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The Art of the Barter


Both the full House and Senate convened yesterday afternoon, but their business was brief, and more procedural than substantive.

“Speaker announces the conferees on House Bill 3: Representatives. Henry, Smith and Barras,” House Clerk Butch Speer announced at one point.

Behind the scenes, however, the art of the barter goes on. We know what the deal is: Senate approval of the House Speaker’s resolution to start skimming some dedicated funds next year, in exchange for House agreement to use  more of the Rainy Day Fund now. The trick is convincing enough members in both chambers.

“I’m trying to figure out why we really need to do this,” Senator Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said, as she began quizzing the Speaker on his plan to use dedicated funds to help pay down state debt.

“Why do we need to do this now, rather than do this during the regular session?” she asked

“Good question,” Speaker Taylor Barras responded. “We’re making our debt payments just fine. This is actually more directed toward helping us with our ailing State General Fund.”

It’s also a bargaining chip, to get two-thirds of the Republican-controlled House to agree to using $99-million, instead of $75-million of the rainy day fund.

“I think the 99, we’re not necessarily comfortable with just yet,” Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry observed.

So this final day of the special session, the Senate will discuss and vote on the House Speaker’s proposal first. If all goes as planned and it’s approved, when the House convenes it will ultimately take up the Senate president’s measure to use $99-million of the Rainy Day Fund. Meanwhile, there will be a lot of verbal arm-twisting in hallways and side rooms to try and get 70 House members on board.

But as Senate president John Alario advises, “Sometimes in a democracy we each have to give and take to make things work.”