As our readers may know by now, things didn’t work out too well at the Louisiana capitol for the meet-in-the-middle crowd. HB 27 by House Republican delegation chair Lance Harris, which would have raised about $369 million in tax revenue via a one-third-cent sales tax renewal and the “cleaning” – that is, removing exemptions – from sales taxes on the books, fell short of the needed 70 votes for passage with only 64.
The House will reconvene Monday afternoon, ostensibly for another shot at passing Harris’ bill as it’s the only one of the major revenue bills to come out of the House Ways and Means Committee thus far. As yet we’re not sure if there’s another major instrument Ways and Means will look at on Monday which could replace HB 27 as a centerpiece, so what it currently appears is that either Harris finds a half-dozen “yes” votes among the nays, or else the current special session will end up more or less as the regular session did – with a budget Gov. John Bel edwards declares $650 million short of full funding that he’s already vetoed once.
Here was the vote breakdown on Friday…
Note: after this sheet was copied, Rep. Larry Bagley changed his vote from No to Yes. He was the 64th vote.
Fifteen of the “nays” are members of the Legislative Black Caucus, which is significant. The Caucus was supposed to be behind the bill – at least that was the “deal” supposedly cut before Harris brought it and began whipping Republican votes for it.
We’re told that Gov. John Bel Edwards had repeatedly guaranteed the votes of the Black Caucus to House Speaker Taylor Barras throughout the maneuvering of the past six weeks, although he most certainly didn’t have those votes when a similar attempt at a compromise tax bill failed for the same reason in the first special session of this year.
What this vote showed, and this time, really proved beyond any credible denial, is that Edwards has no control whatsoever over his own base. It calls into question whether he even has a legislative base anymore beyond RINO Republican Rob Shadoin, who made a fool of himself by attempting to amend the bill to make it a half-cent sales tax and raise an extra $220 million in revenue. Shadoin was immediately set upon by other Republicans from the microphone, with Rep. Jay Morris asking him if he could ever remember voting against a tax increase and stumping Shadoin in the asking.
So if John Bel Edwards is the first governor who can’t deliver any votes to the table on a legislative deal, what does that mean for Louisiana’s immediate future?
That depends on whether Edwards has any political skill beyond reminding voters that David Vitter rolled in the hay with hookers 15 years ago. Recent events indicate that’s not the case.
A skilled politician faced with the current circumstances would do everything he can to help Harris rack up the half-dozen votes he lacked this afternoon, and then get all of his ducks in a row to force that bill through the Senate as is.
One reason the bill lost a few Republican votes it might have had – Raymond Crews and Paul Hollis were, for example, at one point willing to support it – was the very real concern that anything sent to the Senate would make a stop in the Revenue & Fiscal Affairs committee chaired by left-wing New Orleans Democrat J.P. Morrell, where it would be larded up and pumped up like a balloon into something no self-respecting House Republican could think of supporting, and sent back to the House with a demand they cave and support it.
And that is the Hobson’s choice the House Republicans are terrified of.
But now many of them are starting to believe rather than be asked to support a half-billion dollars of tax increases to support what most of their constituents believe is a bloated state budget which can be cut – a belief that the administration only fuels when it trots out a never-ending Parade of Horribles as an emotional ransom demand for that tax money, it’s better to call Edwards’ bluff and send him another budget without tax increases and force him to make a Hobson’s choice of his own.
After all, there’s the question of recognizing oil revenues. There is Medicaid fraud. There is the differing interpretation of the actual size of the shortfall (House Republicans say it’s $495 million, while the administration claims it’s $648 million), something Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne completely failed to put to bed in Ways and Means testimony Thursday. There are other little pots of money unaccounted for, like for example the 426 funded-but-unfilled jobs in the Louisiana Department of Health, the elimination of which could create some $30 million-plus in cost reductions, or the $53 million in BP settlement money due the state this year, which the Senate would like to bond out for road construction but could be thrown into the shortfall. And more.
At some point it might well become the sense of the House Republicans that it’s better to force Edwards to do his job and make do with what he has than to give him more tax revenue to fund an ever-growing, inefficient government. That wasn’t the sense of most of them Friday; they were hoping for a deal.
But now? Now, nobody’s going to be so sure.