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Cuts To State Services On Line As Legislature Begins Third Special Session

Wallis Watkins
Governor John Bel Edwards addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate to open the thrid special session on Monday, June 18.

Lawmakers filed back into the Capitol Monday for a third special session. They’ll spend the next 10 days focusing on the same problem they've failed to address twice already this year. In less than two weeks, the state will lose over $1 billion in revenue. 

"The clock is winding down," Gov. John Bel Edwards told members of the Legislature Monday. "We will start the next fiscal year on July 1, whether or not we fix this cliff.”

Gov. Edwards opened the special session Monday evening, speaking to a joint meeting of both the House and Senate.

The debate will once again revolve around fractions of a penny. The state sales tax rate is set to drop from 5 cents to 4 cents on July 1. Edwards supports keeping half of that expiring penny in place, setting the rate at 4.5 percent. That way, he says, people are still paying less, and major cuts to state services can be avoided.

"This is it, our last chance to adequately fund our priorities and reduce the tax burden on the people of Louisiana by more than $550 million," he said.

Republicans in the House are split when it comes to sales tax. GOP Representative Beryl Amedee (Houma) says her constituents are struggling to make it in south Louisiana's economy and they can't afford the tax burden.

"We still have people being laid off, we still have people whose hours have been cut. This is not a time I can go back home and face my constituents and say, 'I've just solved our state budget problems by taking more money out of your pocket this week," she explained.

Rep. Stephen Dwight (R-Lake Charles) says he's willing to consider keeping some portion of the one penny in place, but exactly how much, he's not sure yet.

"I don't want to see these drastic cuts for district attorneys, for higher ed, for TOPS, for health care. But I also don't want to grow government," he says.

Right now, the state is $500 million short of fully-funding next year's budget. Edwards' request for half a penny would fill that gap.