BATON ROUGE, La. — House Republicans on Tuesday released details of spending controls they want from Gov. John Bel Edwards in exchange for considering taxes to fill Louisiana’s $1 billion budget gap, describing their passage as required to reach a financial deal.
The items proposed by House Speaker Taylor Barras in a three-page list had been talked about broadly in the ongoing budget and tax negotiations. But the list provided the first set of specific details, in response to Edwards’ push for additional information.
It also represented an ultimatum of sorts as House GOP leaders and the Democratic governor haggle over taxes sought by Edwards to replace expiring sales taxes that threaten to force sizable cuts when the new budget year begins July 1.
Barras wrote in a letter sent to the governor with the spending control suggestions that without passage of the proposals, a budget agreement couldn’t be struck. He said he and a majority of House members require the ideas “to be part of a final solution.”
“House members feel strongly about coupling these reforms to revenue measures being proposed in an effort to achieve a balanced solution,” the House speaker wrote.
The proposals would tighten limits on annual state spending growth and create a new website called Louisiana Checkbook to track state spending.
In the Medicaid program, some patients would be charged copays for certain health services and medications and premiums for the government-financed insurance, and some non-elderly adult enrollees would be required to work or lose their coverage.
Exemptions for the work requirements would be allowed for children, people with disabilities who are deemed “unfit for employment,” pregnant women, people in a drug treatment program, or parents caring for children under the age of 1 or children with severe disabilities. Others would have to work — or participate in a volunteer or training program — for at least 20 hours a week.
Barras said House Republicans want the ideas included in any agenda Edwards sets for a possible February special session. While the ideas wouldn’t necessarily chip away at the size of next year’s budget gap, Barras has said they could lower the state’s costs in the long term.
Edwards said he needed more financial analysis to vet the recommendations — and details on what taxes lawmakers would support in exchange.
“Once the speaker offers his plan to address the fiscal cliff, we can begin negotiations. While none of these measures accomplish that, I view them as a positive development in our ongoing discussions,” the governor said in a statement.
Edwards wants a tax package passed in a February special session to replace the $1 billion in expiring sales taxes, but he’s been unable to strike a deal with House Republican leaders so far. The governor said he won’t call the session without an “agreement in principle.”
If lawmakers want to replace the lost revenue with taxes, that requires a special session, either before the regular session starts March 12 or after it ends June 4. Otherwise, they’ll have to slash spending, cuts that are expected to fall most heavily on health services and college programs.
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