To date, the questions have been--how much can the Republican-controlled legislature cut this legislative session and how much more revenues, in the form of taxes and reduced exemptions, can the state stomach, once the legislature goes into a special session later this spring and early summer.
Yet, some industry leaders and legislators are saying, “whoa, Nelly, not so fast”. The argument continues—“things are not as bad as we once thought it would be. We won’t know the budget numbers and just how bad the hole could be until later during the year, so, let’s give the taxpayers a break, for once”.
More particularly, the issue is, how much should the Louisiana legislature cut during the current legislative session and do we really need to call the legislators into another special session, so soon, if we can provide an more palatable and feasible solution?
The game plan has been that Governor John Bel Edwards would call the legislature into special session in June shortly after the current legislative session ends. According to the latest Revenue Estimating conference projections and recent administration adjustments, the state is looking at a roughly $600 million anticipated shortfall for the upcoming budget year 2016-17 that starts July 1. Governor Edwards and allies contend the legislature will not be able to find enough cuts before the end of the current session, thus, a special session is necessary to balance the budget, a constitutional requirement, as per state law.
Complicating this political talk over scheduling is the very fact that taxes have been raised on business and on the voters by roughly 2.5B in the 2015-16 budget process and according to the governor and others, more is likely on the way, by necessity.
According to Greg Hilburn of Gannett:
“The House Appropriations Committee will take up the 2016-17 fiscal year budget that begins July 1 and members are staring down a projected $600 million hole.
On the line: TOPS, the state's popular college tuition program; the very survival of four safety net hospitals; state park closures; and more cuts to higher education.
"The reality of what a $600 million budget hole looks like is about to set in," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, the leader of the House Republican Caucus and a member of the Appropriations Committee.
Gov. John Bel Edwards presented his recommended budget, which includes a $183 million cut to TOPS and other painful reductions, to House Appropriations Committee members at the beginning of the session, but now it's in their hands.
Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, has made it clear the committee will craft it's own budget regardless of Edwards' recommendations and has insisted TOPS will be fully funded.
The governor acknowledged during a press conference this week the budget is under the committee's control, but Edwards was skeptical members will find many alternative options to the ones he presented.
"The committee and the Legislature has the prerogative to move $183 million (to TOPS), but it will further expose other areas to deeper cuts," he said. "I didn't enjoy presenting the (recommendations), but I'm obligated to present a balanced budget."
Henry asked all committee members for input, and their work will be reflected in the budget presented Monday.....
However, apparently leading the charge to postpone the special session, if needed at all, is the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). It’s argument has been, that the budget scenario might not be as bad as being presented therefore taxes don’t need to be raised during that unnecessary special session anticipated for June. Plus, depending how the numbers fall, the upcoming budget just might not need to be scalped, as deep as expected, during this regular session. (Read LABI's President Stephen Waguespack's column fro this week)
The argument continues that the heavy lifting on the budget, in terms of any special session, ought to be postponed until later during the year.
In the age of real time reporting and debate, this very discussion materialized today online on twitter (and obviously can be continued here and on that social media platform after this article is published).
This morning, after I started to write this very article about the upcoming hearing as described by Hilburn, I suddenly saw a tweet by LABI’s Camille Conway, noting that there is good news, that corporate revenues are up.
Having already read and published LABI’s President Stephen Waguespack’s opinion this week, that it is premature to schedule the June special session to raise, perhaps, unnecessary taxes, I inquired on twitter about the details of the revenues news as per her tweet and the implications.
Shortly afterwards, in responding to my comments, jumping on the tweet discussion was Waguespack who said and then i replied:
“do we put agency uncertainty over giving taxpayers a brief reprieve? Budget is +200m SGF at this time.”
uunderstand...but, can universities and others agencies wait for uncertainties, in budgeting? just asking?
Read the twitter conversation below by clicking on it, scroll up and join in and share with others
The major relevant and ultimate point is this—not only will and should Louisiana lawmakers and voters debate over the next few days and upcoming weeks, the extent of a budget hole but, also the actual process and timing of filing it that deficit.
So, as I put this article to bed, it should be noted aside from the weighty matters being reviewed and debated as to the future of all of us, we are doing so in new ways, like never before. The beauty of the marriage of government, technology and communications today, is that important issues such as the future of governmental services and the personal and societal costs involved, can now be explored openly, not only in the quiet chambers of the states’ capitols, but on the Internet and social media by Industry captains, media, elected officials and other interested parties.
The new democracy in action allows stakeholders to opine and provide important information for all to question, in the transparency of the digital marketplace. In this case, as certainly will be so in the future, the hope is we make best choices since more information is readily available, not only to more people, but, through open and real-time engagements.