Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday called the long-anticipated special legislative session.

The session, which will be focused on closing the estimated $1 billion that will afflict next year’s budget, is scheduled to begin Feb. 19.

While the shortfall of $1 billion is significant, and the problems and choices facing our state leaders are daunting, none of this is any surprise.

The Legislature and governor passed a handful of temporary sales taxes two years ago to fill a budget gap that year, and the bulk of those taxes were set to expire this year. The rationale at the time was that temporary taxes would head off the crisis that year and allow a comfortable time for officials to debate and enact long-term tax reform.

The two years have passed without any discernible process in addressing long-term reform. Yet the end of June will mark the end of this temporary tax revenue and necessitate some changes.

The Legislature must now work with Edwards to head off the looming “fiscal cliff,” as some officials have called it.

And there have been some signs of a willingness to compromise, always a welcome sight when our officials are tasked with something so difficult and so important.

“There is growing consensus among lawmakers that the fiscal cliff can and should be addressed in February, and I agree,” Edwards said in a written release Friday announcing the special session. “This special session will give us the opportunity to make reforms that we all know are needed in Louisiana to stabilize our budget and tax code making it more predictable and fair for Louisiana taxpayers.”

The governor had said recently that he was unwilling to call the special session unless he had an agreement with Republican lawmakers on a general path forward. Although there is no indication that the two sides have reached such an agreement, the calling of the special session has to be a sign of progress.

Louisiana has long struggled with its fiscal stability. We have gone from one crisis to the next for about a decade without any meaningful attempt to address the core issues.

The $1 billion gap remains the most pressing challenge. But our lawmakers and governor also owe the public a slate of lasting reforms that will keep this scenario from arising once again in six months or a year.

The calling of the special session was necessary. Now, the important and difficult work must begin.

 

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.