LA House fails to pass Republican budget bill

Rep. Lance Harris’ bill, which would raise less revenue than Gov. John Bel Edwards...
Rep. Lance Harris’ bill, which would raise less revenue than Gov. John Bel Edwards wants, failed in the House Friday. | Photo Credit: Sarah Gamard / LSU Manship School News Service(KALB)
Published: May. 25, 2018 at 8:56 PM CDT
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The House failed to pass a Republican bill on Friday that would have raised a third less money than what Gov. John Bel Edwards is seeking to deal with a projected budget shortfall.

The bill, written by Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria, who heads the Legislature’s Republican delegation, needed 70 votes to pass, but received only 64, with 38 against it.

The House plans to return on Monday afternoon to try again to pass a bill that would start consideration of possible tax measures in the special session that runs through June 4. The Senate, which is thought to favor a bill that would raise more revenue, cannot act until the House passes a bill.

The failure of the proposal on Friday was reminiscent of the House’s inability to pass any kind of tax bill in a special session that collapsed earlier this year. But Friday’s bill came closer to passage than any of the earlier bills, and House leaders will see if it is possible to make changes that would attract more votes.

Harris’ bill would have extended one-third of a penny of state sales tax that is set to expire this summer and taken other steps to raise $369 million in additional revenue. Harris maintains that the budget shortfall is likely to be $495 million and that state agencies would suffer 1.3 percent cuts on average under his plan.

Edwards, a Democrat, has said that based on official estimates by the state revenue board, the impending budget shortfall is $648 million, and he has said there could be substantial cuts to higher education and health services if not enough money is raised.

Edwards supported a bill by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, that would have extended a half-cent of the expiring sales tax and raised $547 million, leaving a $101 million shortfall. That bill was rejected by a House committee Thursday.

“We have a very short window left to fix the fiscal cliff and fund our critical priorities,” Edwards said in a statement after the House vote.

“While I’m disappointed that we haven’t made more progress to close the budget gap,” he added, “the fact that a majority of both the Republican and Democratic caucus members supported renewing a portion of the expiring revenue gives me hope that we can come to an agreement very soon. We have to.”

Of the 61 Republicans in the House, 38 voted for Harris’ bill, and 24 voted against it. Twenty-two of the 40 House Democrats voted for the bill, while 15 voted against it.

Even the Legislative Black Caucus, which is typically one of the most united voting blocks at the Capitol was split on Harris’ bill-- 10 members voted for the bill and 14 voted against it.

All three Independent representatives in the House voted for Harris’ bill. Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, and Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, were absent.

The House on Friday also rejected 57-40 an amendment by Robert Shadoin, R-Ruston, that would have raised the sales tax from one-third of the penny to half a penny.

Shadoin said he was trying to help his constituents as he thought that extending one-third of the penny would not be enough.

When asked about preferring to raise taxes over making cuts, Shadoin responded, “We had 10 years and a couple of months to do that.”

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, blamed House Republicans for the stalemate. He argued that the legislators were there because conservative ideas “never got out of the body that is largely conservative.”

The Shadoin amendment aimed to ensure more Democratic votes for Harris’ bill. But Harris objected, saying that exceeding one-third of the penny was not the intent of his bill.

“More important than that,” he said, “this state can afford to reduce government spending.”

He added that his bill was a compromise “because we have absolutely been through the ringer” in the last session and “everybody’s saying it’s very difficult to get 70 votes.”

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, supported the bill despite his preference for an increase to half a penny.

“I certainly don’t like this bill,” he said, “I think it falls short in fixing our shortfall, but it is a very important start.”

Earlier Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced several bills that would extend reductions to certain corporate income tax deductions and tax rebates and maintain changes to individual income tax credits for taxes paid to other states.

The bills were originally intended to bring permanent changes but were later amended to terminate in 2025.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, sponsored the trio of bills that have the support of Gov. Edwards. She said the purpose of her proposals was to “balance the interests of business with the interests of our constituency.”

The bills would bring in a combined $54 million in additional revenue beyond what the Harris and Landry bills would raise. The full House did not consider those bills on Friday.

The committee also voted 9-5 to reject a proposed expansion of an earned income tax credit that was seen by some as an effort to offset the impact a renewal of the sales tax would have on the working poor. Members of the Black Caucus have pushed for this change.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, is one of three bills filed this session to expand the program by varying degrees.