LAFAYETTE — Legislators spent the last couple of months in Baton Rouge, working to fix the state’s budget woes.
After not doing so during the regular legislative session, state lawmakers did pass a budget during a special session that followed. While that is now in the rearview, for those who attended One Acadiana’s Legislative Session Recap Thursday morning, there is still plenty of work to be done to right Louisiana’s fiscal future.
Sen. Eric Lafleur, Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, Rep. Stuart Bishop and Rep. Mike Huval shared with One Acadiana members their thoughts on what took place during session as well as what is possibly ahead for the state. One Acadiana, formerly the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, hosted the event Thursday morning in Lafayette.
One of the major issues facing the legislators is the $1 billion “fiscal cliff” that looms July 1, 2018, the start of a new fiscal year. The legislature passed some temporary 27-month taxes last year, including a 1-cent sales tax increase that generates nearly $900 million. That expires on June 30, 2018. “We are probably going to be faced with a vote for a short-term extension of that penny,” Bishop said. Both Bishop and Huval said the initial vote on the 1-cent tax served as a compromise, with the idea that some long-term changes would be put in place.
“When I agreed to vote for the penny it was a compromise,” Huval said. “That 27 months was to give an opportunity for government to make changes, whether it was to raise revenue or make cuts.”
Those changes have not yet come.
“We have yet to get those accomplished,” Bishop said. “There’s no question about it.”
Bishop said that serious looks should be given at cuts from within the government as part of a long-term solution. “I personally think the (state’s) departments need to find where they can make cuts,” said Bishop, who is a business owner. “In my business, I look at the bottom line. I know where I have to make cuts. We have 16 different departments in the state. I know they can find places where they can cut. If they can’t, I promise you I can go sit down with them and it won’t take me long to find out where they can make cuts. “We need a smaller government.” Bishop added that he is not against the creation of more revenue.
“I am OK if we have to do that to get ourselves through where we are right now,” he said, “but we need to come up with smart business answers as we go forward.”
Many revenue-raising measures met opposition during the regular session, most not even getting out of committee.
“If there are 20 different measures to reform,” Lafleur said, “that means 20 different people might be paying more or less in taxes and they all show up.”
Randy Haynie, Chairman of One Acadiana’s Governmental Relations Committee, said that was the case.
“I attended about 80 percent of the hearings,” Haynie said. “Every instrument that came up had a different constituency against it. The business community was there in force. I am not talking about one person there to testify, but 50 people and some days you have more than 100 people there to testify.”
Huval echoed that statement.
“I didn’t get one phone call from back home with someone asking me to please raise their taxes,” Huval said. “The people who were coming to the table were business-minded people saying that their businesses could not afford for those things to actually happen.”
A special session is expected to happen early in ‘18, with the fate of the 1-cent sales that expires later in the year to serve as a major focus. Anita Begnaud Vice President, Governmental Affairs & Communications for One Acadiana, said One Acadiana will keep a close watch on the process that affects its members.
“We heard from tons of business owners about things that would have been harmful to business,” Begnaud said. “We strongly advocated against those. We want you to know that we are going to remain extremely engaged as we move forward on how the fiscal cliff is addressed.”