Sales taxes still key to legislative negotiations

By Sarah Gamard, Mitch Rabalais & Jeremy Alford

A handful of bills extending half of the expiring fifth penny in the state sales tax structure have been filed for this year’s third special session, which was convened Monday and is slated to conclude June 27.

The same proposal was introduced unsuccessfully by Democrats last session, failing to make it to the governor’s desk. But this time, the half-penny bills are authored by members from both parties.

Two measures — HB 2 by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, and HB 3 by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson — would extend half of the expiring penny in sales taxes until 2025.

HB 4 by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, meanwhile, would begin the extended portion of the penny at one half, gradually decreasing it to two-fifths and then one-quarter of a penny until 2025.

The bills are similar to what Landry, a member of the Black Caucus, sponsored and failed to move out of the Republican-dominated House Ways and Means Committee in the last special session.

The governor-backed legislation was unpalatable to majority party members, who warned Landry before he had a chance to testify that it would not pass.

Some even said it would never come to a vote, according to the author. It failed 6-11 along party lines.

Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, plans to file his own sales tax bill that he said would be similar, if not identical, to Landry’s HB 2.

“I expect to be supportive of Terry’s bill as well,” Leger said, adding he wants the body to “have some options” on revenue measures.

This session, the seventh of its kind this legislative term, is already contentious. It will revolve around the budget passed by lawmakers in the second special session, which Gov. John Bel Edwards signed after he vetoed a plan that they passed in the regular session.

Forced to balance with the amount of revenue currently on the table, the budget lawmakers passed makes cuts to higher education and prisons, among other entities. In the eyes of Gov. Edwards and members of his party, those cuts left a hole he hopes to fill with new revenue this coming week.

Some lawmakers, particularly those in the GOP, oppose any new taxes and have pledged to reduce “wasteful spending.”

It’s a narrow playing field, too, since the governor’s call limits legislation to sales taxes, sales tax exemptions and some technical changes to the budget bill’s language.

Political History: An African-American Governor in Louisiana

Ninety-two years prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, a black man sat in the governor’s chair as Louisiana’s chief-executive. But many don’t know his story.

The name Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback is mostly a foot-note in Louisiana history textbooks, largely overlooked among the colorful characters and enormous egos of the Bayou State’s bygone governors.

Pinchback was born on a plantation in Georgia in 1837, the son of the estate’s owner. His mother was a slave. Pinchback, his mother and siblings were set free by his father and lived in relative comfort on one of his plantations in Mississippi. But when his father died, the family fled to Ohio, fearful of being forced back into slavery.

Having to support his family, Pinchback worked as a steward aboard riverboats on the Mississippi River. During this time he developed a penchant for gambling, learning the finer points of games from the various travelers along the river. Throughout his life, Pinchback would be known as a skilled card player who also enjoyed an afternoon at the track.

At the height of the Civil War in 1862, Pinchback traveled to Union-held New Orleans, where he volunteered to recruit African-American troops and lead them in an Army regiment. While he rose to the rank of captain, he eventually resigned over what he viewed as gross discrimination in the military.

Returning to New Orleans, Pinchback became the leader of the Fourth Ward Republican Club and won election to the 1867 constitutional convention, where he authored several resolutions fully integrating schools and public accommodations.

The following year, he won election to the state Senate and became Senate president within a year.

When Lt. Gov. Oscar Dunn (also a black officeholder) died in 1871, then-Gov. Henry Clay Warmoth appointed Pinchback to take Dunn’s place. It was an odd choice. Warmoth and Pinchback were political rivals and openly clashed. According to historian Jack McGuire, they were attending separate events in New York when Pinchback rushed back to Louisiana in attempt to sign legislation as “acting governor” that Warmoth had refused to approve. Warmoth had the lieutenant governor’s train delayed so he could arrive home first.

Not long after that, the House impeached Warmoth in December of 1871. Under the laws at the time, the governor was suspended from office until a verdict was handed down by the Senate. Over Warmoth’s protests, Pinchback took the oath of office. When Warmoth tried to lock Pinchback out of the governor’s office, he had the door broken down.

Because there was just a month left in the term, the Senate refused to convene for a trial. So Pinchback served the remainder of the time and carried out the general gubernatorial duties. He was elected to the U.S. Senate after leaving office, but was refused his seat over an election dispute.

In his later years, Pinchback worked as an attorney on the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case and helped establish Southern University. He died in 1921 at age 84.

He would remain the only African-American governor in U.S. history until 1990.


About Jeremy Alford 227 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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