A day after the fifth special session in two years ended without addressing state government’s looming fiscal cliff, FOX 8 News asked the republican chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and the democratic House Speaker Pro Tem about the way forward as the regular legislative sessions begins Monday.
"The problem will be solved when republicans and democrats just figure what's the best way to move forward on the money that's allotted,” said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Chair of the Appropriations Committee.
"There is a very distinct way forward. It has been recommended time and time again from experts across the political spectrum and that is to stabilize our tax structure in a meaningful way, not to kick the can down the road, not to replace our formally stable tax structure with sales tax alone,” said Rep. Walt Leger, D-House Speaker Pro-tem.
FOX 8 Political Analyst Mike Sherman said the lack of progress on the budget mess is not good for state leaders image.
"Nobody looks good in this situation, it's a half-a-dozen special sessions in just a couple of years and we're no closer to resolving this fiscal cliff,” Sherman stated.
Leger laments that recommendations fashioned by a bi-partisan group of experts on the legislature’s behalf remains on the shelf.
"We have so many recommendations on how to improve that from experts and so many of those things have just been taken off the table by my colleagues without any reasonable debate,” he said.
Henry said there is still too much state spending. He believes there are areas to cut before delving into possible deep budget reductions.
“We can't continue spending more and more every year and continue paying for all this,” said Henry.
Gov. John Bel Edwards blames republican House Speaker Taylor Barras for the House not approving new revenue measures to help the budget situation. Come July 1, a billion dollars in temporary taxes will expire leaving a hole in the budget Edwards has proposed for the new fiscal year.
And the governor has challenged republicans who control the House to come up with ways to cut $700 million from the budget.
“I think that's a broken record tune that's almost worn out when you look at the vote that happened. That would imply that all the republicans voted no on all the taxes and all the democrats voted yes, but if you look at it, it's quite the obvious. I think the onus is on everyone now because everyone had the opportunity to vote for those taxes, both republicans and democrats...so I think we all have to get together and look and see where we're going to make the cut,” said Rep. Henry.
Henry believes the state budget continues to have fat that can be cut.
“Oh, absolutely. If you look at again, La. Dept. of Health is a $15 billion budget, $7 billion of that goes to managed care organizations and I think we have seven audits right now addressing different issues that LDH has,” said Henry.
With changes in the federal income tax law, the state is expected to realize an additional $300 million in revenue during the new fiscal year, dropping the budget shortfall to under $700 million.
"There is a lot of rhetoric around it, but when you get done to specifics I have never heard anyone explain to me how they can rationally cut $692 million in state general fund out of our current budget,” said Leger.
"If you're looking at who to blame? that's what everyone is doing right now. The blame game is already in place, I think that the voters haven't actually felt the impact of a billion dollars in budget cuts,” said FOX 8 Political Analyst Mike Sherman.
Still Leger and Henry agree that these ongoing budget crises aren't good for the state government's credit rating."
"So, in Baton Rouge they're calling this the fiscal cliff, we haven't fallen over it just yet but observers around the country including those important credit agencies are watching us because if we can't solve this problem we're going to follow the fate of many other states who turned to financial turmoil,” said Sherman.
"This problem is going to be solved, really excluding the governor,” said Rep. Henry.
The governor and House and Senate leaders are talking about condensing the regular session so that another special session can be held, all within the time that is usually allotted for the regular session.
Leger said that would save taxpayers money. He also understands the criticism that money wasted on the just ended session.
“We spent countless hours negotiating and working, trying to get to a compromise on this, my hope is during the regular session we move on to some other matters, there may be a way for us to come back together, “ said Leger.
Henry is not sure another special session should be held.
“If it’s going to be run like the last one and the governor is going to call another special session on the hopes that he has the support to do what he wants to do, no, I mean one of the issues that I think we all learned from this past session is that this problem is going to be solved really excluding the governor,” said Henry.
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