The Louisiana Legislature's revenue-focused special session is teetering on the verge of collapse, and lawmakers ended Sunday with no easy path toward salvaging the session.
The House on Sunday rejected for the second time legislation seen critical to bridging the budget gap the state faces when temporary tax measures expire June 30.
The vote throws the entire 17-day special session into question, with little time for measures to make it through the process before Wednesday's mandatory session end.
The House will return at 4 p.m. Monday, but the timeline doesn't seem promising.
"I think we are at a turning point when it comes to revenue and expenditures," said House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.
Asked if the tax measure's second rejection, on a vote of 33 to 70, was the final nail in the session's coffin, Barras said only "I don't know that for sure."
If the session, which costs taxpayers about $60,000 a day, ends without any successful revenue-raising legislation, lawmakers likely won't have another chance to take up budget-shoring items until after the regular session, which starts March 12 and ends June 4.
The Louisiana House worked into the evening Friday, trying to reach a compromise on the best way to shore up the state's finances and prevent …
The House has spent the past week locked in a stalemate over tax measures and bitter personal disputes.
The chamber came in for what was seen as a last-ditch attempt at passing two crucial tax measures that the chamber already has rejected in the special session that started Feb. 19.
Without one bill's passage, the other would likely fail.
House Bill 23 would allow the state to continue collecting taxes on some items exempted before temporary changes made in 2016 and to extend a quarter of a penny of sales tax that would otherwise expire June 30. House Bill 8 would cut a state tax break for middle- and upper-income people who itemize deductions on their federal returns when they file their taxes each year — a Democratic priority that many Republicans oppose.
The state House shot down a crucial piece of tax legislation Wednesday night after a tense debate and airing of grievances that have mired the…
The House voted 38-67 Wednesday to reject Rep. Stephen Dwight's sales tax proposal. It needed 70 votes to pass, but was steadfastly opposed by Democrats and some Republicans. The vote on that bill sent the chamber into a meltdown, with members from all sides publicly airing frustrations with the chamber's leadership.
The House narrowly rejected New Orleans Democratic Rep. Walt Leger's income tax bill Friday in a 50-51 vote. It needed 53 votes to pass.
Both were set to come up for another vote Sunday night, but the order became a point of contention. House Republican leaders brought up Dwight's bill first, but having little trust in the GOP leadership, Democrats rejected the proposal out of fear that the chamber wouldn't pass the income tax changes that they support in exchange for the sales tax bill.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, Democrats in the House and some moderate Republicans argue that inaction threatens state government services, including the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships and rural hospitals.
"I'm concerned about what this means," said House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
When lawmakers return Monday, they would need to make procedural changes to take up the sales tax bill for a third time.
"It's a high hurdle, but not impossible," Barras said.
The bill would mean about $290 million toward bridging the budget gap.
"This bill is the centerpiece of the special session," Dwight said. "We didn't come here to make easy decisions, we came to make difficult decisions."
As lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on Sunday, several talked of the distrust surrounding the two tax measures – the rejection ultimately coming down to the order that items would be taken up on the floor.
"There is not a lot of trust in the body right now," Leger said. "I think that's clear."
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who have opposed relying too heavily on sales taxes to shore up the state's finances, were particularly vocal in their opposition.
After the chamber ended its work for the evening, members stayed on the floor looking for options to salvage the session.
Republicans said that they had removed language from the bill that would have made it contingent upon the passage of House Republican priority legislation that doesn't address the looming fiscal cliff but would put in place some new spending controls.
"I think it's a good bill. It's a good compromise," Dwight said of the change. "We've worked hard on both sides of the aisle. We've done, I think, everything we could do."
Nearly everyone in the chamber had opinions about who was to blame for what increasingly appears to be a slow implosion of the session.
"House Republican leadership did not negotiate in good faith," Edwards said on his official Twitter account. "The uncertainty they are imposing on our state will have a direct impact on our economy."
House Democratic Caucus Chair Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, also blamed House Republican leaders for the collapse.
"Our Republican colleagues displayed little interest in actually passing a package to solve our problems tonight when they refused to take up instruments in a bipartisan manner," he said. "Their bad behavior and irresponsibility was rubber stamped by republican leadership as usual. If you don't have leadership, you don't have anything."
Barras said his understanding was that House Democrats would vote in favor of Dwight's bill if language was removed that had made it contingent upon the passage of unrelated legislation that doesn't address the fiscal cliff. The chamber did that before taking the second vote. He denied knowing that the Democrats would vote against the bill if it came up before the income tax legislation.
"The negotiation that has continued for the last 10 days, came to a head this evening," Barras said.
How they voted
Voting for continuing to collect sales taxes on some previously exempted items and for extending a quarter of a penny set to expire (33): Reps. Abraham, Abramson, Anders, Billiot, C. Brown, T. Brown, Carmody, R. Carter, S. Carter, Chaney, Connick, Davis, Dwight, Foil, Gisclair, Guinn, Hazel, Hilferty, Hill, Hoffmann, Jones, LeBas, Magee, Marino, McFarland, G. Miller, Jim Morris, Reynolds, Shadoin, Stagni, Thibaut, Thomas and White.
Voting against HB23 (70): Speaker Barras, Reps. Amedee, Armes, Bacala, Bagley, Bagneris, Berthelot, Bishop, Bouie, Brass, Carpenter, G. Carter, Coussan, Cox, Crews, Cromer, Danahay, DeVillier, Edmonds, Emerson, Falconer, Franklin, Gaines, Garofalo, Glover, Hall, J. Harris, L. Harris, Havard, Henry, Hensgens, Hodges, Hollis, Horton, Howard, Hunter, Huval, Ivey, Jackson, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Jordan, N. Landry, T. Landry, Leger, Leopold, Lyons, Mack, Marcelle, Miguez, D. Miller, Moreno, Jay Morris, Norton, Pearson, Pierre, Pope, Pugh, Pylant, Richard, Schexnayder, Seabaugh, Simon, Smith, Stefanski, Talbot, Wright and Zeringue.
Not Voting (1): Rep. Stokes