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House Speaker vs. Commissioner of Administration

Sue Lincoln

“One thing about budget strife is it gets a lot more folks to the table, thinking a little bit more outside the box than we’ve ever thought before,” says House Speaker Taylor Barras.

But is Barras going to broker a solution or encourage continued strife?  A panel discussion put on by the Public Affairs Research Council last Friday last week gave some insight into the Speaker, and the conflicts between his House and the John Bel Edwards administration.

The topic was budget fixes – what can be done now and what can be done with another special session. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne was frank.

“Obviously, when the regular session ends, there’s going to be cuts imposed.”

And, Dardenne says, those cuts should include TOPS.

“It is not to try and put legislators in a position where they’re uncomfortable because these are popular items, it’s because that’s where the dollars are.”

Barras isn’t so sure TOPS needs to be cut back, or that another special session is needed right away.

“An unsuccessful session in June helps no one, at the end of the day,” Barras said. “But if it’s determined that we have shaved every department as much as we can shave them, and they are living within what they can live with, then does that give momentum to seriously consider some revenue? Possibly.”

Dardenne did say he expects tax credits and exemptions to be on the table again in a second special session, since cutting them is a way to bring back revenue that’s been given away.

“You have to balance the incentive that is the motivation behind those exemptions versus is that taking away from the tax revenue that we ought to have, and is business paying its fair share?” Dardenne explained.

But Barras said he believes lawmakers “cleaning” the pennies of sales tax temporarily may be as far as they are willing to go.

“I think that’s an indication that there’s some appetite to go down that path. But you go back to tax credits in a second special session, you will touch some of those same industries. It could be viewed as a quick double whammy.”

“If you think there’s a more responsible way to do it, have at it,” Dardenne fired back.” We want to talk about it. But I will tell you that I’m fairly confident that there is not a way to comfortably make the cuts such that there will not be a need to have some kind of additional revenue.”

Barras responded politely, but firmly: “We will certainly not agree on how we get there, but we are speaking. Not speaking doesn’t get us anywhere.”