SPECIAL SESSION 2018: Sales tax bill fails, session to fix fiscal cliff on collision course with failure

SPECIAL SESSION 2018: Sales tax bill fails, session to fix fiscal cliff on collision course with failure
Louisiana State Capitol

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A special session to fix Louisiana's budget shortfall is on a collision course with failure after state lawmakers voted to put the stake in a key tax bill Sunday night.

The bill would have preserved a portion of the expiring penny of sales tax, filling in a portion of the projected $1 billion shortfall. The House voted 33-70 against the measure, with a combination of Democrats and Republicans casting 'no' votes.

"Everybody in the chamber knew that it was about to blow up and the session was about to end," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

With the bill dead, the fate of the special session is in question. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said they will have to "move mountains" to get any fiscal cliff fixes through before the session's Wednesday deadline.

"Sometimes you've got to make tough decisions to make things work for people in general, and these decisions weren't that difficult and I think they should have come to some agreement on them," he said.

The bill's failure was in part the result of a great deal of distrust between lawmakers. The order bills were voted in also had an impact.

Democrats – especially the Black Caucus – wanted to vote on a change to the income tax first so they could guarantee it got through to the Senate. The sales tax, they say, disproportionately hurts the poor while the income tax changes would end up costing upper-income earners.

Without both bills in motion, the legislature would not be pursuing a "balanced" approach to fixing the cliff, said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.

"For Rep. [Stephen] Dwight and the speaker to go up there and ignore what has been the agreement for the past week and a half is almost laughable," James said, referencing the order in which the bills were to be voted on.

But the sponsor of the sales tax bill said he did not know about that agreement. Despite repeated warnings from Republicans and Democrats alike on the floor that the sales tax bill would fail if the income tax measure did not get a vote first, Rep. Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles, called for a vote on the sales tax bill anyway.

"Different members in the House were looking for reasons to vote against the bill anyway, and I think it was just the ball moving as we went along," Dwight said.

During an earlier vote on the House floor, many Democrats voted against the measure, citing concerns about it being tied to changes to the state's Medicaid program. Amendments adopted without opposition Sunday stripped those changes from the bill.

In dueling statements, the House Speaker and Governor pointed the finger at each other, blaming one another for the failure of the tax bill and, by proxy, the session itself.

"The Governor's continual demand that the only solution to the fiscal cliff was to raise $994 million or nothing while being unable to garner the support of his House Democrats, contributed to the collapse of this session," Speaker Taylor Barras said in a statement.

"House Republican leadership did not negotiate in good faith. The uncertainty they are imposing on our state will have a direct impact on our economy," the governor said.

The House returns to the floor Monday at 4 p.m. What they will do remains unclear.

"If we're just going to play games, I don't see why we're all taking time away from our family and costing the taxpayer $60,000 per day," Stokes said.

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