According to the Louisiana Constitution; all new taxes, increasing an existing tax, or repealing tax exemptions are required to receive a 2/3rds majority before passage. However, there is some wiggle room thanks to a 1993 opinion by the Louisiana Attorney General that says some temporary suspensions of tax exemptions can be passed by simple majority.
The decision on whether or not a tax bill in the House needs just a simple majority is made by the Speaker of the House Taylor Barras. The man that Speaker Barras will get advice from is the Clerk of the Louisiana House Alfred “Butch” Speer. Speer serves at the pleasure of the House and the Speaker and was reelected to his post unanimously earlier this year.
But the choice of Speer is an odd one to say the least by a Republican-controlled House. Alfred Speer and his wife, Carol, are huge Democrat donors. On the Federal level, neither Alfred nor Carol have ever donated to a Republican. On the state level, Alfred Speer is a huge John Bel Edwards fan. He gave monthly contributions to the Edwards campaign totaling $5,080 between November 5, 2013 and December 21, 2015. Speer gave the bulk of it, totaling $3,600, between August 22, 2015 and runoff election day on November 21, 2015.
We have the situation where the fate of tax increases in a Republican-controlled House will be decided by not just a Democrat donor, but one who was a strong supporter of John Bel Edwards. Just a reminder for those of you at home, Governor Edwards is the one who is pushing these tax increases. Perhaps Speaker Barras should considering consulting an outside opinion such as Attorney General Jeff Landry.
This whole Alfred Speer situation is a symptom of the failure of Republicans to sweep out the vestiges of Democrat and populist rule during the Jindal administration. There is no reason why a fossil like Speer should be Clerk of the House in a Republican-controlled legislature, but all throughout state government these little fiefdoms remain. It’s as if Edwin Edwards is still governor of Louisiana.
I also have a more cynical explanation for this if you hear me out. The Republican delegation in either chamber isn’t really interested in stopping big Democrat, populist government and tax hikes. The Republicans in the legislature have simply imported Mitch McConnell-style “failure theater” and this is just a part of it. House Republicans will pass bills to roll back and reform state government that are surely dead on arrival either in the Senate or on Governor Edwards’s desk. Then House Republicans will simply throw their hands up and say “we tried, but we can’t do anything unless we have a new governor.” We’ll only find that even if Republicans control state government, they will not have the courage to make the changes Louisiana needs.
Either way, we still have a lot of work to do to change Louisiana, even if we beat John Bel Edwards in 2019.