Can La. legislators pass a budget in a shorter session? Doubts are rising

Local News

Mystery looms at the Louisiana State Capitol, over whether lawmakers will adjourn the regular session roughly a month ahead of schedule, to accommodate a special tax session before revenue expires July 1.

The push for a shorter session has interest from Gov. John Bel Edwards, Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras. The extraordinary session would start in mid-May and adjourn by June 4, the regular session’s original end date, in order to save taxpayers from additional expenses.

Anticipating a shorter regular session, committees are upping their pace, meeting more often and considering more bills than usual each meeting.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge). “We’ve been going at a fast pace on some of the areas.”

But some lawmakers predict that the coming weeks of session will face heated disagreements that could slow the 1,100-bill agenda. House Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry eyes budget cuts, rather than revenue measures, to close most of a $700 million gap. His goal is meeting uncertainty among his fellow House members.

“Most of the meetings are going on in vain,” said Rep. Kenny Havard (R-St. Francisville). “I don’t see us passing a budget this session that we can live with, or the state can live with, or the constituents can live with.”

Cutting hundreds of thousands from the state general fund would likely prompt cuts to health and higher education programs.

“I’m not going to vote for a budget that has that many cuts that are going to harm the people of Louisiana,” said Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge).

Lawmakers have long disagreed over whether cuts or taxes should address the cliff. The ideological split ultimately doomed negotiations last month, during the first special session of the year. Legislators adjourned without an agreement in place.

Hoping to power through the shortfall debate and hold a special session in less than two months, some elected officials said they’re willing to meet on Friday, when they are typically in their home districts.

“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do in the last session, so we need to suck it up and do whatever we have to do to make it right,” Havard said.

“I think that’s what we need to do,” said Smith.

For now, the chambers have no official plan to convene on Fridays. House and Senate leaders have yet to follow through with the governor’s goal to abbreviate the regular session.

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