PHOTO BY SARAH GAMARD/MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE
Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, told the governor’s office that Republican lawmakers would offer cost-saving proposals on Tuesday and identify possible areas on Friday for possibly raising state revenue.
Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras told Gov. John Bel Edwards' office Monday that Republican lawmakers would offer several cost-saving proposals on Tuesday and identify areas for possibly raising state revenue on Friday, aides to the governor said Monday.
Proposals by the Republicans could break a stalemate with the governor and start talks that could determine whether Edwards will call a special legislative session in February to deal with the state’s looming budget shortfall.
Barras could not be reached for comment, but Richard Carbo, Edwards’ deputy chief of staff, said the speaker had told the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cooper, about the GOP’s plans this week. Tucker Barry, the governor’s press secretary, said Edwards expects to hear from House Speaker Taylor Barras tomorrow. As far as whether a proposal appears, Barry said, “We should be hopeful.”
Few details have trickled out about what the Republicans are considering. But Carbo said he expects Tuesday's Republican proposals to include creating a government spending website for greater transparency and requiring Medicaid recipients to work and make copays for medical visits. Those are ideas the governor has indicated he is willing to consider.
Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, said she has heard several revenue-raising ideas floated among GOP legislators, including a possible two-year renewal of half of the one-cent increase that was added in 2016 to the state’s portion of the sales tax.
That increase, which brought the state’s share of the sales tax to five cents, is due to expire at the end of June. It was meant to give the Legislature time to come up with a permanent solution.
Edwards has said he would only consider extending part of the sales tax if legislators agreed to produce more permanent reforms in a special session and the sales tax extension would provide a bridge until revenue kicked in from the other changes. Otherwise, he has said, there is no guarantee long-lasting revenue measures will be implemented in the future.
State officials had estimated that the state would face a $1 billion budget shortfall after the additional penny of sales tax expired, though they now are saying that the gap might be closer to $800 million.
Economist Steven Sheffrin, who served on the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, said another temporary tax measure is the worst thing the Legislature could do. The task force’s 2017 recommendations formed the basis of Edwards’ revenue proposals.
“I think everyone is getting tired of this and they want to have a system that’s stable and will last a few years,” Sheffrin said. “Right now we’re in a situation where every year or so these things are changing. It’s hard to keep up with this unless you’re involved every single day and that’s not the way a tax system should be.”
Stokes said the Republicans also are talking about establishing a tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment. The GOP also would rely on the federal tax changes and improved revenue projections to fill the fiscal cliff, she said.
Louisiana is one of a few states that lets residents deduct their federal taxes on their state returns — so the recent federal tax cuts could reduce the deductions for federal taxes and increase state tax collections.
The uncertainty surrounding the amount of revenue the federal changes might produce has been a sticking point for Republicans. Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said legislators on both sides of the aisle would like a better idea of the true size of the fiscal cliff when making decisions about raising revenue, but an answer may not come soon. Carbo said the Revenue Estimating Committee has signaled a number could be available in May, but nothing is confirmed.
McFarland is bringing one of the reform bills and said it would include changes to the state’s Medicaid program. McFarland said other legislators are partnering on several other reform bills that could make appearances this week.
Medicaid copay, which already is implemented in 17 states, would require an insured individual pay for a part of medical costs.
Critics say the policy hinders low-income recipients from receiving necessary medical attention, though the charges typically are modest. Proponents say this would encourage fewer doctor visits and reduce taxpayer costs.
A work requirement, which is also in place in other states, would not apply to pregnant women, people with disabilities or the elderly. Proponents say the incentive would help lift some recipients out of poverty.