BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Calls to delay a special session on taxes would be irresponsible, allowing damaging cuts to take hold across state services, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.
The Democratic governor is planning a June special session for lawmakers, to consider tax changes that could drum up new money for the state treasury and help stave off deep reductions to education and health care programs in the financial year that begins July 1. The state is estimated to be $600 million short of the money needed to continue all current state services.
Edwards described the threat of cuts to safety net hospitals for the poor, public schools and colleges that would start in July.
"I don't think we need to wait 'til September to take action on that. That would be the most irresponsible thing to do," he said.
He said the budget that lawmakers will have to craft in their current legislative session, when taxes are off the table, will include such hefty cuts that "I think it's going to produce enough concern across the state that we will have a sense of urgency about fixing the situation."
But some lawmakers and others have questioned the timeline.
Republican Rep. Cameron Henry, House budget committee chairman, said a June session is too soon because Louisiana won't yet know how much money will be raised by tax hikes passed earlier this year. Estimates are those tax increases will bring in $1.2 billion for next year's budget, but GOP lawmakers believe the figure may be higher.
"There's no need to rush back into special session until we know how much money was raised from the previous special session," Henry, R-Metairie, said Thursday.
The head of the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Stephen Waguespack, raised similar concerns. In his weekly column, Waguespack called a June special session "clearly premature."
"If this happens, legislators will be asked to vote on more taxes without any confidence in the size of the actual budget hole they are asked to fill," Waguespack wrote.
In response, Edwards referenced Waguespack's previous position in the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose policies are blamed for many of Louisiana's budget woes.
"I suspect that that's similar to the counsel that Mr. Waguespack gave Bobby Jindal over the years that resulted in many years of midyear budget cuts because they were going to wait and see and hope, rather than take a responsible, honest look at the situation," Edwards said.
On other issues, the governor:
— Said he supports a Senate-approved bill that would expand the reach of Louisiana's medical marijuana program to add more disease states that would allow people to gain access. "I personally know too many individuals, and really particularly children, who are suffering from medical conditions and traditional medicines are not providing relief," he said. But he said he would not support any effort to legalize recreational marijuana.
— Described his concerns with a House-approved proposal to penalize jurisdictions that don't align with federal immigration law. He said he'd like the measure to include an exception to account for a legal agreement New Orleans has with federal officials regarding police actions. He said the proposal would vest too much discretion in Attorney General Jeff Landry to determine what municipalities are "sanctuary cities." But he also said he supports the intention of the bill.