Special session chatter persists through holidays

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics


Will Louisiana lawmakers be forced to gather in yet another special session in the New Year?

That’s a question representatives and senators, along with officials from the Edwards Administration, are openly pondering as 2016 transforms into 2017 and a new budget deficit begins to surface.

A current fiscal year shortfall of around $300 million is anticipated, which lawmakers will have to address sooner than later.

The two-month regular session that convenes April 10 is already weighed down by other hefty issues it will be hosting, like the 2017-2018 budget debate, significant tax proposals and criminal justice reform.

As a result, according to sources in the Edwards Administration, a special session held prior to the spring regular session may be “inevitable.”

That sentiment started to spread during the Legislature’s annual Christmas party at the Capitol on Dec. 15. Earlier that day the Joint Budget Committee voted to close a $313 million deficit from last fiscal year, which created some goodwill in a building that has become better known for its conflicts as of late.

If another deficit emerges for the ongoing 2016-2017 fiscal year, it will be the 15th time Louisiana has suffered a midyear budget gap over the past nine years, according to an Associated Press tabulation.

Making the most recent deficit official is tasked to the Revenue Estimating Conference, which computes the state’s cashflow and decides how much money the government can spend.

The REC meets next in mid-January and state officials, although they know it to be unlikely, would prefer the panel find a huge spike in revenue.

After two special sessions and a regular session that resulted in a slew of temporary tax changes, lawmakers were hopeful that they had solved the challenges facing this fiscal year. But those tax increases passed earlier this year failed to bring in as much money as forecasted.

Legislators were also hopeful that another special wouldn’t be needed in 2017 — especially following a record-breaking number of continuous days served in session in 2016.