Business Prepares for Special Session

Small business owners involved in the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish heard from state legislators about their plans for the Special Session of the Louisiana Legislature scheduled for Feb. 13-22.  After legislators outlined their proposals, the business owners had their say, calling for smarter use of highway dollars on small projects, instead of massive projects for which no funds exist, and for using gas taxes solely for roads and bridges.Three Baton Rouge area state legislators discussed their plans for the upcoming Special Session before members of the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish, who gathered at Café Américain,
Gov. John Bel Edwards has called for the Louisiana Legislature to convene from Feb. 13 to 22 at the Capitol to consider ways to cut spending and balance the state budget.
Rep. Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge) said one of his goals is to fully fund the TOPS scholarship program, although he said he is willing to raise the eligibility standard from a 2.5 grade point average up to 3.0.  This would reduce the number of students eligible.
Foil said his other major concern is infrastructure and the need for better highways, including the possibility of a new Mississippi River bridge.  He said any increase in the gasoline tax to fund highway improvements should have to go to a referendum of the voters statewide.
Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) said his No. 1 concern is getting additional assistance to families impacted by the flood last August. He said his home was one of only two houses on his street that didn’t flood, but of those who did flood, only two have received financial assistance.  He said $1.2 billion in federal funds is coming available, and that will help.
James said he had benefited from the TOPS program when he was in school, and he hates to see the program used as a bargaining chip to get higher taxes. He said raising the grade point to between 2.5 and 3.0 is something that makes sense.
James said he is willing to support cuts in programs and in rainy day funds, but he does not want the cuts to come from education or prisons. He said, “We need to be smarter on crime. I will have some proposals, but I am discussing them with law enforcement first.”
Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) said his area flooded and his No. 1 goal is getting help to people.
Ivey said the Special Session will be about finding $300 million to cover the projected budget deficit. He said one way to make government more efficient is transparency, especially letting people know how their money is spent.  He is proposing a system that will let anyone go online and see detailed expenditures in every state agency. “Transparency leads to accountability,” he said.
Ivey hopes to revamp Louisiana’s corporate income tax system. “We have a broken tax system,” he said. “We have a hole in the bottom of the ship, but our answer is to buy a bigger bucket”
Terri Hodges, legislative aide to Rep. Valarie Hodges gave an update on the Diversion Canal and invited everyone to a hearing on the canal.
Chamber chairman Cecil Cavanaugh said transportation funds are not going to building roads and bridges but 90 percent are being used for extraneous matters. Architect Coleman Brown said the biggest problem is drainage. He said we must focus on the Diversion Canal and the Darlington Reservoir. He said smart decisions such as closing the Washington St. Exit should be done rather than pursuing gigantic projects such as a new bridge, for which no funds exist.
The ChamberEBR is a small business-oriented Chamber. To join, call  225-921-1433

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