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|Jindal's ambitious call|
The call Gov. Bobby Jindal issued Tuesday for lawmakers to consider in a second special session of the Legislature in a month was unlike any legislative agenda the citizenry in Louisiana has seen in years.
There's a little something in it for everyone if everyone includes the business community, the highway construction company folks and the people who believe in ports as a means to spur economic development. Let's not forget about parents with children attending private schools, too.
That's a simplistic review of the core of the Jindal plan for a special session to pass along some tax breaks for businesses and to divvy up some $1 billion in surplus funds left over from 2006-07 fiscal year. The money is available thanks to increased tax collections in light of sky high oil and gas prices and federal appropriations as well, which were poured into Louisiana to offset the damages caused by the 2005 hurricanes.
The session begins March 9; it's expected to last two weeks.
Right off the bat in announcing his plans for the session, Jindal focused on tax relief for the business community. In doing so, he called on the Legislature to:
Eliminate by July 1, 2009, the tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment;
Eliminate by July 1, 2010, the tax on business debt;
Eliminate in 2009 the one penny sales tax businesses pay on utilities;
In all, the proposed tax breaks for businesses are long overdue. They are essential to attracting business and industry to Louisiana, and they are a must as well for existing businesses to expand, or merely survive, in today's economy.
With his eyes focused on the $1 billion surplus, Jindal proposed a boat load of spending on infrastructure concerns from one end of Louisiana to the other, though it would appear northeastern Louisiana was left out of the loop.
Some $515 million would be spent on construction projects and the like for roads, bridges and ports, including infrastructure work for the proposed Cyber Innovation Center at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City.
Another $300 million would be earmarked for hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects in southeastern and southwestern Louisiana. That appropriation would go a long way toward showing the federal government Louisiana is at least remotely serious about paying its fair share to recover from the hurricanes.
Meanwhile, Jindal wants the Legislature to spend $80 million on deferred maintenance projects on the campuses of the state's colleges and universities. For years, we've been hearing college and university presidents complain about a lack of funding to maintain their facilities. $80 million should do some good in that regard.
There's money, too, for the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. $50 million to be exact. Those funds would be used to complete a new clinical research building and to renovate existing facilities.
According to Jindal, the $50-million investment at Pennington would produce 1,100 new, direct and indirect jobs in the Baton Rouge area with an economic impact of some $110 million on the capital city economy.
The aforementioned appropriations and tax breaks are certain to produce glowing headlines in the daily newspapers throughout Louisiana. The television stations will play it up, too.
What won't produce much fan fair is the $70 million Jindal wants to set aside to pay down the state's unfunded accrued liability, or the debt in the various retirement systems for state employees.
The accumulated debt varies.
Some people say it totals $9.6 billion; other folks say it's around $11 billion, while others claim it's in the neighborhood of $12 billion.
Regardless, it's a huge debt the state must pay by 2029. The state constitution dictates it.
A one-time payment of $70 million toward the debt, or debts, is sizable, but it's sorely lacking if the state has any intentions of avoiding a financial crisis in about 20 years.
Yet, probably the most controversial issue that will rear its head in the special session would entail a proposal by Jindal to grant personal income tax deductions for parents who pay private school tuition for elementary and secondary students. Parents who home school their kids would get some relief as well.
Already, the teacher unions in Louisiana are howling foul.
That shouldn't surprise us.
The public education community is scared to death parents will abandon public schools for the private school route if parents allowed to deduct the tuition expenses from their income taxes.
In this corner, it's called competition.
Better put, it means the public education system in Louisiana needs to do a better job of educating children or risk losing the children to home school environments or to private schools where a parent knows his or her child is getting the best education money can buy.
It's that simple.
With a successful special session on ethics reform under his belt, Jindal is asking the Legislature to pass an ambitious agenda that certainly would alter the landscape in Louisiana, physically and internally.
It would do a lot of good, too.
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