Vitter vows special session on budget, taxes

by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

Louisiana's perpetual budget problems are becoming the main focus of the governor's race.

Photo by Derek Bridges/Wikimedia

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's perpetual budget problems are becoming the main focus of the governor's race, with Republican front-runner David Vitter announcing Thursday he would immediately call a special legislative session centered on the budget and taxes if elected.

As he revealed his intentions, Vitter also took a swipe at Gov. Bobby Jindal for not doing enough to end the cycle of deficits and shortfalls.

Vitter's campaign said the special session would focus on: removing budget protections that leave public colleges and health services more vulnerable to cuts; reviewing tax breaks to determine if they benefit the state; and cutting other tax rates "to spur economic growth."

"Gov. Jindal should be doing this now. I'll do it the minute I'm sworn in. We need to break out of this never-ending cycle of budget chaos and cuts to vital areas like higher (education)," Vitter said in the statement.

Jindal is term-limited in 2016. Besides Vitter, three other candidates have announced they're running in the Oct. 24 election: Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards.

While Vitter's ideas were sweeping in scope, his announcement was short on details.

No specifics were given about the tax proposals, including whether the tax break review would be done with an eye toward scaling back the giveaways to generate more money for the budget or what tax cuts he'd like to see. Vitter campaign spokesman Luke Bolar didn't immediately respond to questions.

Louisiana has struggled through repeated financial gaps since 2008, Jindal's first year in office. The state treasury has taken hefty hits from the national recession combined with sizable tax cuts approved by Jindal and his predecessor when the state's finances were flush.

Jindal has refused to raise taxes — or to scale back tax breaks if the changes will bring new dollars into state coffers. But rather than match state expenses to annual revenue, Jindal and lawmakers have turned to property sales, legal settlements, tax amnesty programs and other one-time sources of cash to fill gaps.

That leaves new shortfalls to fill every year, and the plunge in oil prices has worsened the woes. The gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1 tops $1.4 billion and could grow larger.

To balance next year's budget, Jindal is considering cuts of $250 million to health care services, which could grow to as much as $1 billion when federal Medicaid matching dollars are lost. The Jindal administration also is floating the possibility of slashing more than $300 million from public college spending, which could be devastating to campuses.

In addition to reworking budget and tax laws, Vitter also said he'd seek to increase financing for state transportation projects and propose a highway building plan after his special session.