As the regional economic development organization for the nine-parish Capital Region, BRAC advocates throughout the year on behalf of the business community. During the 2018 legislative season, staff focused attention on three broad categories: transportation infrastructure, the economy, and education and workforce.
Chief among BRAC’s legislative priorities was a signature effort to aid the goal of championing swift transportation solutions for the Baton Rouge Area. BRAC worked with Capital Area Senator Rick Ward to introduce SB 496, a bill creating the Capital Region Road and Bridge District, dedicated to funding a new Mississippi River bridge. Addressing transportation infrastructure statewide – including a $13B backlog of projects – remains a problem. Last year’s failed attempt to raise the state’s gas tax demonstrated that the Capital Region would need to develop a regional solution to the transportation crisis. Ultimately, the new Bridge District will bring a referendum to the people of the region, who will then have an opportunity to act on the traffic problems through a vote on the future of a new bridge.
BRAC also worked to successfully defeat efforts to weaken Louisiana’s economic development programs. Legislative champions in the Capital Region and coordination between economic development and business advocacy groups across the state were key to success in this arena. Programs that were heavily targeted included the Quality Jobs and Enterprise Zone programs, which are particularly important to the Capital Region and provide excellent return on investment for the state. These programs both bring in more than a dollar to the state for each dollar invested in them.
With the budget deal of a .45 penny sales tax renewal, deep funding cuts to Louisiana Economic Development were also avoided. Although BRAC and a statewide coalition advocated strongly for a limited constitutional convention to address the state’s perennial budget issues, the legislature refused to enact the most important fiscal reform bill of the session: HB 500 by Representative Neil Abramson. HB 500 would have allowed the state to address many of the fundamental challenges that contribute to structural fiscal failures, such as limited spending flexibility that regularly trims healthcare, higher education and economic development. The Louisiana Checkbook, another measure BRAC worked with a broad coalition to support, passed in the second special session. This bill will bring a new level of accountability and transparency to public spending.
Education and Workforce
In the education realm, BRAC stood for expanded access to early childhood education and staying the course on education reform that has positively impacted student achievement. Understanding that excellent early childhood education is both the building block for lifelong learning and key to allowing current workers to fully engage in the economy, BRAC supported Representative Hilferty’s HB 676 to create the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission and pilot programs for community early childhood care and education networks. The legislation is a first step toward developing a sustainable infrastructure for universal access to quality care and education for all children from birth through age four.
BRAC and other advocates were successful at defeating a number of bills meant to chip away at hard-won educational reforms that ensure high standards for Louisiana students and educators, and more excellent school choices for Louisiana families. These education reforms have led to Louisiana’s record-high graduation rate, record-high Advanced Placement test passage rate, record-high number of students earning a college-going score on the ACT, and more. In defeating these bills, the legislature clearly demonstrated that Louisiana refuses to lose ground on education improvement and increased student achievement, and is committed to nurturing the next generation’s competitive workforce.
Written by Logan Anderson
Logan 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.