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Anger, frustration mark tax debate in Louisiana’s session

March 1, 2018

Rep. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, center, speaks with Reps. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, left, and Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, on the House floor on Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Amid the stalemates and bickering of Louisiana’s legislative session, growing resentment and hard feelings among state House members are making efforts to reach a compromise even more difficult.

Years of repeated disagreements over taxes and spending have frayed relationships and fractured the bonds that often enable colleagues to set aside differences and pass legislation.

The House returns Friday to determine if lawmakers can reach a deal to close a nearly $1 billion budget gap, or if they will adjourn the special session early. They’ll have to overcome Wednesday night’s failure to pass a nearly $300 million sales tax bill, a debate that descended into angry speeches about mistrust, partisanship and stubbornness.

Republicans frustrated with their leaders vented about political agendas, while GOP leaders defended their performance.

Rep. Barry Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican whose tax overhaul proposals last year failed to gain support from GOP leaders, said some of his colleagues have focused too heavily on trying to derail Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election bid next year.

“We don’t want a Democrat to get re-elected, and we don’t want to give him a political win by doing tax reform. That was something that was told to me,” Ivey said. He added: “We placed politics ahead of our constituents. We should all be ashamed.”

House GOP leader Lance Harris dismissed talk about partisan politics, saying it’s untrue.

“I’m a little peeved,” the Alexandria Republican said. “Some of us have worked tirelessly on this process.”

Harris said Democrats have continued to change their positions on the taxes they want to fill the budget gap that looms on July 1. He dismissed Ivey’s claims about not wanting Edwards to succeed as “the kind of stuff I step in” in the cow pasture.

“I think we’ve worked very hard to reach across the aisle. Quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing about Washington-style politics,” Harris said.

He urged lawmakers repeatedly, but to no avail, to “man and woman up” to advance the sales tax bill and keep tax talks going.

Democrats whose votes are needed to pass taxes but who feel sidelined in the majority-Republican Legislature criticized the process for considering tax bills. They favor income tax changes, rather than the sales tax approach backed by GOP leaders.

“What are we doing here?” Rep. Walt Leger, the top-ranking Democrat in the House, lamented at one point in the lengthy debate and speeches.

Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said he doesn’t agree that Democrats should “take what you can get” to avoid deep cuts to state services.

“Our constituents, yours and mine, deserve more than just ‘take what you can get,’” he said.

Other lawmakers simply questioned whether agreements could ever be struck in a chamber as divided as the House appears.

“We’re acting like a bunch of kids,” said Rep. James Armes, a Leesville Democrat. “We’re acting like the bunch of nuts we’ve got in Washington right now.”

Rep. Rob Shadoin, a Ruston Republican, described his colleagues as “a House divided against ourselves.”

“As soon as some of us try to start building bridges, the arsonists show up and start burning them,” he said. He urged his colleagues: “Please look beyond the next election cycle and do what’s best for the people of Louisiana so we can get out of this ridiculous cycle we’re in.”

The special session, which costs $50,000 to $60,000 per day, must end by March 7.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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