House Speaker: More Specifics Needed About Edwards' Tax Plan

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's House Speaker said Friday that lawmakers need more details about Gov. John Bel Edwards' tax proposals for closing a $1 billion budget gap, raising questions about whether the two sides can strike a deal by the ever-nearing deadline Edwards set.

Speaker Taylor Barras said he's optimistic lawmakers in the majority-GOP chamber can rally around a set of proposals in time to have a February special session on taxes, but he said reaching an agreement could take time beyond the Jan. 19 date set by the Democratic governor.

He also said a deal on taxes will need to be coupled with what he described as budget reforms sought by House Republicans.

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"I'm not as focused on the deadline as I am on trying to find the most reasonable solution," Barras said in an interview. "I am all into working until the 19th and beyond the 19th for a solution."

Barras is meeting with the governor Monday to continue talks.

"The governor has waited months for the speaker to offer a plan of his own so they can work out differences, but we have yet to see that plan. The governor has once again asked the speaker to meet next week, where we hope he will bring some ideas to the table," Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement.

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Edwards and lawmakers are staring down what is being called the "fiscal cliff," the expiration of $1 billion in temporary sales taxes on July 1 as the new budget year begins.

The governor wants to raise enough taxes to offset the expiring ones, to keep money flowing to government operations. House GOP lawmakers have blocked similar tax ideas when they were proposed last year.

Edwards is trying again, recommending a package of sales and income tax changes that would raise or maintain higher taxes for certain businesses and middle- and upper-income earners and let a temporary 1 percent state sales tax hike expire.

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Tax bills can't be considered in the regular legislative session from March until early June, requiring a special session to pass any tax plans. Edwards said he wants "an agreement in principle" with House Republican leaders by Jan. 19 to call a February special session. Otherwise, lawmakers could try to craft a budget that strips the entire amount through cuts or let the spending plan linger unfinished until a last-minute June special session.

Barras said House members are working on their own proposals, but he said they're also trying to vet ideas submitted by the governor without seeing drafts of the legislation being proposed or financial estimates of what they could generate.

"Those fiscal impacts on the taxpayer are the best thing I can use to measure legislative support," Barras said. "How that plays out by the Jan. 19 deadline is unclear."

Carbo said the Edwards administration hasn't received a request from the House speaker for additional information. Edwards has said nearly all the ideas he's offering have been proposed to lawmakers previously, a suggestion that prior bills and their financial analyses would be enough to determine what sort of House support might exist.

Barras countered the governor didn't give specifics about some ideas, such as what list of services would be newly subject to sales tax under one proposal. He said another recommendation to get rid of sales tax breaks hasn't been considered in that form previously.

Still, the House speaker said he's optimistic an agreement could be struck in time for a February special session.

"I would certainly not want to sacrifice a good solution that we might find on Jan. 25," Barras said.

He stressed that House Republicans want any deal on taxes to be combined with an agreement on what they consider spending reforms. Among the proposals are changes to place more limits on how much spending can grow annually and to create a more transparent system for viewing agency spending.

"Spending reform and revenue replacement have got to go hand-in-hand," Barras said.

-By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

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