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Legislators set special session to begin June 1

John Dupont
Plaquemine Post South

BATON ROUGE – Budgetary and fiscal matters prompted Louisiana lawmakers to call for a special session that would begin the moment the regular session ends June 1.

The workload in the special session will involve 41 budgetary items.

The move came just three weeks after legislators returned to the State Capitol, where they hoped to accomplish their tasks on a schedule shortened by nearly two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The session could last until June 30, which marks the deadline legislators face to present a budget for Gov. John Bel Edwards to sign and move into the 2021 fiscal year that begins midnight July 1.

“I’m hopeful and optimistic we can get our jobs done and get a budget prepared,” said state Rep. Jeremy LaCombe, D-Fordoche, who represents a portion of Iberville Parish. “But there’s so much uncertainty in regard of revenue, what’s coming in and how bad an economic hit we will take.

“We’re all very hopeful, but we still have a very long road ahead of us.”

Lawmakers must somehow deliver a budget despite a huge shortfall in revenue due to lost sales tax during the two-month quarantine. They must also address a plunge in oil prices that has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipated revenue since January.

The combination delivers a crushing blow to the state, and when very little time remains to fix it, LaCombe said.

“It’s abnormal … it’s not the way we would normally do things,” he said. “We’re all making up the rules as we’re going on in a situation we’ve never dealt with before.

“Never before have we faced a pandemic at the same time as we deal with a global oil crisis,” LaCombe said. “We’re trying to sort it all out.”

The extra time could also open the door for lawmakers to override possible vetoes of two bills that consumed much of the discussion since their return to the State Capitol on May 11.

Legislators tried to get votes in place for tort reform as they went into the Memorial Day weekend, but the bill could likely get the veto from Gov. Edwards. He may also veto another bill that would block local governments from suing oil and gas companies for coastal damage.

A bill to legalize fantasy sports will also go before legislators.

The current budget plan would include $80 million in cuts, which would likely shave off 2 percent from stage agencies, including the Department of Corrections.

It would also slash $22 million from state colleges and $18 million from the Department of Health.

The nosedive in the price of oil and the shutdown during the coronavirus led the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference last week to cut fund expectations for the coming year by nearly $1 billion.

REC projections include a $316 million drop in sales tax revenue, along with a $351 million hit on severance taxes and $172 million less from casino and riverboat gambling.

The downfall leaves the state with $11.5 billion, a tumble from the $12.6 billion figure the REC agreed upon in April 2019.