Each year, with input from its board and investors, BRAC develops a legislative agenda of bills and issues for which the organization will advocate or oppose. These legislative actions are meant to improve the economic and regulatory environment of the Capital Region. They are also intended to address BRAC’s key strategic pillars of bolstering the talent pipeline, diversifying the region's industry base and job opportunities, creating a more inclusive economy, and enhancing the region's livability.
BRAC’s legislative work in 2022 will fall under the following areas:
BRAC will strongly advocate for continued progress toward a new Mississippi River bridge, fully funding the I-10 widening through the heart of Baton Rouge, and commuter train service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
A new Baton Rouge Area bridge is finally a near-term opportunity, due in part to last year’s efforts dedicating funding from vehicle sales tax to transportation infrastructure mega projects and the Governor’s recent $500 million proposed budget allocation. On the current schedule, DOTD would select a new bridge location and commence the design-build process within two years, sometime in 2024. Securing the proposed $500 million will facilitate the fastest possible timetable to attract a private partner, enter the design-build process, and complete the bridge and its connectors apace.
The state’s transportation infrastructure funding crisis prevents regional businesses from growing, negatively impacts the quality of life because of hours that people and goods spend in traffic, and increases costs to do business and live via higher insurance and fuel prices. With the federal government and the state legislature passing infrastructure packages last year, now is the time to ensure necessary infrastructure investments are made.
Commuters in the Baton Rouge Area spend 60 hours (about two and a half days) in congestion annually and burn an extra 22 gallons of gas per year because of the congestion on our roads. The Capital Region’s congestion is fourth-worst in the U.S. despite being the 66th largest metro area in the country, according to TomTom’s 2022 traffic congestion index.
According to TRIP, a nonprofit that researches economic and technical data on transportation issues, congested roads choke commuting and commerce and cost Baton Rouge Area drivers more than $1 billion collectively each year in lost time and wasted fuel. The same factors across the state cost Louisianans upward of $3 billion yearly. In the Capital Region, drivers lose $1,202 annually in lost time and fuel costs due to traffic congestion. The cost of inaction is far greater for the state’s commuters in terms of time and maintenance than finally addressing the lack of infrastructure funding.
As a part of the push to maintain Louisiana’s economic development toolkit, BRAC will support legislation to extend the Quality Jobs rebate incentive program, an essential tool for job creation.
Several years ago, the Legislature enacted periodic sunsets for most of the economic development incentives.
The Quality Jobs incentive program is one of Louisiana’s most important economic development tools, targeting job growth in innovation-driven, competitive, and high-wage industry sectors. As a tax rebate, eligible for legislative debate only in even-numbered legislative session years, the Quality Jobs incentive will sunset unless extended in 2022. This incentive only applies to new jobs added in targeted sectors with higher wages and benefits and is only awarded after a job has been created.
The Quality Jobs program facilitated 82 incentive contracts in the Baton Rouge Area since 2016. These projects included upward of $12 billion in capital expenditures, an estimated new direct payroll of over $209 million and an estimated 3,303 new jobs.
In short, Quality Jobs is the most competitive, targeted statutory incentive that Louisiana offers. Not having access to Quality Jobs would be destructive to new BRAC project activity. It has been and will continue to be vital to job growth and industry diversification in the Capital Region.
BRAC will strongly support the extension of Quality Jobs and all other legislative efforts to make Louisiana more competitive for businesses.
BRAC will support legislation to improve students’ ability to more easily transfer college credits earned. The legislation requires statewide transfer agreements to guarantee the transfer of all courses in all transfer pathways and requires transfer agreements to provide for acceptance of credits earned through competency-based education and prior learning assessments.
As K-12 school systems expand dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, barriers to transferring credits could become more of an issue. BRAC believes it is vital to allow students to engage in more rigorous course options to prepare them for career and post-secondary education while ensuring that students’ credits are recognized at in-state institutions.
Additionally, students are more likely to attend multiple colleges and universities and acquire knowledge outside of traditional educational settings, and the credit for this prior learning should be universal across all institutions. In short, once credit is granted by an institution, all institutions should recognize this credit.
Consistent and transparent statewide credit transferability policies will help more students complete degrees without the undue time and financial burdens.
BRAC and local and national partners from academia and industry will advocate for legislation to implement computer science in grades K-12, including a state plan, state standards, teacher training, and integration into TOPS.
