67 No Votes, Only 38 Yeses

That was the final tally on Rep. Stephen Dwight’s HB 23, the bill which would have raised sales taxes in Louisiana by some $300 million, in the climactic day of the 2018 Special Session. It only got 38 votes.

HB 23 was seen as the centerpiece tax bill of the session, in that it was the bill with the largest fiscal note and the best chance to pass. The bill would have “cleaned” pennies of the state sales tax, removing some $70 million or so worth of sales tax exemptions, and added a quarter of a penny back to the state sales tax out of the one cent which is due to expire at the end of June, which comes to some $220-230 million.

But as they’ve threatened to do in the last week, the Legislative Black Caucus blew up the bill by refusing to support it, for a number of reasons. The legacy media will report that the LBC killed it because it’s “regressive,” meaning that it hits poor people harder than everyone else, but that’s not really why – the LBC came out for a massive, half-billion dollar income tax increase which would have fallen very largely on the state’s working class (for an individual filer making $50,000 per year, their proposal would have meant a 31 percent state income tax increase). So unless they’re the Welfare Caucus more than the Black Caucus it’s not really that the bill was regressive.

The truth is the LBC was sending a message to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who they have fallen out with. Edwards has been making promises to the Black Caucus for years and they’ve boiled over at the lack of delivery – and with the sales tax bill being the only tax bill with any real chance to pass they were in a position to teach him who’s boss.

Which they did, because since they didn’t back this bill all the other tax bills are going to die. The votes are simply not there.

The Republicans actually supported HB 23 by a 33-28 margin. Only four Democrats and an independent, Joe Marino (who holds the seat on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish John Alario used to hold and might run for again in 2019), voted for the bill. You won’t get that many Republicans supporting any of the other tax bills in this session, period.

When the bill failed, House Republican Delegation chair Lance Harris, who had made a passionate speech in favor of its passage as the best opportunity to make a dent in the state’s budget deficit with bipartisan consensus, moved to adjourn the session until Thursday afternoon.

Harris’ adjournment motion was also controversial, as Rep. Barry Ivey – who is becoming something of a gadfly in the House and is not particularly popular with his colleagues – interrupted Harris’ motion with a point of order claiming he had requested to make a motion first. What that motion was turned into a short-lived mystery.

The juicier explanation was that Ivey was going to bring a motion for a vote of no confidence in House Speaker Taylor Barras, which would be the opening act in a long-rumored coup attempt. That was something Lamar White, who almost always gets things wrong, tweeted right after the adjournment…

But Ivey responded that White’s explanation was wrong…

What’s likely to happen tomorrow is the whole session collapses, because none of the tax bills are going to pass. And that’ll be that.

Which, frankly, is not a bad result – for all the reasons we’ve discussed ad nauseam. And politically, regardless of how this is reported by the state’s newspapers, it’s a pretty good result for the Republicans in the House. After all, they tried to compromise with the governor on the budget and it was the governor’s base supporters who blew up the deal.

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