Louisiana is facing a major budget shortfall that must be corrected in the coming months.
Because a number of temporary taxes will expire later this year, the state’s budget is expected to have about $1 billion less in revenue than it plans to spend in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Lawmakers and the governor have known for a year and a half that this situation was coming, but Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican leaders in the Legislature don’t appear close to settling their differences and solving the state’s money woes.
“The taxpayers of the state deserve more than general talking points and vague concepts,” said House GOP Caucus Chair Lance Harris. “It is shocking to see so many of our Democratic colleagues blindly following the governor without knowing any specifics of his plan, what will be in the bill or what the impact will be to families and businesses. Maybe they believe you have to pass the bill to know what’s in it.”
For their part, Democrats have said Republican lawmakers, while remaining opposed to any tax increase or extension of the temporary taxes, have suggested no meaningful spending cuts that would get the state closer to balancing its books.
It is a disappointing situation, but it is hardly surprising.
Louisiana has faced similar crises for years now, a continuing situation that has led to deep and repeated cuts in spending on health care and higher education – two places where the state’s priorities should lie.
The answer lies in finding some combination of spending cuts and tax hikes that will bring the two sides of the balance sheet closer together. Everyone in Baton Rouge should know that.
And the longer partisan interests take precedence over the interests of the state, the people of Louisiana will continue to suffer.
It isn’t easy to show political leadership and courage, but that is exactly what is demanded. They have been the state’s primary need for years, but they have been in short supply in Baton Rouge.
Our lawmakers and the governor must work together to craft a compromise that both sides can accept even if neither side loves it.
But the two sides cannot continue to ignore one another and simply put forward their own tired ideas time and again. They have done that for years, and the result has been harmful to the state and its people.
Edwards has said he will present a budget overview by Friday, and he plans to call a special legislative session to deal with the budget in February.
Those are both good signs, but only if they are embraced by a spirit of communication, cooperation and compromise by both sides of this ongoing standoff.
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