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Senate Committee Brings Its Own Compromise To Revenue Bill

Wallis Watkins
Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) presented his sales tax bill to the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee Wedneday, May 31.

As legislators approach the end of the special session, a Senate committee got its first crack at the session’s key bill Wednesday night.

“This is a compromise.”

That’s how Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) views his sales tax bill. It would put one third of the expiring penny in state sales tax back in place, setting the rate at 4.3 percent for 5 years. Plus, it would end some sales tax exemptions, bringing in half of what’s needed to avoid deep cuts to programs.

“Anything more than a third of a penny - anything more than this bill does - I will vote against the bill," Harris said.

But members of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee, like Senator Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria), didn’t see the compromise. “You tell us it’s this or nothing. That’s not compromise," he said.

Despite Harris’ warning that drastic changes to the bill would threaten its ability to pass the House and the success of this special session, the largely Democratic committee made two significant adjustments. They removed a slew of exemptions for businesses and made the sales tax permanent, but they kept the rate the same.

“Essentially, Mr. Harris, when we’re talking the game of compromise - your penny is still a third of a penny," said committee chairman J.P. Morrell.

Senator Morrell (D-New Orleans) says with these changes, the bill would raise $640 million, only a couple million short of filling the entire budget gap.

“This won’t pass the House," warned Harris.

Concerned that Representative Harris won’t agree to bring his bill for a vote in the House, the Senate committee took a bill by Democratic Representative Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) and made it match Harris’.  Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) says this gives the Legislature another chance at bringing it for a vote.

“Its healthy to have two instruments as we finish off this sixth special session and not be held hostage on Monday, June 4th, by any individual," Senator Peterson said.

The bill passed committee and is headed to the full Senate.