BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov.-elect Jeff Landry named his top budget chief Wednesday, selecting former Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, a Republican who frequently sparred with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards over financial issues.
Barras will help draft the incoming governor’s fiscal plan for the state, be the public face of the administration’s financial negotiations and oversee the day-to-day operations of state government spending.
“It is through the Commissioner of Administration and his office that efficiencies, savings, and streamlining of state government can happen. This is where protecting the taxpayer starts,” Landry said in a written statement.
Barras is no stranger to the state Capitol, having served as a state representative from 2008 to 2020. In 2016 he was elected as House speaker, marking a legislative defeat for Gov. Edwards who had backed a Democratic lawmaker for the position.
Barras took on the role of speaker during one of the state’s worst financial crises in decades under former Gov. Bobby Jindal. At the time, Louisiana was facing a more than $1 billion budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year, a multimillion-dollar gap in the state’s Medicaid program and unstable revenue sources. The state was facing the harsh possibility of cuts that could shutter campuses mid-semester and putting health care services for the poor and disabled at risk of elimination.
Louisiana’s financial situation has vastly improved since. During this year’s fiscally focused legislative session, lawmakers debated how best to use $2.2 billion in extra revenue. A chunk of the surplus funds were used for temporary $2,000 teacher pay raises, paying down retirement debt, infrastructure projects and offsetting expiring federal pandemic relief funds used for early childhood education access.
While the state continues to receive sunny revenue forecasts, lawmakers worry about an expected drop-off when an automatic cut in the state sales tax rate takes effect in a couple of years.
Barras has years of financial experience outside of the Capitol as well, with a 41-year career in banking. He currently serves as the assessor of Iberia Parish.
“With my extensive background in finance, I am confident we can deliver a budget to the people of Louisiana that is both thoughtful and responsible with the taxpayer’s money,” Barras said.
In addition, Landry announced that Patrick Goldsmith, who recently resigned as chief financial officer for Ascension Parish, will serve as Barras’ deputy commissioner. Goldsmith worked 19 years with the Legislative Auditor as a performance auditor and nine years as the fiscal director for the Louisiana House.
These are the first in a series of administrative appointments by Landry, who will take office in January.
Landry, who currently serves as the state’s attorney general, won the governor’s seat in October. The Republican, who was backed by former President Donald Trump, earned more than 50% of the vote, surpassing a crowded field of candidates and avoiding a runoff. Edwards was unable to seek reelection due to term limits.