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Sales-Tax Bills Start Advancing In Third Special Session

Sarah Gamard/LSU Manship School News Service
Representative Paula Davis (R-Baton Rouge)

Lawmakers continue to debate how many tenths of a penny should remain as part of the state's sales-tax rate. On Wednesday, a House committee advanced three options. 

“It is my belief that .4 is the right number, and it's the right compromise," Rep. Paula Davis (R-Baton Rouge) told members of the House Ways and Means committee.

Rep. Davis’ bill got the most support from the GOP-dominated committee.

“I have Republican colleagues that are not happy with this bill," said Davis.  "I know that there are Democrats that are not happy with this bill, so maybe this is the right bill."

It would set the state sales tax rate at 4.4 percent for seven years. Davis defended her bill by pointing to the last special session, when efforts to pass a 1/3- and 1/2-percent extension failed.

The measure is getting support from some Republicans in the House, including Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia). But it needs 70 votes to pass, so support from Democrats will be necessary.

"There are some Democrats willing to vote for it that I have talked with, there are others stuck at .5," explained Davis.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus voted against Davis' bill in committee. Rep. Randal Gaines (D-LaPlace) is the head of the group, which is seen as key to reaching that 70-vote threshold. He says they're only willing to consider a half-cent renewal, because anything else is insufficient.

"We are not going to support any measure that's not going to adequately fund state government," he said.

The committee rejected a bill by Rep. Terry Landry (D-New Iberia), a member of the Black Caucus. It would have renewed the half penny and had the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Instead, they opted for Rep. Stuart Bishop’s (R-Lafayette) approach. It sets the rate at 4.5 percent initially, but would decrease in three years.

Members also approved a bill that would temporarily renew one-third of the penny, making the state sales tax rate 4.3 percent.

None of the bills, as they stand right now, would fill the entire gap in next year's budget, which totals more than $500 million.

The House is expected to start voting on the measures Thursday.