One-on-One with House Speaker Taylor Barras | LPB
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Thursday, November 15, 2018
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Our Kelly Connelly Spires went one-on-one with House Speaker Taylor Barras.

One-on-One with House Speaker Taylor Barras »»»

Barras discusses the effect of term-limits on his leadership style, what could be done to make Governor John Bel Edwards’ tax reform measures more palatable, and about the governor’s criminal justice package.

Transcript - One-on-One with Speaker Taylor Barras

Speaker Taylor Barras dipped his toe into the Legislature for the first time as a page while majoring in Accounting at Louisiana State University. Elected in 2007 and term-limited in 2019, Barras was a late-breaking choice in the 2016 race for Speaker of the House. He says he wants his members to be able to defend their votes to their constituents. Barras earns his living as a banker in New Iberia.

(The following has been edited for clarity and conciseness.)
Several unnamed sources asserted that your leadership is ineffective in an article in the April 9 edition of The Advocate. What’s your response?

Speaker Taylor Barras: I think to call a leader ineffective— I think the days of the governor dictating who the speaker is, and the speaker dictating how his members vote, I think that’s a thing of the past. I think when your body changes that much every 12 years, the speaker is going to have to be the moderator, to say where do we meet in the middle and where do we negotiate with the administration and with the Senate. And that is the traffic cop that I am playing. To say it’s ineffective because the administration is not getting what it hopes for, I’m not sure we’ll ever see those days again. I think independence is kind of a new regime.

Who should the governor be talking to, if not you?

I would never want to discourage that communication, but at the same time I think his dependence on legislation passing in the House is selling it to the majority party that is not his. So that’s a challenge for him, that he has to convince a 60-member Republican delegation that they need to view it his way. I have played that conduit as honestly as I can and have shared with him what I think can be successful and what can’t be.
At the end of the day I’m not his floor leader. I think if the administration is hoping that I become their floor leader, that’s going to continue to be a disappointment. I’m Republican as well and was elected by the Republican majority. It’s a balance that I will work to keep every day and keep those lines of communication open, but at the same time I have to respect the 105 members that are hands on and want to have an input. Even if I was the dictator, I don’t think everyone would follow. I think those days are gone.

Governor Edwards criticized D.C.-style partisanship in his speech. I think another way to put it would have been to criticize D.C.-style factions. What do you think about that?

There’s no doubt some of those exist. I think members know if they represent an extremely conservative district that they can’t come and vote crazily here. I think we sometimes label members as conservative republicans, but that’s because they were voted in by a conservative district. I tell a member, you need to remember one thing when you press red or green: can you go home and defend that vote?
We went through it in the special session, as an example. How much we were going to use out of the Rainy Day Fund became the focal point. I knew early on to get it done we were going to have to use some of the Rainy Day Fund because of the short time frame we had. But to do it we need to find another way to maneuver it, and that’s when the Bond Security and Redemption Fund, which I had been working on for a considerable amount of time, presented an opportunity to fix a recurring issue. But it gave some of those conservative Republicans an opportunity to say that is a fix we’re talking about.

I’ve had conversations with other representatives who have put it more bluntly – they called that “cover.”

Without going through the details of [the Bond Security and Redemption Fund], that is the way the constitution requires that particular portion of statutory dedications to be handled. The fact that is was overlooked or not done for a number of years, I understand that can happen. But once we have discovered it and we work toward correcting it. So cover? Yes. But reform? Definitely.

Why haven’t House members warmed to the recommendations put forth by the task force they voted to create last year?

I think as we read through the recommendations from the commission nothing really on the revenue tax reform side was unexpected. We have 12 to 14 different types of taxes that we collect and access. A lot of them interrelate. It is tough to have a comprehensive tax reform conversation with all of those on the table.

We have a little bit of an antiquated system when it comes to the state’s assistance to local government. I’m just referencing one [tax] – before we replace the inventory tax, we need to be able to set the locals on a path to be able to generate that revenue.

When you’re trying to discuss that in probably one of the most recessionary times in Louisiana history, it’s a tough discussion. I interview businesses every day in the bank. I hear from business owners who are not taking salaries to be able to pay their employees; it gets a little concerning that you’re trying to talk raising corporate taxes and raising individual taxes at a time when people are unemployed. You know, I’m not so sure the time to talk comprehensive tax reform is in the middle of a recession. It’s a balance that I think we’ll have to work toward.

Do you and your members think tax reform is necessary?

Yes. I think we have a number of tax categories that we need to review, I mentioned the inventory tax earlier. I think the same thing with sales tax. How we collect sales tax in Louisiana is another system that’s quite old. It involves the locals as well. Streamlining that collection means gaining the confidence of the locals in that reform. I consider this a tough challenge to complete this in a year, just on inventory and sales tax because how that affects locals is incredibly complex. But there is an interest and there is a need, certainly there is, because I think stability is key on how we do both, all of it, going forward. I think also, mindful that as legislators are term-limited, how we budget is also a critical part of that.

Will this be the year for criminal justice reform?

I think that that has a couple of interesting components to it. I know the reentry program is so important. When someone has served their time, whether it’s from a parole standpoint or they have completely served their time, I don’t think there’s anything more important than to make sure we transition those people back into the work place, into their communities, appropriately. How they get back into those communities are going to be issues on other bills, as far as eligibility for parole and those kinds of things, which will be debated. I think there’s a great deal of interest in making sure we have appropriate reentry programs at multiple levels I think the same is true at the community level, being able to do what we can on preventative. Whether it’s drug court or family education or programs in schools. But when you get to re-identifying crimes and re-identifying penalties and re-identifying when you are eligible for parole, I think those will be a little more in depth debates, because that’s where you have to balance the effect on victims.

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