Members of the local legislative delegation have differing views as to whether a third special session to balance the state's budget can be successful.
The second special session ended at midnight Monday after legislators were unable to address about $500 million in unfunded spending for the next fiscal year.
“I’m very disappointed by the lack of progress of my colleagues,” said Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma. “I share (my constituents) frustration and their disappointment, and frankly I’m disappointed. It’s inexcusable and ridiculous.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling for another special session from June 18-27. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
“This budget funds our health care priorities and lays out a plan to fully fund TOPS, higher education, sheriffs, children and family services, our district attorneys and other critical priorities. Doing so requires the legislature to adopt the bipartisan, compromise plan that received support from an overwhelming majority of legislators. According to the bill, anything short of that would result in each of these areas being cut,” Edwards said in a statement Friday.
Coming to a budget deal is going to take compromise, said Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.
"Ultimately, there’s going to be compromise on both sides,” he said.
Magee said he sent a survey out to people in his district, and they overwhelmingly want to see a mix of cuts and revenue.
During the past year, funding discussions have largely centered around keeping part of the 1 percent temporary sales tax the Legislature approved in 2016. It's set to expire on June 30.
The majority of the House agreed to extend the tax by one third, while the Senate and Edwards supported extending half of the expiring tax.
The proposed total state tax of 4.33 percent would raise about $370 million, while the 4.5 percent would raise more than $500 million.
With two weeks in between sessions, Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Larose, said he believes there can be support to restore half of the expiring sales tax.
On the more conservative side of the aisle, Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, is advocating for reform, not reinstated taxes.
“I don’t expect (the governor) to include any possibilities for reducing spending. If so, that’ll be unfortunate,” Amedee said before the governor called the special session.
She has advocated to keep the spending the same as it has been and to stop the expansion of Medicaid.
Reform efforts are what’s needed but those were voted down during the regular session that ended in mid-May, she said.
In terms of compromise, conservatives have already compromised by coming back up to the one third percent of the temporary sales tax being retained, Amedee said.
Ultimately, if the half cent is approved with a five-year sunset on it, it could be repealed sooner if those reforms are passed, Gisclair said.
If more money isn’t found, several agencies could face large cuts, including higher education, sheriff’s offices and district attorneys.
Representatives from Nicholls State University, including President Jay Clune, have strongly advocated for the Legislature to fully finance higher education, particularly the TOPS tuition program.
“I’m proud to say that last year was the first time in a long time that we didn’t cut higher education,” Zeringue said. “TOPS is critical to funding our best and brightest.”
Terrebonne’s Fletcher Technical Community College and other technical colleges are also vital to sustaining and restoring the economy, he said.
Locally, the looming budget cuts would be a “tremendous hit,” Gisclair said.
The district attorneys' offices would lose several assistants and staff and the sheriffs’ offices could lose officers without supplemental pay, he said.
“There’s going to be some frustration, but I think a lot of people are going to be putting pressure on the leadership to give more,” Gisclair said.
Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gingerale214.