A clearer picture emerged Thursday about the winners and losers in the most recent shuffling of how the Legislature would divide the revenue from extending four-tenths of a cent of sales tax.
Republicans touted the four-tenths plan as a way to restore full funding to higher education, Go Grants, and district attorneys’ salaries while shaving one-tenth of a penny off a sales tax extension that Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed.
But under that plan, TOPS scholarships would be cut by 10 percent, sheriffs would receive $11 million less than last year for housing state prisoners and other departments would be funded at standstill budget levels.
“Tell me what you need, not what you want,” Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, told one Democrat. “Are they going to be happy they have reductions? Of course not. But you and I have both been here long enough to know not everyone will love it.”
The House on Thursday rejected a bill that would have extended a half-cent of sales tax that Gov. John Bel Edwards has said is needed to avoid significant budget cuts.
The vote was 60-40 in favor of the bill, but it needed a two-thirds majority, or 70 votes, to pass. Thirty-seven Democrats, 20 Republicans and three independents voted for the bill, and 38 Republicans and two Democrats voted against it.
Minutes before the House adjourned Thursday evening, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, made a desperate plea to both Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise Friday.
“I don’t think it’s any secret to anyone in the building that we are in extreme deadlock between four tenths of a penny and half of a penny,” he said.
Even after a public expression of distress by a state legislator, Gov. John Bel Edwards decided last Wednesday to leave a Louisiana National Guard support team at the Texas border until mid-July.
“I, like many people, am deeply disturbed by the unnecessary and abhorrent policy of separating children from their families,” Edwards said.
But Edwards added that the Louisiana team, which responded in May to a routine request to assist Texas with border security, would finish its job. Louisiana sent assets along with eight other states.
Edwards issued his statement after disturbing images emerged out of southern Texas. President Trump said last Wednesday that he would reverse part of his zero-tolerance policy for people illegally crossing the border and having their families separated.
House panels on Wednesday advanced three revenue-raising bills that would reduce the state’s $648 million budget shortfall by varying amounts and passed a supplemental spending bill aimed at reducing cuts to TOPS scholarships.
None of the revenue bills, which were approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, would provide as much revenue as Gov. John Bel Edwards has sought to avoid cuts in state services.
The three bills proposed extending different sales tax rates, ranging from one-third to one-half of an expiring penny. The committee’s action set up a potentially dramatic set of votes on the House floor Thursday as the Legislature tries for a third time this year to resolve the state’s budget woes before the fiscal year ends June 30.
Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee passed a supplemental budget bill that could fund TOPS at 90 percent to 97 percent of current levels depending on how much additional revenue was raised.
Rep. Paula Davis, who was tapped Tuesday to be the public face of a new Republican compromise proposal, is a first-term legislator from Baton Rouge with a low profile and a mixed voting record on taxes.
Davis’ plan would extend four-tenths of a penny of sales tax that is set to expire July 1st, an amount that would be enough, she said, to fund critical services while shrinking the overall size of state government.
Davis’ bill, which was co-authored by House Speaker Taylor Barras, would extend less than the half-cent of sales tax that Governor John Bel Edwards and the Senate have sought but more than the third of a cent that House Republican leaders endorsed earlier.
“I give credit to Paula Davis to try something that the others haven’t,” said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, who also tried, but failed, to strike a bipartisan deal in the final minutes of the last special session. “The belief is that she can work across the aisle and hopefully get something done.”
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday accused officials from the Louisiana Department of Health of not disclosing around $67 million in savings to the House while acknowledging the money to the Senate in the previous special session.
“It seems historic that every year more money is found when the bill goes to the other side,” said Cameron Henry, R-Metairie and the chair of the Appropriations Committee.
“Knowing we had this money out there, we might have done something differently,” he added, complaining that “we never seem to get all that information while you’re here.”
Jeff Reynolds, chief financial officer of the Health Department, told the committee that most of the savings, around $43 million, were part of the budget bill approved by Henry’s committee and the full House during the regular legislative session.
At the outset of the third special legislative session this year, Gov. John Bel Edwards chided a group of House Republicans Monday for having blocked efforts to raise revenue to avoid budget cuts and said this was the “last chance” to solve the problem.
“Over the past several months, partisan politics have infested this building in a way we have never seen before,” Edwards said in an address to the Legislature. He added that “the constant mix of partisan angling” was “simply inexcusable.”
Edwards, a Democrat, also took a shot at national conservative groups that have tried to rally Republicans to stop the Legislature from extending any portion of an extra penny of sales tax that expires on July 1.
He said he hoped more lawmakers would “turn a deaf ear to the out-of-state special interest groups who threaten to influence our discourse.”