Slow Start In Louisiana's Latest Special Session On Taxes


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With time growing short to reach a deal, the Louisiana House got off to a slow start Tuesday in the latest special session on taxes, with no votes on tax bills and a rehashed debate over budget issues from prior sessions.

The House Ways and Means Committee talked about sales tax proposals, an exercise Republican Rep. Kenny Havard called "a big waste of time" without votes on them.

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In a hearing next door, the House Appropriations Committee revisited the budget. Republicans questioned if spending plans approved in the last special session and signed into law are the best use of money, but Senate leaders have said they have no interest in reworking the document.

After months of debate and repeated hearings about state finances, it remained unclear if the fractured House had enough votes for any sales tax proposal offered so far. GOP House Speaker Taylor Barras said he's not sure which tax proposal will gain traction.

Budget cuts hit in fewer than two weeks.

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Lawmakers passed a budget starting July 1 that needs $506 million to be fully financed. If the dollars aren't raised, college campuses, the TOPS tuition program and public safety services will be hammered with cuts. Louisiana's social services agency says the food stamp program will be eliminated.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, called lawmakers into a 10-day special session that began Monday. Two previous special sessions this year failed to broker a deal, largely because of disagreements in the House.

Only sales taxes can be considered this time, centered on whether part of a 1 percent sales tax should be continued next month, when the state's sales tax rate is scheduled to drop from 5 percent to 4 percent.

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The first tax votes in the Ways and Means Committee are expected Wednesday. Senators, sidelined because major tax and budget bills must start in the House, were off until Thursday.

Havard, of St. Francisville, is proposing to renew 0.5 percent of the expiring sales tax in order to fully fund the budget. That's the proposal that won support from Edwards and the Senate in the last special session. The measure received a majority of House votes, but fell short of the required two-thirds vote and lacked support from House GOP leaders.

"If we're going to raise taxes, I would rather raise taxes to fix the problem," Havard said.

Lafayette Republican Rep. Stuart Bishop is suggesting a 0.5 percent tax renewal for three years, shrinking to 0.4 percent after that and eventually to 0.25 percent. Port Allen Republican Sen. Rick Ward, the measure's co-sponsor, said they are trying to find something that could win enough votes to pass.

"While this might not be ideal, I'm here in good faith to try to get from Point A to Point B," Ward said.

Some House GOP lawmakers seem to be coalescing around a bill filed Tuesday by Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Paula Davis that would renew 0.4 percent of the expiring sales tax. The measure is co-sponsored by Barras.

Higher education leaders, health officials, sheriffs and others are pressing lawmakers to pass taxes. Conservative organization Americans for Prosperity, the main political advocacy group for billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, has been working to defeat the tax bills, walking door-to-door in districts where GOP lawmakers have backed taxes.

"Louisianans don't want more tax increases and oppose extending what was meant to be temporary," John Kay, Louisiana state director of Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement.

The session must end June 27.

– by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter

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