NEW ORLEANS - The buzz is already beginning in Baton Rouge, as legislators get ready for what's expected to be a contentious fiscal session.
“We have a lot of tough issues, and let the rumbling begin,” said Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans.
The two biggest issues are taxes and the state budget. Governor Bobby Jindal is drawing a lot of fire for his proposal to do away with state income taxes in exchange for a hike in sales taxes.
“That thing has about as much support as a Falcons fan in the Superdome,” said Badon. “You're talking about eliminating the state income tax and doing away with $3.5 billion, then we have to offset it with a higher sales tax, which would make us one of the states with the highest sales tax in the nation.”
“We want to be careful if we do reduce [state income] taxes that we're not destroying our budget,” said Sen. John Alario, R- Westwego.
“It's going to significantly impact businesses. It's going to significantly impact poor people, it's going to create more paperwork in some ways, so it's really not simpler,” said Eyewitness News Political Analyst Clancy DuBos.
While lawmakers get their own analysis of Jindal's tax reform plan, they must also wrestle with a $1 billion budget shortfall. Fiscal conservatives are criticizing Jindal's proposal to plug the gap with some one time money. Others say, it's necessary.
“We have to use this one time money to say, ‘Okay, go ahead and operate, educate our people, make sure that these hospital beds stay open,’” said Badon.
“A lot of one time money is being used in it, that doesn't seem to bother me as much as possibly borrowing some money to fill some holes, that gives us some greater concern...a lot of that money is speculative, it may not even appear,” said DuBos.
Badon is also proposing a bill that would increase cigarette taxes nearly four fold . A percentage of the proceeds would fund services on the Crescent City Connection, and another portion would fund health care.
Lawmakers will also grapple with issues like hot button education and firearms regulations.
DuBos said the 60 day session doesn't give Jindal much time to make his case on the big issues. “The governor probably has the toughest assignment of his life right now politically.”
The session begins Monday at noon, with Jindal scheduled to speak to lawmakers an hour later.