Partisan tensions flare at the La. capitol over tax reform, budget

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With two weeks to go in the 2017 legislative session, tensions boiled over at the capitol with House Democrats and Republicans locking heads over taxes and the budget.

"This is insanity," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

On Thursday evening, House Democrats blocked a bill that provides funding for hundreds of construction projects across the state. Their goal: force Republicans to the negotiating table on tax and budget reform.

"We needed to find a way to have a real conversation about the important issues that impact our children, our schools, our hospitals," said Leger, who noted that he and other Democrats are frustrated Republicans have killed multiple bills aimed at overhauling the tax system without even giving the measures a hearing on the House floor.

Last year, lawmakers from both parties pointed to 2017 as the year for tax reform.

Added to that, state legislators still have not addressed an impending budget shortfall that will happen next year after several temporary taxes fall off the books, including a one penny increase to the sales tax. Without that money, many state programs would be forced to take deep cuts.

"They failed to bring forward bills to solve the problem. We have a $1.3 billion cliff. It's got to be solved. They have not lead on this," Leger said, referencing the Republicans.

However, Republicans labeled the protest vote as "Washington-style politics," saying Democrats are holding the money hostage. That includes funding for everything from building repairs at LSU and Southern to road projects in the Baton Rouge area.

"There's not anybody that's not touched," said Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge. "Those issues they fight for in every appropriations meeting. Those are concerns they have. They're passionate about these things, and yet you see a block of a funding."

Throughout the course of the session, Republicans pushed back against the governor's tax overhaul bills, in part because they said those measures would have amounted to a tax increase. Fiscal hawks have called for keeping state spending flat for this year.

"We can't give away what we don't have," said Edmonds.

The political fallout continued on Thursday. With relations frayed, the House delayed key votes on bills that are part of a bipartisan prison overhaul package.

As a result of the protest vote, Democrats and Republicans have set up a closed door meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 30. However, leaders do not appear optimistic that any sort of compromise will be reached.

The top three leaders at the capitol, the governor, Speaker of the House, and Senate President, all have called a special session "inevitable."

The session must end by Thursday, June 8.

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