The dean of the Legislature talks about moving forward after latest special session stalemate

He is the dean of the Louisiana Legislature, he's a Republican, but he has also been a Democrat and the House speaker.

And Senate President John Alario has seen better days inside the State Capitol over his more than four decades in the Legislature.

Alario talked in-depth to FOX 8 News about the latest failed special session in terms of solving the ongoing budget crisis.

"In the end, we were actually arguing about 1/6th of a penny. That meant if you went out and bought a suit that cost you a hundred dollars, you would pay 17 cents more. That 17 cents more would have helped us fund the TOPS program at 100 percent," Alario said of measures to extend a portion of the soon-to-expire 5th penny of the state sales tax.

While state lawmakers managed to approve an operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, it failed in the waning minutes of the special session to approve new revenues to make up for the nearly $700 million shortfall in state funds.

The budget as it stands cuts the popular TOPS scholarship program, higher education and other state agencies that the governor views as critical.
Soon after the midnight end of the special session on Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed his displeasure over the second special session of the year ending without a budget fix.

"Obviously, I am extremely disappointed in what was just a disaster that played out in the House of Representatives that is attributable to a minority of the House members and to leadership that is anything but," said Edwards.

With little time left on the clock for the session, Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh filibustered to prevent a second vote on Democrat Rep. Walt Leger's bill to renew one-half of the expiring 1-cent on the sales tax.

"And yes, I am trying to run the clock out because we voted on this bill before," Seabaugh said to boos and jeers.

In recent years there have been other displays of contention among House members.

FOX 8 asked Sen. Alario why there didn't seem to be that kind of House acrimony when he was House speaker.

"Well, I don't think it was quite as partisan back then at that time. It seems to have drifted into the Louisiana Legislature what it has in Washington D.C. That's not good for democracy. I think both sides need to come together and work things out. If you look back at the votes in the Senate, we had both Democrats and Republicans voting on these measures to try to fund it fully and try to get things moving in this state, and so it's just disheartening that now folks have decided it's going to be their way or no way," Alario stated.

Many House Republicans favored Rep. Lance Harris' bill to keep only one-third of the expiring extra penny in place to help solve the budget shortfall. But it did not get the required number of yes votes for passage.

Alario thinks retaining one-half of the penny will solve the problems. The Senate voted to retain that portion of the 5th penny.

"We're just puzzled as to why we can't get that compromise.  We think in a democracy both of us need to give.  We never could get them to get up off that one-third, they were stuck in it and just could not see a way clear to try to fund all these extra projects that we need within the budget," said Alario.

Alario talked about the way forward during the impending third special session of the year.

"Well, I think we're all willing to have a discussion with our colleagues again.  There appears to be three or four members in the House driving that train and we need to probably sit down with them and what we need to get to that point, the governor needs to be involved in those discussions also and see if we can't try to reach some compromise. I think that's very important for the people of this state," he said.

But would Alario, as senate president, ask the Senate to support renewing only one-third of the expiring extra penny sales tax?

"No, I think we've got to find something better than a third to make this thing work. There may be some room between one-third and one-half, but one-third doesn't get it," said the senate president.

Republicans have criticized the democratic governor's leadership and some are not convinced another special session is needed to attempt to raise new taxes.

FOX 8 News asked Alario if he believed Gov. Edwards was doing all he can to achieve a resolution.

"I've had the opportunity to work with seven different governors and admire each one of them of what they've achieved and what they tried to do within the state, all of them had a good heart, wanted to see this state progress. John Bel Edwards is one of the hardest working ones that has been, he puts in lots of time into the efforts, calls in people, talks with them all the time. People who are stuck and will not compromise, it's very difficult for anybody to talk with," answered Sen. Alario.

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