BATON ROUGE — Louisiana’s legislative session reaches its midpoint Tuesday with no clear direction on what approach lawmakers will take on rewriting state tax laws, if they can reach agreement at all.
Some signs of progress emerged Monday as the House tax committee started advancing proposals for consideration, though without any promise lawmakers on the committee would support the ideas on the House floor.
No bills out of more than 900 filed for consideration have reached the governor’s desk so far, and portions of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative agenda have run into significant opposition, with his main tax bill already jettisoned.
The two-month session must end by June 8.
Edwards said a tax overhaul is needed to stabilize Louisiana’s finances, end years of budget shortfalls and deal with the expiration of $1.3 billion in temporary taxes in mid-2018. But the Democratic governor’s main revenue-raising proposal, to charge a new tax on businesses’ gross receipts, failed to gain any traction, and he’s since shelved the idea.
The Senate has agreed to decrease tax breaks to save money and will consider more of those proposals. But with most tax bills required to start in the House, senators have only modest work they can do.
House Republican leaders have yet to rally around a specific package of bills.
On Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee started advancing measures to change laws governing corporate taxes, individual income taxes and various tax break programs. The panel didn’t vote on concepts, but simply forwarded them to the full House for consideration, while negotiations continue behind the scenes.
Though House GOP leaders haven’t embraced a specific plan for state tax policy, they have adopted their approach to next year’s more than $29 billion state operating budget.
They propose to spend 2.5 percent less than the full forecast of what Louisiana is expected to collect in general state tax dollars, to hedge against concerns the forecast could come up short and force midyear cuts.
House Democrats and Edwards say leaving $235 million on the table could force damaging and unnecessary cuts across government for the financial year that begins July 1. Republicans say the Edwards administration is using scare tactics.
Nearly all Democrats opposed the budget proposal approved by the House last week. Negotiations shifted to the Senate on Monday.
Beyond taxes, other Edwards-backed proposals appear to be in trouble.
An effort to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage hasn’t yet received a hearing, and the governor’s push for new equal pay laws in Louisiana hit a roadblock in the House labor committee, which killed one of his proposals. The full Senate will debate a second measure requiring private businesses to pay the same wages to men and women who perform the same work. But if it advances out of the Senate, it will head to the House labor committee.
Proposals to rewrite Louisiana’s criminal sentencing laws — aimed at lessening the state’s top-in-the-nation incarceration rate — are advancing. But some already have been watered down amid resistance from the state’s district attorneys, and more revisions are expected.
Besides financial haggling, lawmakers also have embarked on other contentious debates.
The House will debate a measure aimed at protecting Confederate monuments, requiring voter approval before they could be removed from public property. The Senate will consider whether to ban use of the death penalty in Louisiana.
Some bills already have been shelved.
The House voted down a bill to shorten the wait for a divorce when the married couple has children under 18. A House committee rejected a proposal to restore the voting rights of convicted felons on probation or parole. Senators refused to require TOPS students to live in the state for several years or reimburse Louisiana for part of their tuition costs.