House passes bill to phase out extra tax

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana House on Thursday voted 73-21 to pass a bill that would phase out the extra portion of the state sales tax that the Legislature renewed last year after five months of partisan tensions to address recurring budget crises.

The proposal would reduce the extra 0.45 of a cent of sales tax by one-tenth of a penny every year from 2020 to 2022 and repeal the rest in 2023.

Last year lawmakers struck a compromise under which the sales tax extension would expire in 2025. This would give lawmakers time to find more permanent solutions to the state’s fiscal shortfalls.

“If you are fine with extracting excessive money out of the taxpayer’s pockets,” said the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, “then you don’t have to vote for this bill.”

Under Harris’ proposal, the state is projected to lose $392 million in revenues by 2024.

House ranking Democrat Rep. Walt Leger of New Orleans, who supports Gov. John Bel Edwards’ position to maintain the sales tax, added an amendment during the debate that would take 0.05 percent of the 0.45 percent sales tax, or $42.5 million a year, to fund early childhood education.

“This is where we need to be investing and this gives us an opportunity to do it,” Leger said.

The governor, who is up for re-election in the fall, has touted education as one of his priorities this legislative session and on Tuesday announced a plan to fund early childhood education in the state with $18 million.

Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, who criticized Harris’ plan to phase out the extra 0.45 of a cent, asked him during the debate which part of the government he would have defunded last year if the Legislature had not approved the tax measure.

“We may not have needed all that money,” Harris replied.