemented."

Edwards added that public healthcare and higher education would see the brunt of any widespread budget cuts.

"Parents and students won't know what their tuition is going to be," he said. "Layoff notices will be required in the month of June, because you have to give people notice that you won't have the money to pay their salary."

Barras has claimed that state Republican leaders need more details on the governor's tax and spending plans before getting on board. He and other legislators intend to meet with Edwards again next week.

The governor noted other items on his 2018 agenda Monday. He hopes to raise the state's minimum wage and bridge the gender pay gap, ideas that have made little progress among the Legislature's Republican majority. Edwards also said he hopes to attract more small businesses to Louisiana by ending certain regulations.

"I think we're the only state that licenses florists," Edwards said. "I'm not sure why that is."

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