By Tryfon Boukouvidis, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — It was payback time in a House committee on Thursday.
After Senate Democrats chastised Republican leader Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria on Wednesday over a bill that raised less revenue than the governor says is needed, a Republican-led House committee on Thursday grilled two of those Democrats and rejected or deferred bills they had proposed.
The House Ways and Means Committee put off a bill by Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, and voted down two bills by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell, D-New Orleans, the chair of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, adding to the tensions between the chambers as they rush to see if they can agree on revenue and budget bills before the special session ends on Monday.
Both senators had intensely questioned Harris’ budget numbers Wednesday night and rebuked him for refusing to make changes to raise significantly more revenue to address the $648 fiscal cliff that is projected to occur when temporary tax measures expire on July 1.
Luneau’s bill, which had passed the Senate, would have made permanent reductions to certain tax credits and rebates on corporate incentive programs.
Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, proposed retaining these tax credits and rebates and cutting instead a credit film producers receive to shoot in Louisiana.
When Luneau noted that he had proposed a bill to eliminate the film tax credit in the past, Morris said, “We might have a bill right here to do away with it, you know, because we have the power to amend bills. Are you familiar with this process?”
“If you want to kill this bill today and do away with it, this is a good way to do it,” Luneau responded before Morris interrupted him to call for his colleague’s bill to be involuntarily deferred.
“I would like to have my say because I let Rep. Harris have his say last night, I can assure you,” Luneau said.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, made a point of order to allow Luneau to finish his statement.
“It’s ok, Rep. Ivey,” Luneau said, “I sure didn’t expect any courtesy today.”
One of Morrell’s bills would have increased the earned income tax credit, a measure intended to relieve the poor of the state who would be disproportionately affected by the state sales tax that the Legislature intends to debate on Friday.
Earlier on Thursday, the full House approved 95-5 a budget proposal by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, that would fund the popular TOPS scholarships at 80 percent and fully fund higher education. Under Henry’s plan, the Legislature would slash health care programs by approximately $100 million.
The House also approved 96-7 three supplementary bills that would restore funding to certain areas as long as there was more revenue raised than anticipated. If more revenue is raised, TOPS would be funded at 90 percent under one of those bills.
Several Democrats offered multiple amendments to restore funding in certain areas under the presumption that the Senate would raise more revenue. But Henry objected to all of them, urging the representatives not to “appropriate the money till we know exactly how much we have.”
Referring to Henry’s comments, Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, said, “I just don’t believe it.” He added that “it’s a fluid process, and most around here realize that revenue has to be raised.”
The House rejected 52-42 a bill identical to Henry’s by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, and the floor leader for Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Leger said the intent of his bill was to ensure that lawmakers would have a budget bill to vote on. Later on, Henry guaranteed that would be the case.
In the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, argued that “apparently, there hasn’t been enough of the burn for legislators to feel the pain from our constituencies to actually take structural long-term action.”
That comment prompted head shakes and intense looks from some of his Republican colleagues.
Morrell responded that “our poorest citizens, they absolutely feel our tax burden” and “the terror of trying to figure out” whether they can afford to lose state services.
“I would argue that the people who don’t feel the burn are the special interest groups that have a disproportionate voice at how we do tax reform,” he added.
Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, complained that other members of the committee were allowed to digress from the bills being discussed, but that he often was not allowed to.
Acting Chairman Jim Morris, R-Oil City, apologized, but said he didn’t know what he was apologizing for.
“If you don’t know why you’re apologizing, you don’t need to apologize,” James responded, laughing.
“I’m growing very weary and tired of it, and I think it’s starting to seep outside of the rails because people see how we treat each other,” James said. “And that’s why we have lobbyists that come in and disrespect us and disrespect the process, because we’re doing it to one another.”