BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards is starting an outreach effort to solicit ideas for patching a more than $1 billion hole in next year’s state operating budget, meeting Tuesday with business leaders from around Louisiana to build support for a budget-balancing fix.
The closed-door gathering at the Louisiana Capitol is intended to be the first of several conversations with people who run businesses, as Edwards tries to drum up grassroots backing for proposals to address the shortfall without devastating health and education programs.
“He wants the business community to stay involved as the process moves forward,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said Monday.
Combined with those talks, Edwards next week also will begin regional meetings with state lawmakers to discuss ways to offset the “fiscal cliff” that hits on July 1, 2018, when temporary taxes expire.
Tax ideas previously offered by the Democratic governor have failed to win support in the majority-Republican Legislature, nearly all the measures bottled up in the House, where most tax bills must start.
Any tax plans will require a special session to consider ahead of the shortfall, but Edwards said he won’t call one unless he can reach a consensus with House GOP leaders who were the primary roadblock to his previous proposals.
The shortfall will be caused mainly by the loss of a 1 percent temporary sales tax hike enacted in 2016.
That sales tax — and other temporary tax increases — were given mid-2018 expiration dates, with lawmakers and the governor saying they intended to tackle long-term tax reform to stabilize Louisiana’s finances.
But that tax overhaul never happened this year.
Ideas offered by a nonpartisan task force created by lawmakers to reform Louisiana’s tax structure, most of which were embraced by Edwards, were bottled up and killed in the House, with GOP leaders there opposed to the bills. A separate idea pushed by the governor to enact a new tax on business also was a nonstarter.
House Republican leaders sought to lessen spending in this year’s budget to shrink the size of the financial gap next year, but that proposal also didn’t win final passage in the Legislature amid opposition from Edwards and Senate leaders.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said he welcomed the governor’s outreach to the business community, which comes after Edwards earlier this year described large corporations as not paying “their fair share” of taxes as he sought to shift more of the state tax burden to businesses.
“Hopefully, these meetings will be where some of that harmful rhetoric is taken back and the collaborative trends begin to move our state in a different direction,” Waguespack said in his weekly opinion column.
Waguespack won’t be at Tuesday’s meeting, which Carbo said wasn’t aimed at statewide business associations but at those people running companies.
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