Here we go again.
Three months ago, the Republican-majority state Legislature completed a special session without raising all of the money that Gov. John Bel Edwards said was needed to prevent deep cuts to the TOPS scholarship program, to the safety-net hospitals and to LSU, Southern, UNO and the other state universities.
Edwards is asking them to try again by calling a second special session, Monday night, only 30 minutes after the 85-day regular session ends.
As before, Edwards wants legislators to reduce some corporate tax breaks as well as take away half of a tax break that primarily benefits middle- and upper-income individuals — all part of a plan to close what he says is a $600 million shortfall.
The governor fell short during the first special session because conservative Republicans in the House were unwilling to approve all the tax increases that he said were necessary. Taxpayers are paying enough, they said.
Whether these Republicans will go along with Edwards this time will be the main story of the second special session, which ends on June 23.
Asked why he thinks the governor will be successful this time, Ben Nevers, his chief of staff, said, “They better understand that it’s a real problem. They thought more funds would be found. They weren’t.”
Senators under the leadership of their president, Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, have shown that they are more willing to accept the governor’s tax measures.
Edwards has issued a call with 48 separate tax items. (He has called both special sessions because the Louisiana Legislature cannot raise taxes during the regular session in an even-numbered year.)
As of Sunday night, legislators had filed more than 20 bills.
The governor has said repeatedly that the budget mess left over from Gov. Bobby Jindal and last year’s Legislature has forced him to raise taxes and has pointed out that he and the Legislature have already cut tens of millions of dollars from the budget. In the first special session, at his behest, the Legislature raised $1.2 billion by increasing the state sales tax by 1 cent — giving Louisiana the highest combined sales tax rate in the country — eliminating a number of sales tax exemptions and raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes.
While it technically kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Monday, the real action for the special session will begin Tuesday morning when Edwards speaks to a joint session of the Legislature — for the third time this year.
Action will then shift immediately to the two tax-writing committees — Ways and Means in the House and Revenue and Fiscal Affairs in the Senate.
The most important votes will come in Ways and Means, where Republicans hold a 12-7 majority and which is chaired by state Rep. Neil Abramson, a Democrat from New Orleans who is not a member of the governor’s team. Ways and Means will hear most of the tax bills first.
The Senate committee is chaired by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. With Democrats holding a 7-4 advantage, it is likely to go along with the governor’s proposals.
His committee will hear measures that would reverse changes made during the first special session that eliminated sales tax exemptions for a number of nonprofit groups, Morrell said, adding that he expects to be the sponsor of an omnibus measure that restores all of the tax exemptions.
The bill to keep an eye on before Ways and Means would limit the deduction on state income taxes that individuals can claim from the itemized deductions they take on their federal tax returns that are in excess of the federal standard deduction.
State Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, will sponsor it (House Bill 11).
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” Shadoin said in an interview Sunday, explaining that he believes more revenue is needed to prevent deep cuts to TOPS, the state’s colleges and universities and the hospitals that serve the poor. “We have to have some revenue to keep them at even last year’s [spending] level.”
Beginning with Gov. Kathleen Blanco and continued under Jindal, the Legislature shifted the amount that taxpayers can deduct from 57.5 percent of those items to the full 100 percent. Only four other states allow a 100 percent deduction.
In a recent interview, Edwards said he would like to return to the 57.5 percent, a rate he said still would allow taxpayers to claim deductions for mortgage interest payments and charitable contributions. This would raise about $150 million per year.
A study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based group, shows that taxpayers who earn more than $103,000 would shoulder 76 percent of the tax increase.
A similar measure was defeated during the special session, 44-58. It needs to pick up at least nine votes to reach 53, the bare majority in the 105-member House.
“It could go either way,” state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said of the bill’s chances during the second special session.
Other measures would make it harder for manufacturing companies to avoid sales taxes, would repeal the capital gains tax deduction that benefits the wealthy, would impose a new tax on insurance companies and would push upper income taxpayers into tax brackets with higher rates.
Edwards has been pressing his case privately with legislators. He met with the Republican and Democratic House caucuses, separately, Thursday morning, with a group of eight House freshmen that same morning, with small groups of House members in the afternoon and with Republican senators for lunch at the Governor’s Mansion on Friday.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges.
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