One Acadiana has issued a legislative priorities list asking state lawmakers to pass measures that would encourage growth, such as finding more money for highway maintenance and construction — including Interstate 49 South — and quitting the raids on Louisiana’s Transportation Trust Fund to finance other parts of state government.
One Acadiana also is urging legislators, who are weeks into their two-month regular session, not to raise taxes on businesses in their quest to fill in an estimated $1.6 billion budget shortfall for the state’s 2015-16 fiscal year. The legislative session ends June 11.
“Our leaders face an enormous challenge in eliminating the budget deficit, but the debate must not create a false choice between slamming the brakes on our state’s economic development and slashing important investments in our future,” Jason El Koubi, One Acadiana president and chief executive officer, said in a statement issued Thursday.
One Acadiana is a newly formed regional economic development agency based in Lafayette. In January, El Koubi and others launched One Acadiana in nine parishes: Lafayette, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Evangeline, Acadia, St. Martin, St. Mary, Iberia and St. Landry.
The agency also engages the political arena by penning pro-business legislative positions like the priorities list, which includes restoring public confidence in Louisiana’s Transportation Trust Fund. The fund was created so Louisiana could make a dent in its road and bridge construction and maintenance backlog. But the TTF is routinely raided to pay for other expenses; last year, $60 million was pulled from the fund and given to State Police.
“We cannot continue to divert Transportation Trust Fund dollars away from critical infrastructure and ignore the fact that our transportation backlog is $12 billion,” said state Rep. Terry Landry, a Democrat from New Iberia and a retired state trooper.
Landry is sponsoring a bill that would limit the amount of money State Police takes from the TTF at $40 million in 2015-16, $25 million in 2016-17 and $10 million in each following fiscal year. The proposed legislation — House Bill 208 — has passed the House and will be reviewed in the Senate Finance Committee.
El Koubi said Friday that state leaders should examine closely those issues that have pushed state expenses past revenue: rising spending; too many budget “lock boxes” that limit flexibility; and the proliferation of tax exemptions that now top $7 billion a year. He said Louisiana Economic Development, the state’s business-luring division, uses tax exemptions to reel businesses into the state. Those exemptions, El Koubi said, should stay.
But Louisiana could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year by carving out those exemptions that benefit only a few, El Koubi said. He would not specify which of the exemptions he considers wasteful.
El Koubi and One Acadiana have plenty of other priorities. One is legislators giving Louisiana’s universities more autonomy, including the ability to raise tuition, which now is decided by the Legislature.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Joseph Savoie said state higher education institutions need stable, reliable funding.
“It’s no secret that Louisiana’s colleges and universities are hamstrung relative to our peers” in other states, Savoie said.
Natalie Harder, chancellor of South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette, said increased autonomy would cut down on inefficiencies in higher education.
“By cutting these strings, higher education can be more purposeful about where their funds are spent, such as investing in high-demand, high-wage programs for the citizens of our state, instead of spending resources in areas which do not make sense,” Harder said.
Other One Acadiana legislative priorities include finding money to pay for Interstate 49 South; keeping Common Core testing standards in K-12 schools; and requiring judges to follow the same financial disclosure rules imposed on other elected officials.