By Matt Houston, Sarah Gamard & Katie Gagliano, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The House failed to advance any revenue-raising measures to the Senate Wednesday night, and some lawmakers fear the the special session might end Thursday and delay resolution of the state’s budget crisis until June.
The key bill, authored by Rep. Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles, would have extended a quarter of the one-cent added in 2016 to state sales tax until 2021. It failed, 67-38.
Democrats and a number of Republicans voted against the bill, arguing that the bill kicks the can down the road and creates another fiscal cliff in three years. Additionally, House Democrats, particularly members of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the bill disproportionately hurt poor people.
Legislators added several amendments to the bill on the floor that reinstated certain tax exemptions for businesses. By the end of the evening, no one knew exactly how much revenue the bill would raise.
The House did move three Republican-backed spending reform and transparency bills, and other revenue-raising measures are still scheduled for debate.
But maintaining the sales tax was one of the integral pieces to a bipartisan compromise this special legislative session, which Gov. John Bel Edwards called to address the state’s budget shortfall when $1 billion in temporary taxes expire this summer.
Debate before the bill’s failure led to a massive airing of grievances, particularly from Republicans about their own members’ their own members’ partisan behavior.
“I find it quite ironic that it’s our Democratic colleagues who are opposed to the sales tax when what we’ve heard preached the last two years by Republicans is ‘We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, said during a fiery admonition directed at members of his own party. “Yet, the grand solution for Republicans is to support a sales tax. If it’s just a spending problem, then we don’t need the sales tax.”
“The problem with hypocrisy in rhetoric is that you eventually paint yourself in a corner,” Ivey continued. “We don’t want a Democratic governor to get re-elected, and we don’t want to give him a political win by doing tax reform.”
“Why not take what you can get now?” Harris retorted in a speech sparsed with subtle jabs at Ivey and Democrats. “I’ll be able to say ‘I tried’ when we’re cutting $600 million from the budget.”
Harris told Republicans who spoke against the bill that he and the House leadership had made an attempt to reach across the aisle, and he didn’t believe Louisiana operates like Washington.
“I’m sorry, Rep. Harris. We are here because of politics,” said Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, who earlier said former Governor Bobby Jindal had “raped” Louisiana when he cut taxes after Hurricane Katrina.
“We had a governor who thought he was going to be president, and we supported him every chance we could,” he said.
Shortly after Dwight’s bill failed Wednesday night, several members openly questioned why the House was not calling for final adjournment, or “sine die.” Ivey tweeted afterward that he was prepared to make the appropriate motion. House leadership did not allow him to speak.
Republican Caucus Chairman Lance Harris, Alexandria, called for members to keep their cell phones handy, presumably to continue negotiations.
Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said Wednesday morning that members would be “willing to throw in the towel” in the event the Legislature did not move forward on revenue negotiations by Wednesday night.
“Technically, we have until Monday to get something to the Senate,” Magee said. “But I think we’re all here [Wednesday] with the idea that this is the last moment.”
During his speech, Ivey called for a second special session in June with an expanded list of items the Legislature could consider so that they can implement significant tax reform.
“We’re acting like kids,” Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, said. “Do we have a spending problem? I’ll have a drinking problem by the end of this session.”