Prior to each annual legislative session, One Acadiana (1A), working through our policy committees, releases a set of legislative priorities regarding the issues that enhance our regional economic competitiveness. The six major issue areas for 1A’s 2017 Legislative Priorities are: 1) fiscal reform, 2) transportation infrastructure, 3) workforce development, 4) public education, 5) criminal justice reform, and 6) economic development.
As we enter the final month of the 2017 Regular Session, we want to recognize some of the initial outcomes and outlook on a few of these priorities.
The Legislature started this Session facing a $440 million shortfall for the 2017-18 budget year and an additional $1.4 billion deficit looming in July 2018, when certain temporary taxes, such as the extra penny of sales tax, are set to expire.
1A supports a balanced approach to stabilizing the budget and working toward long-term fiscal sustainability. A balanced approach will require cost-containing measures and budget reforms while maintaining essential funding for key priorities like PreK-12 and higher education, health care, and transportation infrastructure.
A key principle in our advocacy on fiscal reform is to do no harm to Louisiana’s economic competitiveness. To that end, 1A is strongly opposing tax measures that unfairly target the business community.
One of these anti-business bills was HB 628 (Jones), which proposed imposing the Commercial Activities Tax (CAT), a tax on the gross receipts or revenue of businesses with receipts above a certain threshold. Thanks to strong testimony by the business community about the negative impact this complex business tax would have on jobs and the economy, the bill was defeated in committee.
Another example of tax reform that unfairly targeted the business community was HB 648 (Havard), which sought to revamp Louisiana’s corporate tax structure and levy the “Louisiana Corporate Flat Tax,” a tax on business activity. Like the CAT, the Louisiana Corporate Flat Tax would have applied to a business whether it was profitable or not. This bill that 1A opposed was also defeated in committee.
Louisiana faces a $13 billion backlog of infrastructure needs on our existing transportation system and more than $10 billion in needs for new capacity, such as I-49 South.
1A supports efforts to increase transportation infrastructure investment, with I-49 South as a top priority. However, as a pre-requisite for a revenue increase, 1A is advocating for steps to improve public confidence in how existing resources are spent. To that end, 1A supports SB 57 (Cortez) and HB 598 (Abramson).
SB 57 (Cortez) is a Constitutional Amendment that would help restore trust in the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) by fully prohibiting diversions from the TTF to State Police for traffic control purposes, building on prior legislation by Rep. Terry Landry.
HB 598 (Abramson) would establish a multi-year timeline for projects included in DOTD’s Highway Priority Program (HPP), based on available and projected funding, and require progress reports detailing whether such projects are on time, ahead of schedule, or delayed.
Both bills would go a long way to increase DOTD’s transparency and accountability and are aligned with 1A’s transportation funding guiding principles. Additionally, 1A was involved in the drafting of HB 598.
Criminal Justice Reform
Similar to our approach on transportation infrastructure, 1A supports efforts to maximize the State’s existing criminal justice resources while improving program outcomes.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, with 816 out of every 100,000 Louisianans behind bars. We spend nearly $20,000 per year per inmate, costing more than $700 million to the state annually.
Joining with a broad coalition of partners across the state, we support efforts to reduce costs by reducing the overall prison population and to reinvest the savings in programs proven to improve public safety and employability skills.
Some of the cost-containing measures we support, which have passed their initial hearings, are SB 220 and 221 (Alario) and SB 139 (Martiny). We also support HB 489 (Leger), which provides the framework for how savings would be reinvested.
Several weeks of hard work remain until the Legislature finalizes the 2017 Regular Session on June 8. We would like to thank all 24 legislators from 1A’s nine-parish region for their service and leadership on behalf of the businesses and families of Acadiana.