Saying they want “a place at the table,” 13 south Louisiana parish presidents gathered in St. Tammany Parish on Tuesday and urged state lawmakers to consult them during Louisiana’s upcoming budget debate.
The meeting was convened by St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister and included parish presidents from around the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas and Acadiana.
It concluded with a news conference at which the various parish leaders — several of whom have just taken office — insisted they have a unique voice to add to the discussion of how to fix the state’s finances.
“We are the closest government to the people,” said Guy Cormier, president of both St. Martin Parish and the state Police Jury Association. “We fully understand that the state has issues to deal with.”
Brister said the group spent the most time discussing proposed sales and gasoline tax increases that are expected to come up when the Legislature convenes in a special session Feb. 14. But apart from wanting to make sure their voices are heard, there was no general consensus on what state leaders should do.
Kevin Couhig, president of West Feliciana Parish, said state leaders need to look at cutting spending.
“We have not cut to the bone,” he said. “There are always things we can cut.”
But his counterpart from Jefferson Parish, Michael Yenni, seemed to disagree. “We cannot afford to cut more in a lot of cases,” he said. “Whatever the state does, we can’t lose revenue.”
Yenni pointed out that many parish presidents are prohibited from deficit spending by law, and he urged Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature not to cut state funds that flow into parish coffers.
The group plans to draft a letter for state leaders to be delivered by Feb. 14.
Beyond the pleas for inclusion, many thanked Brister for organizing the meeting.
Riley “PeeWee” Berthelot, of West Baton Rouge, said it was the first time in his four terms that he had been in the same room with that many parish presidents for a conversation. His colleagues seemed to agree. Brister said they hope to gather again.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.