THE POLITICAL ABC’s (Alario, Barras & Comedy): Seven answers & one joke each, directly from the gavel masters

It has been nearly three months since the finale of 2018’s edition of session-palooza. That’s plenty of time for House Speaker Taylor Barras and Senate President John Alario to recover, second guess their career choices, and start looking forward.

LaPolitics reached out to both of the legislative leaders and asked identical questions about the recent sales tax legislation, their forecasts for next fiscal year, upcoming special elections and more.

LaPolitics: What have you been up to since session-palooza ended?

Alario: I’ve made a couple of trips. I attended the Presidents’ Forum, which is an association of presidents of the Senate throughout the United States. It’s a national event and they’ve usually got a really good agenda of issues that we all discuss amongst each other. I went to the Southern Legislative Conference in St. Louis, basically to support Speaker Barras, who’s going to be chairman of it next year. We’ll be hosting it in New Orleans next year, so we were glad to encourage people to come. I made a speech at the Finance Association in Destin, followed by a speech at the Sheriff’s Association in Destin, also. Since then, I’ve been back home catching up with different things here.

Barras: It hasn’t been much of an off season yet. Three and a half weeks after the session ended, we headed to St. Louis for the Southern Legislative Conference. Our House and Senate members that were there were in charge of putting on a little teaser “Come to Louisiana” party at the end of the conference, so we got real busy after session ended getting all that together. We had a great time. We second lined, had beignets and everything. I think we’ve teased them enough that a bunch people are heading to Louisiana next year for SLC. I will serve as chairman of SLC next year, so it’s most fitting that we’ll be hosting in New Orleans. So that kept me pretty busy. Last week was the ALEC conference in New Orleans, so I was there. Next Tuesday, I leave for the (National Speakers Conference) in Milwaukee. So I’m squeezing in some bank work, but it’s been tough.

LaPolitics: Do you think we’re done with special sessions in 2018?

Alario: Well, I hope so. You never know.

Barras: Oh, God, I hope so.

LaPolitics: Could anything prompt another session this calendar year?

Alario: If a hurricane comes along as devastating as we had with Katrina, we had to come in several sessions after that happened. You’ve got all kinds of reasons the Legislature has to meet. But barring that, I don’t see any need for one at this point. There’s always the possibility of some federal legislation would come along that we might have to adjust to. I don’t want to say ‘never,’ but it looks like the coast is clear for now.

Barras: I don’t anticipate seeing any reason that a special session would be needed at this point. I think general economics have been pretty much what we had expected. Maybe some slight improvement. So that does help. It’s not like the economy is deteriorating any longer. Depending on what the administration comes with as far as the executive budget is concerned at the beginning of ‘19, I’m assuming they’re going to work within the parameters of the revenue that we have at this point. We’ll see where the Revenue Estimating Conference leads in our fall meeting.

LaPolitics: What will be some of the issues to watch for the 2019 regular session? Are any issues already surfacing?

Barras: Other than possibly some of the more general reform ideas, both on the budget reform side as well as possibly on the revenue side, I don’t see the revenue measures getting much traction after what we’ve been through for the last three years. I’m not sure what new revenue could be considered — I doubt that any of those get traction, even if they’re proposed. But if you have some opportunity to look at other reform measures, I think you’d have the opportunity to do better in a fiscal session.

Alario: That’s certainly an opportunity for anybody who has any ideas of any fiscal reform. But I would imagine it’ll be more of a quiet session because of the fact that it’s an election year. We have different committees meeting on different issues and they may have some recommendations when the time comes, but I don’t see anything of any burning desire at this point.

LaPolitics: Are any committee changes from your chamber on the way?

Alario: I don’t expect any. Sen. Jonathan Perry has gotten elected to appeals court judgeship, so that’ll provide for some opening in some of the seats that he held. (Commerce, Jud C and local.) And there may be some shifting around, depending on requests I get from members.

Barras: (Laughing) Just by the vacancies that have been created, there will be quite a few changes. I have, officially, two vacant seats now. A number of members in the House are vying for various positions in the fall, whether it’s judgeships or mayorships or whatever the case may be.

LaPolitics: How many more special elections do you think we'll see before the fall of next year?

Alario: If Rep. Bob Hensgens gets elected to the Senate, then you’ll have a special election to replace his seat. But other than the death of somebody along the way, or a resignation or whatever, I don’t anticipate any.

Barras: Rep. Hensgens qualified to run for the vacant Senate seat that Sen. Perry created when he became the appellate court judge. So that’s a November election. I know a number of my members were already in races that they had already qualified for in the November-December cycle for judgeships and mayors and those sorts of things. Those folks that get elected in November or December will certainly resign, I’m assuming, by the first of the year.

LaPolitics: Now that we're well past the midway mark of the governor’s first term, what do you think this go-around will ultimately be remembered for?

Alario: I think he (Gov. John Bel Edwards) will certainly be remembered as a hard worker. I’ve had the pleasure of serving with seven different governors and I think the world of each and every one of them. I’ve found each of them had a desire to make Louisiana a much better place. John Bel Edwards puts lots and lots of effort and time into the job trying to solve the problem. He’s had more of a difficult time because of the partisanship that has kind of crept into the legislative process. But I think he’s handled it rather well. I think it’ll show that he served the state on some very difficult times. You’ll recall, when he first took over, he was facing a $2 billion shortfall, worked his way through that, whittled it down to something less than $1 billion and then worked through that. I think all of that speaks well of his management style.

Barras: If I had to say what it would be remembered for, I think it’s going to be remembered for an extensive — I don’t know that everybody would agree that it was a great debate, but it was extensive debate on truly what the level of revenue that we need to run the state of Louisiana. I think that’s where the debate continues to rest: Is it $33 billion or is it $30 billion or is it $28 billion? I think the more efficient we get, I think that the more clear that will become. And I think the debate goes on for another several years, to be honest with you.

LaPolitics: Just to make sure people are reading to the bottom here, lay a joke on us. Any good ones that you recently heard?

Alario: You may or may not be able to use this. It’s one I heard recently. An old fella comes into the ice cream parlor. He’s struggling to come in, shuffling his way through. He finally gets to the stool and drags himself up on it. The waitress comes over and he says, “Banana split.” She says, “Crushed nuts?” And he says, “Oh, no ma’am, arthritis.”

Barras: I haven’t heard any one that would be clean enough for the readers, probably.

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