BATON ROUGE (USA Today) — A House panel passed a tax bill to raise almost $400 million to mitigate Louisiana’s budget crisis, but tempers continued to flare in this contentious Special Session, raising questions about whether the bill can win two-thirds support.
House Bill 27 by Rep. Lance Harris was the only tax bill to clear the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday, but Democrats and Gov. John Bel Edwards said it isn’t enough to prevent deep cuts as the state faces a $648 million shortfall.
Harris’ bill would create an additional one-third cent sales tax and remove some sales tax exemptions for five years. Committee members voted 11-6 to move the bill favorably.
Harris, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, said his plan would preserve critical services while shrinking state government by 1.3 percent.
“Our plan reduces the size of government while making sure nobody is kicked out of the the nursing homes and TOPS is left intact,” the Alexandria representative said. “It’s not going to be comfortable, but it’s not going to be catastrophic.
“It’s enough hopefully to fill holes where our critical needs are.”
Harris said his bill represents the best chance for any measure that would raise taxes.
The shortfall was created because $1.4 billion in temporary taxes expire on June 30. Next year’s fiscal year begins July 1.
Harris’ bill would require two-thirds approval, or 70 votes, in the full House, where some Republicans will balk and Democrats may oppose because they don’t believe the bill raises enough money.
“I think you’re going to face a difficult time getting Democrats to vote for it in the House,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Johnson of Marksville.
Others bemoaned passing another temporary tax.
“The treasurer warned us against this,” said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, noting it could hurt the state’s bond rating.
State Treasurer John Schroder, a Republican, testified that rating agencies don’t like temporary taxes, but said that is only one factor in determining a state’s bond rating.
Harris said his choice to make it temporary was practical.
“This is the bill I brought forward because I think it has the best chance of passing,” he said.
Harris’ bill passed after the committee rejected House Bill 11 by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, that would have raised a one-half cent sales tax and eliminated some sales tax breaks. It would have raised $543 million.
Throughout the hearing tempers simmered and sometimes boiled over.
Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, cut off fellow Republican Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner, saying he wanted debate to be focused on the bills rather than pontificating. His ire was also directed at Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge.
“I’m not going to sit in here and listen to a lot of political speeches,” Morris said.
Morris, Stokes and Ivey exited to a side room where their heated exchanges were loud enough to be heard in the committee room.
“Just another example of the good ole boy network only listening to what they want to hear,” Stokes tweeted. “Here’s a novel idea: treating others with respect.”
Later, when Harris began presenting his bill that included criticism of Edwards, Democrat Rep. Major Thibaut of New Roads to cut Harris off and walked out. Thibaut later apologized and actually made the motion to approve Harris’ bill.
The full House is expected to vote on Harris’ bill Friday morning.