Editor’s Note: A guest post by Louisiana State Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), who filibustered a half-billion dollar tax increase Monday night as the Second Extraordinary Session of 2018 came to a close.
So what really happened in the frantic minutes before midnight at the close of the most recent legislative session?
I have read dozens of articles and received hundreds of emails, text messages etc. from people expressing their gratitude or displeasure at my actions which included a filibuster in the final minutes of the session and preventing a second vote on the $651 million tax increase bill supported by the governor. With so much incorrect information and a significant amount of deliberate misinformation being put out on this issue, it’s time to clear the air.
As the final minutes ticked off the clock, the Louisiana House of Representatives was left with two options. The time for compromise had passed. All of the compromise bills had failed. There was only one bill left and no time for another vote on any other bill. The question was not as simple as whether Louisiana was going to pass a $651 million tax increase or not.
The bill itself had significant problems beyond the fact that it included an unnecessary $651 million tax increase. The bill clearly and obviously ran afoul of two very clear provisions of the Louisiana Constitution. Article 3 Section 15 of the Constitution places two limitations on bills which were clearly violated by the bill up for debate in the final minutes of the session. Article 3 section 15(A) states that all bills “shall be confined to one object.“ Article 3 section 15 (C) States that “No bill shall be amended in either house to make a change not germane to the bill as introduced.“
If a bill is passed which violates either of these provisions, it is clearly unconstitutional and will be voided in court. There is no credible or legitimate argument that the bill up for debate was anything but clearly unconstitutional. The bill as originally introduced was a very short piece of legislation redefining the word “dealer“ for the purpose of collecting sales tax on Internet purchases. It did not levy a new tax but simply re-defined some terms to put Louisiana in line with some other states in collecting sales tax on Internet purchases. That’s all it did when it left the house.
The Senate, though, added 20 pages of amendments in committee. Then, on the Senate floor they added another 60 amendments to the same bill. By the time the Senate sent the bill to the House in its amended form at 11:15 PM Monday night, it contained the following:
1. The original definition of “dealer” referenced above
2. It levied a new 1/2 cent sales tax on all purchases
3. It expanded the earned income tax credit from 3.5% to 5%
4. It levied a first-of-its-kind tax on services such as installation of appliances etc.
Since neither the Senate committee nor floor amendments had anything to do with the definition of “dealer” for the purpose of collecting sales taxes contained in the original bill, the amendments were very clearly not germane to the original bill and in violation of the Louisiana constitutional provisions referenced above.
When the bill came up the first time, I questioned the House Speaker who announced to the House that the amendments were not germane and the bill now had four clear and distinct “objects” in violation of the Louisiana Constitution. Because the amendments were made in the Senate, the Speaker of the House did not have the authority to simply invalidate them by ruling from the chair as he can with House amendments. With these statements clarified in the legislative record, the House proceeded to vote on the bill which came seven votes short of passage. This vote took place at 11:30 PM.
After concluding other business which included passing the budget and a few other remaining bills, a move was made to bring the clearly unconstitutional bill up for a second vote. It was clear that the governor and his allies were playing games and were attempting to hold the state hostage by waiting until the last minute to force a second vote in the hopes that people would vote for this bad-on-its-face and clearly-unconstitutional bill just so that they could go home and say that they did something.
However, the passage of this bill would have been potentially devastating for the state of Louisiana. The law would have been challenged in court with this challenge having a certainty of success approaching 100%. An injunction would have been entered by the District Court enjoining the state from collecting any taxes levied in the bill until the issue were resolved by the Supreme Court which outcome would have never been in doubt. The bottom line is that the bill was never going into affect even if it had received the necessary 70 votes and was signed by the governor.
The passage of this bill would have given everyone involved in the legislative and budget process a false sense of security and a feeling that the issue had been resolved and needed no further work. The injunction would not have been entered by the court until the new fiscal year had started on July 1, which would have thrown the entire Louisiana budget out of balance and potentially jeopardized all state funding.
As a legislator, one of my jobs is to make sure things like that don’t happen.
It would have certainly been easier to simply let the bill pass and go home. But very often the right thing to do is not the easiest thing to do. Passing an unconstitutional bill just because it was getting late and the clock was ticking would have been shameful. The governor and his allies in the Legislature that put the amendments on the bill and presented the bill to the House for passage knew that they were unconstitutional and would never stand up in court. They should be asked why they would do that to the state of Louisiana and be held to account. But we all know that the media will never ask that question or press the issue. It is much easier to simply point fingers at the House and accuse us of “failure“ for not passing an unconstitutional bill.
With all of that playing in the background and the clock approaching the midnight deadline, I took the House floor and objected to bringing the bill up for a second vote. In doing so, I clearly and intentionally kept talking until midnight so that there would be no vote. I have no idea if the bill would have picked up the additional seven votes that it needed in order to pass. But, with the clock ticking it was not worth taking that chance.
Now, the legislature has to return for its fourth session of the year and 10th in the past three years. Believe me, none of us want to go back to Baton Rouge. We have been meeting since February. We have had the same discussion regarding taxes over and over. We all know and understand the issues – we just disagree on the solutions.
Please understand that any problems facing the state of Louisiana are NOT due to a lack of money. The budget passed last week, like the one vetoed by the governor three weeks ago, was either the second or third largest in Louisiana history (depending on which number you look at). Either way, the state has more money than it has ever had before. For example, three years ago, the Louisiana Department of Hospitals had a total budget of $9 billion. Nothing closed, no one was kicked out of a nursing home and there was no funding crisis. The budget this year for the same department is $13.5 billion. That is a 50% increase ($4.5 billion) in three years. That one department takes up approximately 40% of the state budget. The reason this department has grown so fast is due to the governor’s Medicaid expansion. This is a program that the state of Louisiana clearly cannot afford, but the governor refuses to admit it and repeatedly demands more and more tax increases from the people of Louisiana in order to pay for his mistake.
Before voting for a single dollar in new taxes, I always ask myself The following question: “Who deserves the dollar more? The person who went to work and earned the dollar, or the state of Louisiana?” Because unlike the federal government, we cannot print our own money. Before we can spend a single dollar on anything or give it away in the form of entitlements like Medicaid, the state must first take it away from someone who earned it. When currently the state is bringing in more money than it ever has before, it is going to be very difficult to convince me that the state actually “needs“ that dollar more than the person who earned it does. Louisiana needs to find a way to solve its fiscal problems without raising taxes on its productive citizens. My grandfather used to tell me that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. Three years into his term, it is very clear that the only tool in the governor’s toolbox is the hammer of tax increases – and our taxpayers have been getting nailed since he took office.
The solution to funding TOPS, higher education and all other areas and departments not fully funded in this budget is simply to move the money that we have in the budget around. Our problem is not a lack of money. Our problem is misplaced priorities.
It is obvious that the current budget is not ideal and that some areas need more funding. It is also obvious that some areas which are receiving an increase in funding have too much. When the solution to funding TOPS, higher education and the rest is whether to move money around from other government departments or to take the money out of the pocket of private citizens, I am going to vote for the former and oppose the latter every time.
I wish that it had not been necessary for me to “filibuster“ the final minutes of the session in order to prevent a vote on this clearly unconstitutional bill. However, I remain firmly convinced that it was the right thing to do for the state of Louisiana and will do it again if necessary.