In BRAC’s new five-year strategic plan, one of the overarching strategic goals is to diversify the regional economy, with an emphasis on technology sector growth. Companies in Baton Rouge across industry sectors, including software and technology, have increasing demand for talent with technology skills. From foundational industry sectors like petrochemical manufacturing to health systems and startups, a workforce with competent technology skills is critical to growth. The state has an opportunity to develop computer-savvy students who will become the next generation of software developers, coding specialists, and data scientists.
Only 29% of public high schools offer computer science courses in Louisiana. Nationally, 51% of high schools offer computer science, with our neighbor, Arkansas, among the nation's leaders with 92% of schools offering computer science. The evolution of technology is ever accelerating, and we cannot allow students to fall further behind their peers.
Computer science supports the development of problem-solving, creativity, metacognition, spatial skills, reasoning skills, and improvements in reading, writing, mathematics, and science test scores. Increasing funding and access to computer science education is a rare issue that can help Louisiana address workforce deficiencies and enhance educational outcomes at the same time.
An average open computing job in Louisiana pays $71,016, far more than the median income in the state. As the future of work moves increasingly toward tech-based competencies, we must educate the next generation of Louisianans to compete and excel in those jobs.
The legislation will create a Computer Science Advisory Commission, which will provide recommendations on:
- State K-12 content standards in computer science education,
- Computer science requirements for high school graduation, postsecondary entrance, and eligibility for TOPS,
- Standardized computer science teacher training,
- Technical assistance grants to public school systems for the creation and expansion of computer science courses, and
- Funding strategies for computer science teacher training and course expansion.
BRAC will continue its push to fix our fragmented sales tax system with a single, unified sales tax collection system.
In 2021, Louisiana was ranked 49th in the nation in business tax climate by the Tax Foundation. Last year’s efforts to reform Louisiana’s habitually worst-ranked sales tax systems failed at the polls. Not only are the state’s sales taxes among the highest in the country, but Louisiana also operates a confusing collection system that disincentivizes doing business in more than one parish, hurting small businesses. There are over 50 local tax collectors across the state, each with different interpretations of the law and the 150 existing exemptions, creating additional layers of complexity and increased costs for businesses. Small businesses operate at a marked disadvantage to those in other states because of this uncommon, burdensome practice of parish collections that forces them to invest significantly more time and resources in accounting for tax collection.
Louisiana and Colorado are the only states with such disjointed decentralized systems. The unnecessary complexity of the fragmented sales tax system damages the state rankings and makes it hard to do business. Further, it puts smaller companies at a disadvantage: complexity is a subsidy, so companies that can afford to navigate the complicated system have a leg up on those that do not.
BRAC and allies will support efforts to reduce the number of occupational licenses hindering many individuals’ ability to enter the workforce.
Louisiana engages in excessive and burdensome occupational licensing requirements that create avoidable challenges and barriers for individuals seeking employment. Restricted access to licensed occupations has been shown to lower entrepreneurship rates and increase recidivism rates. The Institute for Justice found that Louisiana requires licenses for 77 of 102 lower-income occupations, earning the ranking of the 6th “most broadly and onerously licensed state.”
Protecting the safety and wellbeing of the public is essential, and licensure requirements for many professions make sense. However, licensing laws should be narrowly tailored to protect health and safety, and they should allow the opportunity for people to enter jobs more easily.
The Capital Outlay process is a tool that local entities use to gain state funding for critical projects. Along with supporting ongoing efforts to improve transportation infrastructure, BRAC will strongly advocate for funding of the projects that are vital to improving the quality of life of the Baton Rouge Area, including:
- The LSU/City Park Lakes revitalization. The lakes are a centerpiece of the Baton Rouge community that attract residents and visitors alike to enjoy the outdoors, are a gateway to LSU, and are often the first image students, families, and others experience of the university. The lakes are a beautiful community gathering place, a bright spot in our outdoor portfolio, and must be preserved for generations to come.
- Higher education funding. To support talent development in the region, BRAC will advocate for inclusion of funds for our higher education institutions for numerous projects to improve their campuses.
- BRAC will also support the multitude of drainage and road projects in Capital Outlay.
During the appropriations process, BRAC will support the continued funding of the regional economic development organizations and Louisiana Economic Development, pursue the continuation of the funding of an airline incentive to attract more direct flights out of Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, and pursue strong funding for economic development marketing.