NEW ORLEANS -- Gov. John Bel Edwards said it's time to make tough choices after years of irresponsible budgeting at the state capital.
"The revenue shortfall is of historic proportions," Edwards said. "No governor has ever come into office in the history of our state with a deficit as large as we have."
The state budget deficit now stands at $750 million for the current fiscal year, and $1.9 billion for the new fiscal year starting July 1. The governor is proposing a menu of budget balancing options for lawmakers to consider during a three week special session beginning on Feb. 14.
His proposal to add a penny to the state's four-cent sales tax is drawing fire from fiscal conservatives.
However, Senate President John Alario says lawmakers will have to learn to compromise on new taxes, because the alternatives are potentially catastrophic.
"Our universities would have to shut down, aid to our hospitals would be drastically cut, aid to the mentally disabled would be just devastated," Alario said. "I like that (Edwards) has taken bold steps. It's not a politically popular thing that he's proposed," he added. "But, at least he had the courage to say here's a plan to solve the problem."
Right now, the state's 4 percent sales tax ranks 38 in the nation. When you factor in local sales tax, the rate jumps to third in the country, at just over 9 percent statewide. The added penny would raise the tax to the highest in the nation at more than 10 percent.
"There are going to be tough votes," WWL-TV Political Analyst Clancy DuBos said. "It's going to be hard getting to the 70 votes in the House the governor needs. I think the Senate will be a little bit easier, but they're all going to be difficult."
Governor Edwards promises the new one penny tax is meant to be a bridge, not a permanent levy.
"There is going to be some short term associated with this," Edwards said. "It is a bridge to a new tax structure. Once that structure's in place, then the penny would go away."
If accepted, the proposed one penny sales tax would be implemented in April and raise about $216 million this fiscal year. The tax is expected to raise $907-million during a full year.