Lawmakers debate taxes vs. govt. waste cuts in final hours of session

BATON ROUGE, LA (KSLA) - Less than 12 hours remain for the second special session of the Louisiana Legislature.

They have to solve a state budget shortfall worth hundreds of millions of dollars and we've now entered the final hours of voting.

Many lawmakers, particularly the Republican delegation, have sent a clear message they will block any more efforts to raise revenue through more taxes.

That's caused pushback between the House and the Senate as to what cuts to health care, TOPS scholarships, K-12 and higher education will look like without more funds raised.

On Thursday, the session's last day, Baton Rouge art teacher and New Orleans native Keith Douglas set up his own art display inside the capitol.

He says the state's problems are as big as his depiction of the head of Governor John Bel Edwards.

"It's terrible!" Douglas said. "I'm having a good time with it because, hey, if you didn't have this cast of characters, guess what? It'd be kind of boring."

With the state facing a $600-800 million budget shortfall, some members of the Senate tried to put an excess itemized bill on House Bill 50, which would have raised $88 million in taxes, revenue to help fund TOPS scholarships, education and health care. But that was rejected by the House.

"Families making $60,000 or less of combined income, which is 75 percent of Louisiana families, excess itemized would have cost you less than $100," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, (D) New Orleans. "What the House said: 'Our constituents would rather pay tuition than pay taxes.' It's not Common Core math to see $100 in taxes is cheaper than $2,100 per kid in LSU tuition."

Other local representatives point out the legislature already raised more than $1 billion in new taxes during the last session and more than $200 million in taxes this session.

They said instead, government waste must be cut.

"DHH, for example, is the largest division of state government with over a $12 billion annual budget and yet we've documents millions and millions of dollars of waste in that department alone," said Rep. Mike Johnson, (D) Bossier City.

Some lawmakers said with no more new revenue raised, the state could still face a $200 million shortfall.

As the final hours count down, Douglas plans to hold lawmakers accountable in his own way: Through his pencil.

"Some things you might like and some things you might not like but guess what? Ain't nobody's perfect," he said with a smile. "I draw about me so you know I'm going to draw about you!"

Some lawmakers have gone so far as to say this second session has been mostly a waste of time and said not enough has been done to address more corporate taxes.

Half an hour after the session closes, whenever that is, Governor John Bel Edwards is set to address the results of the new state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

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