Analysis: Cue the blame game as second special session fails
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Immediately after Louisiana’s latest special session collapsed without a budget-balancing tax deal, the blame game began.
Many legislative leaders, rank-and-file lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards engaged in chastising each other, trash-talking their favored targets on social media and retreating to their corners, entrenched in their notions that they were right.
Few officials talked publicly about how to reach a compromise to avoid steep cuts to programs and services in three weeks, or how to improve areas of obvious lacking leadership before coming back for another special session later this month.
Maybe that’s part of the problem.
Louisiana is grappling with shrinking tax dollars in the budget year that begins July 1, $648 million less than this year, all of it tied to the expiration of temporary taxes.
Edwards called special sessions in February and May aimed at filling the shortfall.
The first one disintegrated in partisan stalemate, with no money raised for the gap. The second one cratered last week, with some money raised, but no deal reached on the centerpiece sales tax proposal, which would have renewed a portion of the 1 percent state sales tax expiring next month.
As has happened before, the public meltdown happened in the fractious House, when the clock wound down to the midnight deadline. A sales tax bill backed by the Senate to raise about $500 million - and opposed by House GOP leaders - fell six votes short of passage. A smaller tax bill supported by the House Republican leaders to raise $400 million then failed by 32 votes.
When Republican Rep. Julie Stokes sought to bring the Senate-backed tax bill back for a second consideration, Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras allowed his GOP colleague Alan Seabaugh to take the microphone and stall long enough to miss the deadline.
“I rise in opposition to the bill. We’ve already voted on it. We’ve been here, and yes, I am trying to run the clock out,” Seabaugh, of Shreveport, told the House.
Stokes, of Kenner, replied: “You’re just trying to kill the session.”
“Yes, I am,” Seabaugh responded.
It’s unclear if the bill could have reached the two-thirds support needed to pass.
But the collapse of the session amid shouts and boos aimed at Barras and Seabaugh - along with the appearance that a minority of House GOP members orchestrated the failure - kicked off new rounds of recriminations.
That worsens animosity ahead of the upcoming third special session, as many of the players in the debate accuse others of playing games.
House Republican leaders say the Senate jammed them, holding sales tax votes to the final hour of session until a tax break expansion for the working poor sought by Democrats won passage. They say the Democratic governor is too rigid, approaching negotiations with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. House GOP leaders say they compromised by moving from the no-tax stance of many members to offering $400 million of the $648 million Edwards sought.
The House Republican Delegation released a statement accusing the governor of “hostile resistance and outlandish scare tactics.”
“While Republicans came to the middle, the administration and Democrats doubled down on a tax-and-spend budget,” the statement said.
Edwards, meanwhile, blamed a “total collapse of leadership” in the House, a minority of members letting “politics take priority over people.” He described a “distinct, hardcore ‘Caucus of No’ in the House of Representatives standing in the way of the state of Louisiana.”
Senators say they offered the compromise, which Edwards supported in the final days of the session, by proposing to raise an amount halfway between what the governor wanted and what the House Republican leaders sought.
The Senate presented a united front, with senators overwhelmingly agreeing to their sales tax proposal, without the public breakdown that marred the House. And what continues to be clear is the House’s conservative Republican leaders don’t seem to reflect the viewpoint of a majority of the chamber’s members on financial issues.
That leaves the governor and the Senate trying to find a way to broker a deal with House leaders who don’t cede to the wishes of the majority.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte