It’s summer in Louisiana, and elections are in the air. Qualifying (the official do-or-die moment for candidate eligibility) begins this week, but election season is in full swing. Radio and TV ads have been on the air for months for the gubernatorial election, and this year’s legislative session revolved around lawmakers keeping one eye on the work of the Capitol and one eye on their reelection prospects at home. All the while, donors, fundraisers, and advocates have been inundating their networks with information about which candidates and issues to support and why.
This bombardment can be frustrating, but it’s vitally important to pay attention and stay engaged. This election year is a standout for many reasons. Chief among them is that more than a third of the legislature is facing a term limit, meaning lots of open seats bringing new faces (and hopefully, new ideas) to the Capitol. We have the opportunity to elect leaders that will lead us through the massive challenges our state faces, or sit back and allow inertia to continue dragging us down the national rankings.
With this in mind, BRAC released a platform detailing the primary obstacles our state and business community faces, and what we expect from those who offer themselves as elected representatives of their districts.
First among these issues is transportation. Despite some major wins in the last few years (committed funding for more than a billion dollars of badly needed infrastructure projects in East Baton Rouge, Ascension, and West Baton Rouge Parishes), the state still has no real solution to fund neither the $13 billion road maintenance backlog nor the region’s signature transportation need: a new Mississippi River bridge. Among the first actions of the new governor and legislature should be to call a special session on this issue and pass an increase to the gas tax that is indexed to ensure it doesn’t lose purchasing power over time.
This infrastructure focus also carries over to the platform’s quality of place section, calling for improved maintenance and upkeep standards for roads, bridges, and the built environment across the state, enforcement of “complete streets” policies, and more robust action plans and mitigation strategies for flooding and severe weather. To attract and retain a young workforce, Louisiana must adapt to offer high-demand alternative transportation options. We must also act to mitigate the devastating impacts of natural disasters.
In addition, the platform calls for an aggressive economic development strategy, including strengthening critical economic development incentives and increasing support for technology transfer and commercialization from universities. Fiscal reforms will be a key part of this strategy, with numerous reforms needed – centralized sales tax collection, phase-out of the franchise tax, lower tax rates with a broader base, and more – but ultimately, the critical piece to making it all happen is a constitutional convention. This convention would streamline the tax code, remove unnecessary constitutional dedications, and result in a cleaner, simpler, and more effective environment for businesses and residents.
Finally, to compete for 21st century jobs, Louisiana must have a workforce trained for them. This includes everything from expanding apprenticeship programs to providing universal early childhood education. Louisiana’s educational system must improve from cradle to career, which includes requiring school districts to create plans to aggressively improve low-performing schools.
Louisiana has too much promise to allow our representatives to keep kicking the can down the road on our greatest challenges. The business community must speak with urgency, clarity, and conviction this election season about its expectations for leaders at every level. Opportunities for meaningful change on this scale are few and far between. Let’s not let this one pass us by.
BRAC does not make candidate endorsements, but FuturePAC, its affiliated political action committee, is gearing up for significant engagement in these elections. For more information on FuturePAC, visit futurepac.biz.
Anderson serves as BRAC’s Director of Governmental Affairs and Special Projects, responsible for the organization’s governmental relations and advocacy efforts and managing other projects related to economic competitiveness and quality of life.