Today Is “Do Or Sine Die” Day In The Louisiana Legislature

Of course, nobody is going to die. Despite what you might hear on the floor of the House of Representatives when he proceedings start some time after 10 AM, nobody will die if the House doesn’t pass the tax increase bills being proposed in order to solve a budget deficit advertised as $994 million but in reality of some indeterminate size considerably less than that.

The main tax increase bill likely to be debated, and the only one seen to have any real shot at passing, is HB 23 by Rep. Stephen Dwight (R-Lake Charles). That’s the $300 million sales tax bill, which would “clean” a couple of pennies of the state sales tax and restore a quarter of a penny in the sales tax set to expire at the end of June. Dwight’s bill went down to an ignominious defeat Wednesday night, losing on the floor 38-67 – the final tally was only 36 votes, as two Democrats switched from “yes” to “no” after the voting.

The rout of Dwight’s bill was led by the 24-member Legislative Black Caucus in the House, all of whom voted no on the bill. This created a major problem for the Democrats, as it exploded the narrative they’d contrived that intransigent Republicans led by House Speaker Taylor Barras are blocking “tax reform” in Louisiana and preventing a solution to the “fiscal cliff” confronting the state. When Gov. John Bel Edwards couldn’t get more than a single Democrat to vote for the sales tax bill which was seen as the least contentious one of the bunch, it’s hard to blame all this on Barras.

And blaming it on Barras is the chief object of this special session. Make no mistake about that. The aim of the special session was to present the deficit as a crisis and so to buffalo the Republicans into raising a billion dollars in taxes. When that didn’t work, it became to exact a political toll on the Republicans for saying no. This wasn’t all that well-thought-out, obviously, because most of the Republicans in the legislature come from districts where the voters are pretty clear that they won’t stand for more tax increases, and back home they’re not going to pay a high cost for telling Edwards no.

So what happened yesterday when no votes were taken and the afternoon and evening devolved into a lengthy sitzkreig as meetings were held in back rooms was essentially that Edwards and the Black Caucus made their peace with an idea that Dwight’s bill would be amended to restore not a quarter of a penny but half of one – after the Black Caucus objected that a quarter-penny of sales tax was too regressive.

If that sounds uproariously funny and completely incoherent, the sales point for it was apparently that the half penny would be all the revenue the state needs to fund the budget and wipe out the deficit without any cuts.

We’ll see if that actually happens. The governor’s people had also told members of the Republican delegation that his position was all the tax increase bills or nothing, to which the answer was fairly easy.

But the trap is if and when this bill fails, it will fail because some significant percentage of the 33 Republicans who voted for it the first time will have changed their minds. Which is what the Governor and his pals want, because that will give them the narrative that Barras is a weak leader who can’t summon his people. Mind you, that is a wholly accurate characterization of Edwards based on Wednesday’s vote – but don’t bother him with trifles like the truth. This will be all about how terrible Barras is if the bill doesn’t pass.

To resurrect Dwight’s sales tax bill will require 70 “yes” votes on a motion to reconsider, and then another 70 “yes” votes on the bill as it will surely be amended. The odds seem long against that happening.

And this is being called a “do or die” day, because the Senate says they’ve got to get the bill by Sunday or else the legislative process won’t have enough time before the March 7 deadline to pass. So it’s really more like do or sine die.

Hopefully this is the GOP delegation’s theme song for the day…

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