BATON ROUGE, La. — A day after appearing to gain momentum on tax votes, Louisiana’s special session Monday again dissolved into squabbling, with the House at odds over what tax types should patch a nearly $1 billion hole in the state’s budget.
House Republicans suggested demands from the Legislative Black Caucus threatened to derail any tax deal, while members of the caucus said GOP lawmakers were trying to balance the budget off the backs of the poor alone.
House Speaker Taylor Barras called out Gov. John Bel Edwards as doing too little to broker an agreement, decrying a “lack of direction” from the man who called the special session.
“I think the governor and his team need to be a little bit more clear,” Barras said in a rare floor speech.
The Democratic governor said the Republican leader’s claims were “disingenuous.”
“We ought to be sitting here today figuring out how we maintain this momentum and get this process to a conclusion, to a successful conclusion. And I think that what the speaker did today does not bode well in our attempts to do that,” Edwards said.
Meanwhile, the main tax approach favored by House Republican leaders, a temporary sales tax bill that would expire in mid-2021, is being derided as another short-term fix to budget problems that have spanned a decade. Edwards called it “the definition of insanity.”
Amid the disagreements, tax votes scheduled for House floor debate Monday were shelved, and the House adjourned until Wednesday to continue behind-the-scenes talks in hopes of salvaging a special session that must wrap up by March 7.
House Republicans who are willing to consider taxes are backing a sales tax plan, while Democrats — particularly members of the Black Caucus — want changes to personal income taxes.
Some Republicans in the majority-GOP chamber refuse to support any tax bills. So, Republican leaders need members of the Black Caucus, all of whom are Democrats, to support the sales tax in order for it to reach the two-thirds vote to pass.
The budget hole that hits when the new financial year begins July 1 is caused by the expiration of temporary taxes. Edwards said without replacement taxes, deep cuts would be forced on the TOPS college tuition program, health services and public safety spending.
A tentative deal seemed to form around two bills that emerged Sunday from a House committee: a GOP proposal to renew one-quarter of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax and a proposal from Democrats to cut tax breaks for middle- and upper-income taxpayers who itemize income tax deductions.
Barras said he was surprised Monday in a meeting when the Black Caucus discussed a proposal to change personal income tax brackets, to raise taxes on middle- and upper-income earners. Edwards initially proposed the idea, but more recently said he wasn’t pursuing it.
Rep. Nancy Landry, a Lafayette Republican, cited the tax bracket proposal on Twitter and said the Black Caucus was “blowing everything up.”
Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge member of the Black Caucus, said members have been clear about their opposition to sales taxes, which hit the poor more heavily than others. He blamed Republicans for temporary budget fixes that perpetuated budget problems and for creating a tax task force and ignoring its recommendations.
“To lay the blame on the governor and the Black Caucus, it’s irresponsible,” James said on the House floor. “We have to operate in a spirit of truth. You guys have different opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. This body, we have leadership problems.”
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