BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The logjam at the state capitol has broken up - at least for now. After a week-long stalemate over how to avoid deep cuts to higher education, healthcare and more, five tax bills overcame their first hurdle Sunday night.
The House Ways and Means Committee sent the bills to the House floor for consideration. They are designed to fill in part of a $1 billion shortfall projected to take effect starting in July when a penny of the state sales tax falls off the books.
Last year, lawmakers punted a decision on tax and budget reform, so they are now left scrambling to fix the fiscal cliff.
"Long-term structural reform is not possible at this time, so we're dealing with what is," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-Baton Rouge.
However, going forward those bills face an uncertain future. One raises the sales tax by a quarter penny. It was amended to expire in 2021, setting a new deadline for tax reform. Some lawmakers believe they are just kicking the can down the road again.
"We are telling the voters again something temporary, I have very little confidence we're really going to do some real tax reform," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.
The other key bill reduces an exemption some middle- and upper-income earners can claim on their income tax returns. Some lawmakers believe the legislature should instead be focusing its attention elsewhere, eliminating tax breaks for big business instead.
"I say everybody pay a little bit, and not ask our individual citizens and small business to bear the entire the load, which they bear the brunt of it right now," said Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe.
At the end of the day, lawmakers still have a long way to go. The bills as written raise a couple hundred million dollars - far short of the projected $1 billion cliff.
"We're still looking at drastic cuts for many of the programs," James said.
The tax bills are scheduled for a vote on the House floor Monday.