BRAC, LABI lay out legislative agenda

Business Report

Opposing efforts to repeal economic development incentives, keeping educational standards in place in K-12 education, giving state colleges and universities more autonomy to raise tuition and fees, and outlawing a controversial funding mechanism used by government-related labor unions will top the business community’s legislative agenda during the upcoming session.

Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack outlined their organizations’ respective legislative priorities at a luncheon in Baton Rouge this afternoon. Though the two differed slightly, the heads of BRAC and LABI both strongly defended business-friendly tax incentives while also stressing the need to protect higher education from the budget cuts that, in a worst-case scenario, could top 80%.

“This is obviously a difficult legislative session,” Knapp said. “For the region’s continued success, Louisiana cannot endanger our economic growth, nor can it decimate higher education. … There is a need for leadership to deliver solutions that stabilize higher education funding and preserve our business competitiveness.”

To protect both tax incentives and higher ed funding, one of BRAC’s top legislative priorities is to transfer full tuition and fee autonomy to the state’s higher education systems, while also demanding higher education funding stabilization and reform for the college scholarship program known as TOPS.

Other items on BRAC’s legislative agenda include:

Leading the renewal and reduction of the Angel Investor Tax Credit to spur entrepreneurship and innovation.

Supporting new and increased transportation funding solutions.

Evaluating the effectiveness of the states’ worker training program.

Defending Common Core educational standards.

Establishing a commission to review state budget expenditure restrictions and dedications.

LABI’s legislative agenda is four-pronged, focusing on transportation and infrastructure, judicial reform, paycheck protection and workforce training. LABI also will defend business-friendly tax incentive programs while pushing to give higher education greater control over its funding sources.

“We need a reliable funding from the private sector, operational and fiscal autonomy and systemic change within the higher ed system,” Waguespack said. “We need to reduce overhead and do away with redundant programs.”

With respect to transportation and infrastructure, LABI will push for phasing in the new vehicle sales tax, which was passed in 2008 but never implemented; securing dollars in the Transportation Trust Fund so they can only be spent on transportation-related need; and using some money from the Rainy Day fund for transportation and infrastructure.

On judicial reform, LABI will push for greater transparency and accountability at all levels of the judiciary and will support measures to improve the state’s legal climate.

On education, LABI will support keeping in place the Common Core standards. It will also work to undo the funding mechanism of one of its biggest foes in the battle over education reform: teachers’ unions. To that end, LABI is pushing for paycheck protection, which would prohibit local governments from automatically collecting union dues from the paychecks of union members. Local school districts, for example, collect the dues of school system employees for teachers’ unions. Advocates of education reform and pro-business policies in general say the practice gives unions an unfair advantage and uses government-funded resources for political purposes.

“We have got to get the government out of the practice of collecting union dues,” Waguespack said. “I don’t think these classrooms understand how they are funded. If the unions want to raise money, let them raise money like everyone else. Government should not be the middleman.”

The legislative session kicks off Monday and will wrap up no later than June 11.

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