When Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday, the main topic was no surprise: he talked about the fiscal cliff, and his proposal to fix it.
"For decades good government groups have been sponsoring studies of our tax and our budget system, and have been making these same recommendations," he said. "Is this the year we’re going to finally summon the courage and the will to do the people’s business?"
Edwards says he’s confident he’s got the votes for parts of the plan — at least, those requiring a simple majority.
"There’s 56, 57 votes in the House,” he said of the Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans who came together in the second special session last year to get the budget passed.
But some things will require a two-thirds vote, which means 70 of the 103 House members.
"The difference between 56 and 70 is — obviously — 14. But getting that 14 is very hard," the governor said, with a rueful laugh. “And you really can’t get it without leadership being in support of what you’re trying to do.”
With a meeting planned with House leadership Monday afternoon, he was asked if he fully trusted what they might tell him.
"I have pretty good level of trust in what they tell me," Edwards said. "They just don’t often tell me much that has any specificity to it. We’ve been waiting for literally two years to get a plan from the legislature?”
The governor has announced he has set Jan. 19 as the deadline for reaching "an agreement in principle," in order to call a special session in mid-February. That's the day he delivers his proposed budget to the legislature. By law, it will have to include the billion-dollar-plus loss of revenue. Is that a hard deadline? he was asked.
"I am certainly willing to be flexible, but I’ve got to have some plan that comes back from the legislature. If we’re making progress, and we’re just not quite there yet by the 19th, I can extend it."
House leaders have said they want more details on how the federal tax reform act will impact Louisiana's revenue, which Edwards says staff is trying to calculate. But the governor also warns that House refusal to act cannot continue indefinitely.
"At some point, saying no has to give way to an alternative. You can’t wait forever,” he said, adding, “We know how to fix it. We just have to summon the will, the courage, to get it done.”