When Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport filibustered in the final minutes of the legislative session Monday, he was not sure whether a last-ditch effort to vote on a revenue-raising bill he deemed disastrous would have succeeded.
But Seabaugh, who is one of about 20 House Republicans who have consistently voted against any tax increase, said in interviews that his maneuver to block the vote “was worth it,” even though it has placed him at the center of controversy over yet another failed legislative session.
Seabaugh said he objected to how the Senate had tacked a half-cent sales tax extension onto a minor bill, saying that the measures were “unrelated” and that it was “blatantly unconstitutional” to use the bill as a vehicle for a tax increase.
The head of Louisiana’s Corrections Department said his agency would have to release 10,000 inmates starting July 1 if the Legislature does not raise more revenue by then.
Jimmy LeBlanc, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the agency could not weather the $75 million in cuts apportioned to it Monday without sharply reducing the inmate population or furloughing some of its staff.
He said the department would not release violent offenders or inmates convicted of sex crimes. But sheriffs and officials in various parts of the state have already expressed concern about criminal-justice reforms in 2017 that have led to the accelerated release of thousands of nonviolent offenders since last November.
LeBlanc said the 10,000 additional inmates – nearly one third of the total state prisoners – would be released gradually over the next year and are now being housed in parish jails around the state. The budget passed by the Legislature cut about 25 percent of the money that the department uses to pay sheriffs to hold the inmates.
Joseph Rallo, the state’s departing higher education leader, said Thursday that parents and students should “feel outraged” that lawmakers failed for a second time to raise enough revenue to fully fund TOPS and avoid significant cuts at universities.
The Legislature passed a budget Monday that would slash funding for TOPS scholarships by 30 percent, or $85 million, and cut operating funds for universities, which had already declined substantially over the last decade, by $96 million.
“I am leaving after three and half years, and nothing has gotten better. Nothing,” said Rallo, who was a top official at universities in Texas and Illinois before becoming Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education in 2015.
“I think it is a very unfortunate position for the state, for the parents, for the students, and at the end of the day, for the economy,” he said in a series of interviews.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday outlined cuts to higher education, criminal justice and assistance to needy families in a budget passed by the Legislature and made a pitch for renewing a half-penny of sales taxes to avert most of them.
He made the comments in his first public appearance since he sharply criticized House leaders at a news conference minutes after the dramatic conclusion of a special session Monday night.
Lawmakers passed a budget that would have funded the programs if there were enough revenue, but efforts to pass a revenue bill collapsed in the House.
Edwards struck a more optimistic tone Wednesday about raising revenue and funding the programs in an expected third special session.
Emotions were raw Monday night as the special session collapsed after the the Legislature was unable to raise major revenue to fund the state’s budget priorities.
In the final minutes of the session, an attempt to reconsider a bill that would have increased revenue by $504 million was blocked by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, who acknowledged that he stayed at the microphone to use up the remaining time allotted for the session.
Democrats and several Republicans blamed the collapse on both Seabaugh for running out the clock in the final moments and Lance Harris, R-Alexandria and the chairman of the Republican Legislative Delegation, for holding onto his bill that would have raised less revenue until the final half hour, essentially leaving no time to reconsider the other revenue bill.
“We saw the leader of the Republican delegation purposefully held the bill all night,” Rep.Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said in an interview. “We had another Republican member that denied us the opportunity to vote.”
The Legislature passed a budget late Monday with deep cuts to TOPS and higher education minutes before the tense end of a special session, and House Republicans rejected attempts to raise revenue to soften the cuts.
The final budget bill would slash funding for TOPS scholarships by 30 percent, cut spending on public universities by $96 million and impose across-the-board cuts on other state agencies.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he would consider vetoing the bill. He blamed some of the House Republicans, referring to them as “that extreme caucus of no standing in the way of the state of Louisiana.” He added that he would call legislators back later this month for a third special session to try again to raise more revenue.
Democrats in both chambers and some Republicans were shocked and angry when Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, seized the microphone at 11:59 p.m. to prevent a second vote on a bill that would have raised $540 million to avert most of the cuts.
That’s all that divides the House and the Senate over how much of an expiring penny of sales tax to extend.
That extra sixth of a penny would cost Louisiana residents 17 cents on a $100 purchase. If you shop for school supplies for a high school student, it would add 67 cents to the average $392 bill. It would boost the cost of a $1,299 MacBook Pro by $2.21 and add $69.70 to the $41,000 sticker price of a well-equipped Lexus ES sedan.
It also would raise $150 million a year to avert cuts to TOPS, health care, and other services.