The first real tax debate of the second special session happened Thursday in Ways and Means. After hours of discussion, visibly drained and irritated committee members passed just one tax bill and rejected a slew of others, including those supported by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“No one likes taxes, but people expect services," says Rep. Terry Landry (D-New Iberia). "People expect hospitals to be operating, and with that comes a cost.”
Representative Landry defended his bill; it would have permanently extended half of the penny in sales tax that’s expiring June 30. The bill had Gov. Edwards’ stamp of approval, but it didn’t get a stamp from lawmakers Thursday.
Instead, the Republican-dominated committee showed more appetite for a bill by Representative Lance Harris.
“This bill I brought forward because I think it probably has best chance of passing," Harris said, calling the bill a compromise.
Under Harris' bill, a third of the expiring one penny in sales tax would stay on the books, but only for five years. It would raise about half of what’s needed to fill the budget shortfall. In return for raising revenue, spending reductions would be made.
“It’s not gonna be comfortable, but it's not gonna be catastrophic," he said.
The bill passed committee and is now the only sales tax bill in play this special session. But it’s going to need 70 votes to pass the House floor. Which means the Republican majority will need Democrats’ support. House Democratic Caucus Leader Rep. Robert Johnson (Marksville) says that’s going to be tough.
“I’m very concerned that it can’t, just because it raises so little revenue," Johnson said.
Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on how much money needs to be raised, as the stalemate over how to fix the budget shortfall continues.