The special legislative session is teetering on the brink of collapse after a crucial sales tax bill favored by Republicans was shot down Wednesday night, with only 38 of 105 House members voting for it (it needed 70 votes to pass). The sales tax bill was a critical piece of the effort to close a $994 million budget gap caused by temporary taxes that expire on July 1. After the vote, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he and the Legislature were in a 24-hour period that was “critical as to whether we can succeed.” The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
Failing to get enough support Wednesday was a measure that would temporarily renew one-quarter of an expiring 1 percent sales tax and temporarily eliminate some sales tax breaks, to raise nearly $300 million annually. Louisiana’s current state sales tax rate is 5 percent. It drops to 4 percent on July 1. The bill by Rep. Stephen Dwight, a Lake Charles Republican, would move the rate to 4.25 percent. But 0.25 percent of the tax would again be temporary, with an expiration date in mid-2021. “Is it perfect? Probably not. But it’s a solution,” Dwight said. “I did not want a billion dollars in cuts.” The sales tax proposal is backed by House GOP leaders, but opposed by some anti-tax Republicans and by some Democrats who say it’s a heavier hit to the poor. “The poor people of this state are suffering, absolutely suffering,” said Rep. Gary Carter, a New Orleans Democrat. “This is an easy no vote.”
Members from both sides of the aisle expressed frustration with the process, including several Republicans who blamed their own party for the stalemate.
“At the end of the day we’ve placed politics ahead of the people, and we should all be ashamed. Myself included,” said Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central. House Republican Caucus Chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, shot back against those who opposed the bill. “I’m tired of the blame game,” said Harris who voted in favor of the sales tax bill. “It’s time for us to man up and woman up and get the job done.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ staff watched the votes from the back of the House chamber. They said they didn’t know why the sales tax and spending cap bills were up for discussion when the votes weren’t there to get them approved. House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, hadn’t told them he was bringing up the proposals, they said. “The governor is in disbelief that the Speaker abandoned the plan that he put on the table and ended the day in such a chaotic fashion. That’s a sad day for the state,” the governor’s office said Wednesday night.
A deeper dive into the gridlock
We know what the problems are. We know what the solutions are. But we’re still having trouble figuring out what to do. That’s essentially the current state of the Louisiana legislature. The Baton Rouge Business Report’s J.R. Ball tries to make sense of the perpetual gridlock at the Capitol and its underlying causes.
Our so-called elected leaders won’t do what they all know needs to be done because every ridiculous exemption, tax credit and entitlement has a constituency that ardently believes self-interest trumps the greater good each and every time. The second verse—doing something about the disaster that is statutorily dedicated funding—is the same as the first. Each of these dedications can be eradicated with a simple majority vote in the state House and Senate, but legislators—craving campaign cash and re-election above all else—refuse to risk upsetting some myopic special interest group. Which explains why health care and higher education gets gutted every time these goombahs fail to do their job.
Spending cap is bad policy
A constitutional amendment that would arbitrarily restrict what legislators could spend each year failed in the House of Representatives Wednesday night, although a companion bill was approved on a party-line vote. House Bill 12 would change the formula that governs the state spending limit in a way that would require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to pass routine budget bills. The Advocate editorial board echoes these concerns and urges lawmakers to focus on the root problem of our fiscal woes – irresponsible budgeting by legislators.
We don’t necessarily oppose the proposal by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, but we wonder if it is has been thoroughly examined. Pushing it through the special session, with precious little in the way of public hearings and discussion, seems a course that is bound to disappoint its backers. … A constitutional spending limit that would be difficult to evade might have Barras’ intent in the exercise, but it just might have long-term problems. Arbitrary limits have a mixed record in other states; politicians are typically ingenious at finding ways around such rules. That track record should be studied, in public hearings.
Business leaders champion constitutional convention
With the special session on the brink of disaster, conservative interest groups are ramping up their push for an overhaul of Louisiana’s constitution. As previously reported by Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics Now in his subscription-only newsletter, a call for a constitutional convention has been gaining momentum among donors, politicos and lawmakers, with the business community being the latest to champion the idea. Michael Hecht, President of GNO Inc., and Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry, spoke to the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. Nola.com-The Times Picayune’s Drew Broach reports:
Waguespack said Louisiana has been handcuffed since 1932 by the “share the wealth” politics of Huey P. Long, and that the ensuing governors and legislative sessions have produced little more from the Capitol than “duct tape and twine” solutions.” That does not inspire confidence among voters or businesses, he said. “You’re going to have the tax code amended every other session. The Band-Aid approach every year is not working,” Waguespack said. “That building does not want to change.” Thus, the two speakers said, a constitutional convention with non-politicians as delegates is needed to rewrite Louisiana’s foundational document and help improve the state’s standing in the U.S.
Number of the Day
67 – Number of legislators who voted against House Bill 23 that would temporarily renew one-quarter of an expiring 1 percent sales tax and temporarily eliminate some sales tax breaks (Source: legis.la.gov)