The Louisiana Legislature's latest special session has teetered between sluggish, combative and deadlock since it started Feb. 19.
Now it's hanging by a thread, with leaders calling Friday a "do or die" day in the State Capitol.
Just hours after a bitter debate Wednesday evening laid bare a simmering resentment, House members returned Thursday – hoping to prevent the session from being a complete failure.
House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said that legislative leaders are now taking the temperature of each member to see what legislation has the best chance of making it through before the special session ends March 7.
"I'm pleased we have made some progress but we have more work to do," Barras said.
He said a sales tax bill, House Bill 23, that failed Wednesday is a critical component to any deal, though it may be tweaked to make it more acceptable as the clock ticks on passing legislation meant to shore up the budget when temporary tax measures adopted in 2016 expire June 30.
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"That bill is the core to this debate and the core to the dollars needed to solve as much of this deficit as we can," Barras said.
Rep. Stephen Dwight, the Lake Charles Republican who sponsored the bill, said his outlook on the bill's chances remain mixed.
"It's the centerpiece of the special session," he said. "Without this, a lot of members don't want to vote on other bills."
"It's embarrassing that we couldn't work out some compromise yet," he added.
Dwight's sales tax measure, in the rejected form, would have gone about $300 million toward replacing more than $1 billion in revenue set to expire. It failed in a landslide 38-67 vote with key opposition from Democrats.
Lawmakers return Friday at 10 a.m. to debate budgetary matters in what some called a "do or die" day at the State Capitol.
Revenue-raising proposals require 70 votes to pass and neither Republicans nor Democrats have enough votes on their own. Factions within each party further disagree on the best approach to closing the gap.
Republicans have favored relying on cuts or changes in the sales tax to bridge the gap and Democrats want to alter the state income tax structure before agreeing to a continued sales tax hike.
If no deal is reached by the end of the special session, the Legislature likely will end up in a new special session when the regular session ends in June. The regular session starts March 12, and lawmakers cannot generally take up revenue-raising proposals.
Lawmakers described the mood as generally more upbeat when they returned to the Capitol Thursday after Wednesday night's meltdown.
But Dwight said he believes the Legislature is farther from reaching a deal on the "fiscal cliff" than it was when the session began last week.
"We went the wrong direction," he said. "There was some lack of communication on all sides."
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, met with House GOP Caucus Chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, Thursday morning to try to restart negotiations.
During Wednesday night's debate, Harris accused Edwards of not holding up his end of a deal to get Democrats behind the proposal, and chided lawmakers who "can't get a bill passed" for openly criticizing House Republican leadership.
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"I'm a little peeved. Some of us have worked tirelessly on this process," he said on the floor.
Harris' heated speech was one of many, coming from all sides of the budget debate, to rock the floor Wednesday night.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, said some of his colleagues have been driven by politics and the goal of preventing Edwards from being a successful governor. (An assertion that Harris later rejected.)
"We don’t want a Democrat to get re-elected, and we don’t want to give him a political win by doing tax reform – that was something that was told to me,” Ivey said. "We've placed politics ahead of our constituents. We should all be ashamed. Myself included.”
As for the Democrats, House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, said that the chamber's minority had been "bamboozled" as the chamber still didn't have enough votes to pass tax measures to shore up the state's finances.
"What are we doing here? I can't tell you how many members have said to me, 'Why are we here?'" he said. "We were called here for a purpose. It wasn't by accident."
Democrats took particular issue with a GOP proposal to limit the sales tax changes to three years. The Legislature agreed to a temporary sales tax hike in 2016, which is one of the revenue measures set to expire, creating the looming "fiscal cliff."
"We promised the taxpayers that when that money went off the books there would be true tax reform, and I don't see it yet," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
Several lawmakers took to the microphone to express dismay in the fractured chamber.
"I'm sick and tired of Republicans blaming Democrats and Democrats blaming Republicans ... I don't care anymore," said Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston.