Edwards calls for special session to address nearly $1 billion fiscal cliff

Gov. John Bel Edwards called for a special session starting on Feb. 19, which must end by March 7.

“The Louisiana Legislature is required to convene at the State Capitol each year for regular, general, sessions,” said Communications Director for Governor John Bel Edwards Shauna Sanford. “During even-numbered years, a general session is limited to non-fiscal matters. Fiscal matters can only be taken up during odd-numbered years. An extraordinary or special session is called to deal with matters that cannot normally be addressed during the regular session.”

The special session brought state legislators back to the state Capitol at 4 p.m. on Feb. 19 to discuss the looming “fiscal cliff.”

“A special session may be called by one of two ways, either by the governor or the legislature, in which case a majority vote is needed from both the Louisiana House of Representatives and the Senate,” said Sanford. “A special session can only last for a limited amount of time but no more than 30 days. Bills proposed by state lawmakers must all pertain to the scope of the subject matter as outlined in the proclamation issuing the call for the session. This current special session is set for 17 days, Feb. 19 to March 7, 2018.” 

Sanford explained Edwards’ reasoning for this session and that Edwards is not hoping to fully fund the cliff.

“Gov. John Bel Edwards called this special session specifically to deal with the looming fiscal cliff, which is when nearly $1 billion in temporary revenue will expire on June 30, 2018,” said Sanford. “If that money is not replaced, drastic cuts will have to be made to critical state services and programs that many people rely on. That is exactly what Gov. Edwards wants to avoid, which is why he is asking for state lawmakers to replace the portion of the temporary revenue that will go away and stave off the cliff. Out of the $1.3 billion in temporary revenue that is expiring, Gov. Edwards is asking the legislature to replace only $994 million. This is a top priority for the governor.”

According to Sanford, legislators had the opportunity to avoid this special session.

“No one is surprised by the fiscal cliff,” said Sanford. “State lawmakers have known about this for well over a year. As Gov. Edwards reminded them during his opening speech of the special session, the temporary measures they approved two years ago were supposed to serve as a bridge to long-term tax reform. Had they made those reforms, there would not be a need for this special session.”

Since Edwards’ inauguration in 2016, he has called for five special sessions.

“Each one he has called has been convened to deal with the state’s budget crisis,” said Sanford. “When Gov. Edwards was first elected in 2016, he inherited a $1 billion budget shortfall that had to be addressed within three months and a second shortfall of more than $2 billion that had to be addressed for the following fiscal year. A fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30. While special sessions have certainly been called under other governors, the financial problems Gov. Edwards inherited from his predecessor have been unlike any in recent state history.”

Higher education is an at risk area for funding if the fiscal cliff is not resolved.

“Gov. Edwards has not only talked about his commitment to reinvesting in higher education, but he has worked with others in a bipartisan way to take the necessary steps to make that happen, and the positive impact is being felt statewide,” said Sanford. “However, if the current state budget crisis is not resolved, students and the state will lose ground on the progress that has been made. The truth is there are only two main areas of money to pull from to prevent the cuts, higher education and health care. Constitutionally, the governor is required to present a balanced executive budget. Last month, Gov. Edwards met his constitutional obligation, but it was not the budget he wanted to present, nor is it the one he wants to see implemented. The cuts are too deep. While it is an honest budget, it reflects that state’s obligations and the current state funds that are available to cover those obligations.  

Sanford expressed Edwards’ support for funding higher education across Louisiana.

“To be clear, Gov. Edwards wants to fully fund TOPS and keep the state’s commitment to students,” said Sanford. “Under his administration, funding for higher education has been stabilized for the first time in almost a decade, which is important for parents, students and the future of the state.”

Sanford explained the effects Edwards’ commitment to higher education has had so far.

“Because of the strides we have made, Louisiana landed the largest economic development deal in the state’s history last year and the second best in the country in large part because we are doing a better job of funding higher education,” said Sanford. “Southeastern Louisiana University is one of the nine members of the University of Louisiana System, which is the largest in the state. As a result of fully funding TOPS and bringing stability to higher education, the admission requests for schools in the UL System next fall have increased dramatically.”

However, Sanford described the potential dangers of the current fiscal cliff.

“There is no denying that significant gains have been made,” said Sanford. “There is also no denying that not solving our current fiscal problems poses a real threat to halting that momentum. It could reduce opportunities for students to go to school or continue their education. Funding for TOPS is in jeopardy, which means thousands of students, just like those at SELU and their parents, can’t move forward with plans for college because they simply don’t know what will happen with TOPS. This is what Gov. Edwards and many lawmakers are fighting to prevent.”

Sanford believes the solution can only be found through teamwork.

“Finding a solution to our fiscal problem will take a bipartisan effort, everyone working together to reach a compromise,” said Sanford. “This is something Gov. Edwards emphasizes repeatedly. Although it’s proving to be challenging, he believes it can be done and is optimistic that a solid solution will emerge. There’s too much at stake.  He and members of his administration are meeting regularly with lawmakers from all political parties as well as with the leadership of the House and Senate.”