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Breakthrough? Signs of movement appear in Louisiana special session

Louisiana lawmakers are showing signs they’ve made a breakthrough in the special session logjam that has stymied all action on tax proposals to close a nearly $1 billion budget gap. Still, pieces of the deal appeared shaky today.

For two days, lawmakers pulled bills from consideration without votes amid concerns they can’t pass, leaving them bottled up in two committees. But new hearings are scheduled for Sunday, after closed-door meetings among House leaders and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration aimed at breaking the impasse.

The governor called the 17-day special session to close a $994 million shortfall in the financial year that begins July 1 caused by expiring temporary taxes passed by lawmakers. Edwards wants replacement taxes passed, saying that without them, deep cuts would be forced on the TOPS college tuition program, health services and public safety spending.

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee that handles tax bills, says he believes an agreement has been reached. But he was restrained in hopefulness, noting previous deals have fallen apart in contentious debates.

“I left there thinking that we were in pretty good shape,” James says. “I am somewhat concerned because I’m very cautious about anything until it happens in the Legislature.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, could win enough support from the full House for passage.

As soon as lawmakers suggested the measures could get out of committee, resistance started to reappear.

“There might be a deal. I’m not part of it,” said Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a Shreveport Republican who sits on the Ways and Means Committee and doesn’t support taxes. Seabaugh says he would object to nearly every tax bill on the committee agenda for Sunday—opposing attempts to allow them to advance without individual lawmakers having to vote on them.

“If they want it to come out, they better get the votes,” he says.

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