- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. John Bel Edwards has been meeting with groups of lawmakers over the last week, trying to build support for a fast-approaching special session on taxes.

The Democratic governor wants to raise an additional $600 million for next year’s budget in the special session that begins Monday, 30 minutes after the current regular session ends, to stave off cuts across education and health programs.

He continues to face Republican resistance to taxes, particularly in the House, after lawmakers earlier this year - in another special session called by Edwards - raised more than $1.2 billion in taxes for the upcoming financial year that begins July 1.

Edwards said in an interview Friday that he believes the House and Senate’s difficulty crafting a budget without the additional $600 million helps build his case for taxes with lawmakers.

“We are nowhere near having a budget that adequately funds what all of us believe to be critical priorities,” the governor said. “I think the need for the second special session and more revenue is more evident now.”

Up for discussion in the special session are proposals to scale back tax breaks, raise income taxes on some middle- and upper-income earners and make tax changes that could have businesses paying more to the state.

The governor said he’s been sitting down with legislative leaders, individual groups of lawmakers and the Republican and Democratic caucuses in recent days to make his case and talk about the tax proposals.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, set a $450 million target figure earlier this week as what was needed to pay for the state’s top priorities. Edwards disagreed.

“We have tremendous needs out there and the $600 million shortfall is a bare bones, status quo, standstill budget even without any consideration for inflation,” he said.

The full list of items that Edwards included in the parameters for the special session could raise more than $700 million, but everything on the list isn’t expected to win support.

One item that seems likely to pass is an increase in premium taxes on health care organizations known as HMOs, to draw down additional federal health financing for the state.

Lawmakers passed a similar measure in the first special session, but the formula was rejected by federal health officials. The reworked proposal would generate about $130 million for the budget, Edwards said.

As lawmakers ready for the 18-day special session, outside groups already are pushing back against the need for additional money for the budget.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is urging lawmakers to vote against any additional taxes, saying the state isn’t yet certain how much was raised in the first special session and citing job losses and other signs of a statewide economic slump. The organization said more work should be tried on reforming government.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte


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