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Three days into special session, lawmakers scrambling for solution, will discuss one tax bill

Posted: 9:53 PM, May 24, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-24 22:53:49-04

Three days into the legislative session, lawmakers are still having trouble reaching agreements on how to fill the state’s nearly $650 million budget gap.

So far, only one revenue-generating bill has been approved by a house committee.

The Ways and Means Committee approved a temporary one-third cent sales tax.

That bill will head to the house floor as early as Friday at 1 pm.

That same committee shot down two bills that would have created a permanent half-cent sales tax, the amount that government analysts say is needed to fill that hole.

"We had a very hard day in Ways and Means and a very long day," said Rep. Robert Johnson from Marksville, who also sits on the committee.

Representative Lance Harris, from Alexandria, proposed a bill that many lawmakers hope will begin the process of fixing the state’s budget problem.

"As you know we have  one instrument regarding sales tax. You may like or may not like that bill but in any regards a bill like that takes 70 votes to move to the floor. So in order to start a conversation about how we move forward, I would like for you to go ahead and start that conversation tonight," said Johnson to the House floor, trying to prepare legislators for the long Friday ahead.

The tax Harris proposed would generate about $400 million a year.

The governor’s office says that’s not enough money to operate the state.

And House democrats say, for Harris’s bill to pass, he’ll need to compromise with them.

"It asks for a 1.4% cut in government service, that’s devastating. So why would you vote for a tax and then have to make cuts. It just doesn’t make sense. We continue to fail to do what should’ve been done and this isn’t anything new. This is our sixth special session," said Rep. Terry Landry, who represents Iberia, Lafayette, and St. Martin.

Temporary sales taxes put in place two years ago expire at the end of the month, creating the fiscal cliff.

And that has lawmakers scrambling to find some solution.

"There’s hope that we can fix this in the 14 days that we’ve been given to fix this. Hopefully, but we haven’t done anything in the past two and a half, three years. This is nothing new, this fiscal cliff is nothing new. We’ve been told this for years. So we have to raise revenues in order to provide services that our community deserves," said Landry, referring to the cuts to hospitals, Medicaid programs and TOPS that will happen if the budget is not fixed.

The three Acadiana representatives on the Ways and Means Committee, John Stefanski, Phillip Devellier and Mike Huval, all voted in favor of this bill.

However, none of them were available for comment.

We also reached out to Lance Harris, the author of this bill and he was unavailable as well.

The house will re-convene Friday at 1 pm. They must find a solution by June 4th.