Webster Parish’s state legislators took different paths at the conclusion of the year’s second special session, which provides insight into what may happen during the current third edition.
That overtime meeting ended with some revenue-raising measures adopted in face of an expiring one cent sales tax at the end of the month. But the biggest element to addressing that disappearance, reinstituting a portion of that tax, remained elusive.
Lawmakers considered two measures, a Republican-backed initiative that would retain a third of the cent, and a Democrat-supported one that kept a half. With elimination of some other exclusions as part of these bills, they differed in annual dollars raised by a little over $100 million.
Both failed but took divergent routes to get there. The Democrat bill started as something entirely unrelated to sales tax levels in the House of Representatives but received a complete makeover in the Senate. That likely made the bill unconstitutional for two reasons: its formation contrary to the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House and that it contained more than one object of legislating.
The Senate, although with a Republican majority ran by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ ally Pres. John Alario, had enough big-government Republicans to countenance the transformation into the half-cent retention, including his law school buddy who assisted his campaign, Webster’s state Sen. Ryan Gatti. Most GOP senators went for the bill in any event because they hoped for some option to find revenues instead of having nothing.
That’s because Alario used the powers of his position to force the House to vote first on this bill rather than the GOP alternative, after it initially rejected the legislation. Edwards and Democrats had made it clear they would vote down the Republican version.
But the power play failed when the House rejected the Democrats’ version by seven votes (a two-thirds majority must pass tax increases). Former state Rep. Gene Reynolds of Webster, whose resignation took effect just minutes afterwards, voted in favor.
Then the Republicans’ measure came forth, and it met defeat by a predictably wide margin. However, Reynolds joined only two other Democrats in voting for it. In the Senate the previous day, to make it look like they would cooperate so it could move along in the process, all but one Democrat had voted for that bill while about a third of Republicans opposed it. But not Gatti – he was the only senator to miss that vote despite having been present earlier to vote on some amendments to it.
To sum up, Reynolds voted for both tax increases, while Gatti voted for the higher and didn’t go on the record for the lower. Had Democrats been willing to accept 80 percent of what they wanted as did Reynolds, smaller government would have commenced without need of a third session.
But with Reynolds’ chair empty, the loss of his affirmative vote will make it harder to pass any tax increase, even if Gatti appears willing to go along with higher taxes.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer or this newspaper.