Governor Sets May 15 Target For Tax Study Recommendations

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards urged a study group looking at state budget and tax policy to give him preliminary recommendations by May 15 for ways to raise money to fill financial gaps, according to a letter released Friday.

         A report from the task force, created by state lawmakers, is due in September. But Edwards said the state "simply cannot wait until September" and needs some ideas sooner to avoid deep budget cuts in the financial year that begins July 1.

         Louisiana faces a $600 million shortfall in the upcoming budget year, threatening slashing across safety net hospitals, public schools, higher education and the TOPS free college tuition program. The Democratic governor is hoping to get proposals for tax changes that would drum up new money, ahead of a planned June special session aimed at lessening cuts.

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         "If this shortfall is not addressed before the beginning of the next fiscal year, we will have dramatic and unsustainable cuts to essential parts of state government," Edwards wrote.

         Task force members have been working since March and questioned whether they could meet the governor's timeline.

         "I do not know if we can have something ready by May 15," said Jim Richardson, the LSU economist who is co-chair of the task force. "Now, we could have something ready a little bit later than that."

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         Study group member Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said he didn't want to spend so much time trying to solve short-term budget woes that the task force loses its legislatively-mandated focus on broader financial reform.

         "One concern I have is the more focus and attention we put on the special session, in particular in trying to fix a particular number for the jam they're in right now, the less we're going to be able to focus on the whole long-term structural purpose of this committee," Scott said.

         Richardson and other task force members said the group should seek input into the special session, to make sure any tax changes proposed would conform to the goals of longstanding improvement to how the state raises and spends its money.

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         In his letter, Edwards echoed a similar theme, asking that the recommendations by May 15 "be in accord with the Task Force's anticipated comprehensive, long-term approach to tax reform."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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