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Sales tax fails, as Louisiana session edges toward failure

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s budget-balancing special session edged toward failure Sunday night, as the House again refused to pass a sales tax bill that is considered the linchpin of any tax deal to help close a looming budget gap.

The vote seemed to suggest the special session likely won’t raise any money as it neared the Wednesday deadline set by Gov. John Bel Edwards for the 17-day gathering to end.

“I don’t see any salvagability of this session. I don’t see much hope. I hope I’m wrong,” said Rep. Rob Shadoin, a Ruston Republican who supports taxes to offset the budget hole.

Factions in the House and Gov. John Bel Edwards appear unable reach agreement on which tax types — and how much money — to use to offset the $994 million shortfall that hits July 1. House Republican leaders favor sales taxes, while Democrats, particularly the Black Caucus, prefer income taxes.

But even when the factions seem willing to support a tax measure, the deals have broken down over ties to unrelated bills and the order in which bills are heard.

Mistrust marks the debates, and frustration is brimming in the chamber.

“I don’t see how we move forward at this point. Emotions have been high. There’s been a lot of contention in this session because there are a lot of members who feel like they’ve been left out of this discussion, and I don’t see us moving forward,” said Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican. “I think this is it. I think we go home.”

Only 33 of 104 representatives supported the sales tax proposal in a Sunday night vote, down from 38 votes when the measure failed a few days earlier. It needed 70 votes to pass. A mix of Republicans and Democrats voted on both sides of the issue.

“In my opinion, that vote just sealed the failure of doing anything beneficial for our people,” said Shadoin, who supported the bill.

After that vote, the House adjourned until Monday. Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras said he wasn’t sure if lawmakers would simply end the session when they returned.

“I don’t know that for sure,” he said.

Edwards, a Democrat, posted on Twitter that he believes “the House has given up any effort to solve the fiscal cliff.” He said the House Republican leadership “did not negotiate in good faith.”

Republicans in the chamber, however, have said instead the Democrats kept changing their demands in the negotiations.

Barras pointed to four members of the Black Caucus voting against a major tax bill that failed Friday, a proposal sought by Democrats to lessen the itemized deductions allowed for upper-income taxpayers. The Black Caucus members said they were unhappy it was tied to separate bills including efforts to enact work requirements on Medicaid patients. But Barras said those ties were need to keep enough Republican support for the measure.

The $994 million budget shortfall is tied to the expiration of temporary taxes. Part of the shortfall will be offset with $302 million estimated from increased state income-tax collections caused by federal tax changes, leaving a hole of $692 million.

Sunday’s debate was on a proposal sponsored by Rep. Stephen Dwight, a Lake Charles Republican, that would temporarily renew one quarter of an expiring 1 percent sales tax and temporarily eliminate some sales tax breaks, to raise $290 million annually.

Because most tax bills must start in the House, senators have had little to do — but wait. Republican Senate President John Alario said he remained hopeful the House could broker a deal on some taxes, though he added “that hope is beginning to diminish.”

“It’s not heading in the right direction,” Alario said.

The session costs an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 a day.

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