The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee graciously allowed House GOP Caucus chairman Lance Harris to brag his way through presenting HB 27, even encouraging him to air his inflated opinions regarding his success at finally getting a revenue-raising measure across the building for their consideration. But ultimately, they punctured the windbag.
“This renews one-third of thye fifthy penny of sales tax, cleans the remaining four pennies, and retains the full sales tax exemption for residential utilities,” Rep. Harris (R-Alexandria) told committee members Wednesday evening. “This is a compromise, and it has the best chance, the most promise, of solving most of the state’s critical funding needs. And I believe, in my circle of influence in the House, that it won’t pass all the way through this process if it is drastically altered on this side of the building.”
“How much does it raise?” Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) asked.
“$363-million, and with my colleague’s bill, you’re getting $395-million total in replacement revenue,” Harris replied, proudly.
“Thank you for doing this, since I know it’s outside your comfort zone,” Peterson said. “If I may ask, do you think it is adequate to cover the need?”
“It’s a portion of it,” Harris said. “Of course, the crux of the argument is what is the need?”
“What do you believe it is?”
“Just about this amount,” he answered. “But I also believe state government is capable of making spending reductions while still preserving needed services.”
“Since you are leading this effort, what would you cut?” Peterson asked.
“That’s a question for the budget debate, which we’ll be having in the House tomorrow,” Harris replied. “I’m here for this bill tonight.”
“You like being in control of state government, don’t you?” she asked, sweetly.
“It’s what my constituents sent me here to do,” he answered.
That left a door open for Sen. Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria), who represents the same area as Harris.
“I share those constituents with you, and more, “ Luneau said. “We also shared the same math teacher at Pineville High, back in the day – Ms. Mount. Now, we all understand the shortfall to be $648-million, but you’ve been insistent that it’s only $495-million. Could you explain how you came up with 495?”
“When you take the amount we’re spending in the current year, as of December 1, 2017, and you subtract the REC estimate for state general fund revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, it’s $495-million,” Harris replied.
“We have a formula that the state has used for years to make these calculations, and that isn’t it,” Luneau said. “You’re asking us to use a different formula, with no reasonable explanation as to why you are right and all the rest of us are wrong?”
“In Appropriations, we ask the departments if they can live on what they are getting right now – on what they have now,” Harris responded. “So calculating on this basis is the best way to ensure the state lives within its means.”
“Rep. Harris, I’ve heard you say that your method and your bill will only result in departmental cuts of 1.3% next year,” Luneau continued. “What if we use the method the rest of the state uses – what would the percentage of cuts to the departments be then?”
“I haven’t calculated that. I’ve only done it my way,” Harris replied. “But my bill is a compromise. It has the best chance of fixing this. I’ve already proven that by getting 76 House members to vote for it and send it over here to you. Pass this. If not, there will be much larger cuts.”
“We in the Senate have been waiting patiently for a year and a half for you in the House to send us some bills that would attempt to solve the fiscal cliff, and now we get this,” Luneau commented. “You say it’s this or nothing. It is not a compromise if you only offer take it or leave it.”
“I have my Webster’s dictionary here,” said Sen. Gerald Boudreaux (D-Lafayette). “It defines ‘compromise’ as ‘an agreement reached by each side.’ Since this is our side’s first opportunity to debate a bill from your side, it is not yet a compromise – especially not when you present it as being ‘your way or the highway’. I take that as more of a threat.
“People in this state are sick and tired of y’all saying ‘reduce government’ and not saying where. When they’re in a wheelchair, you can’t take half the wheels off, and then tell them, ‘You’re on your own.’ When it comes to life, we are not going to be party to your picking winners and losers. On that, there will be no compromise,” Boudreaux warned.
“Rep. Harris, we’re going to take you at your word, and observe your line in the sand,” Revenue and Fisc chairman J.P. Morrell said. “We are not going to raise the sales tax renewal by any more than one-third of a cent. But we are going to clean some of your preserved exemptions off the remaining four cents state sales tax. It’s a short list, including manufacturing machinery and equipment and all non-residential utilities, but it’s an expensive list – around $300-million dollars. And we’re going to make this permanent.”
Harris was defiant.
“Have at it – your prerogative,” he said. “But this won’t pass the House.”
“What about what will pass the Senate?” Morrell asked. “Part of compromise is the House not sending bills over to us saying ‘take it or leave it’.”
“I will reject the Senate amendments and the bill will not pass,” Harris insisted, his face flushing with anger.
“How much does this generate, with all the amendments?” Sen. Peterson asked the chairman.
“$642-million,” Morrell, grinning, replied.
“If you’re the author of the one bill to save the state, I would suggest you be open to working with both the House and Senate leadership,” Sen. Peterson then admonished Harris. “Keep an open mind. It’s a good thing.”
“It’s time for people to man up in this building, and own the cuts needed to reduce the size of state government,” Harris said, at this point looking as though his head would explode. “We’ll show you tomorrow, on House Bill 1,” he threatened.
Yet the amendments were adopted, without objection, and the bill moved favorable to the Senate floor – also without objection.
But they weren’t done, as the committee’s next action pulled out the proverbial hatpin to pop Harris’ balloon of self-importance.
Chairman Morrell called the other revenue-raising measure received from the House, HB 12 by Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), and amended the entire content of Harris’ bill into it, creating a carbon copy – but with a different, more impartial author.
“We now have an alternate instrument, giving us the ability for reasonable conversations,” Sen. Peterson observed. “It’s good and healthy that we not be held hostage by any one individual.”
And if that wasn’t enough, the same day the full Senate considers these two revenue-raising bills, they’ll also have a proposed constitutional amendment to discuss. SB 22 by Sen. J.P. Morrell would remove the current constitutional requirement that all revenue-raising measures begin in the House.
Hey, House – do you hear the Senate now?