U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge) says Louisiana and the United States face a multitude of problems in numerous issues, including tax reform, regulatory reform and local traffic issues top his list.
Graves, who serves on the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sparked interest with the audience at an Iberville Chamber of Commerce luncheon fixing the area’s traffic problems was a high priority for him.
He pointed out the U.S. Congress has already dedicated its third largest transportation grant this year to ease the pressure on the Wilkinson Bridge by closing the Washington Street exit to reduce the traffic jams caused by the interstate narrowing to one lane there.
Graves said Baton Rouge is the “only place in the United States where the traffic narrows to one lane,” he said, assuring the audience this project is no longer a matter of it but of when.
“I’m not saying this as a maybe,” he said. “This is going to happen. The funding has already been awarded.”
“We know that much more needs to be done,” Graves said, pointing to studies showing the area is one of the top three worst areas after being studied by three different organizations.
He said if nothing is done – and he brought up the possibility of a loop for I-10 – the outdated highway system in the Baton Rouge area is going to make the traffic problem much worse.
“The trajectory we’re on now…If you think it’s bad now just wait Graves said, in regard to tackling the area’s traffic problems.
When explaining the idea of a loop around Baton Rouge, he pointed out two huge problems – time and money. A bridge across the Mississippi River at today’s prices would cost taxpayers $1.2 million.
“You take $1.2 billion from the state’s transportation budget and you’re not going to be building anything else,” Graves said.
He said the problem with the Baton Rouge area is a lack of long range planning and poor management.
“We’re dealing with 40 or 50 years of poor planning and management,” Graves said. “We should’ve been planning for today’s problems 40 years ago.”
“Now we’re dealing with some of the worst traffic in the nation and we’re looking at it costing much more now to solve the problem,” he continued.
Graves said he brought it to the attention of Congress and recently got $500 million approved by the federal government earmarked for the traffic problem.
He and about 15 other congressmen formed a new sub-committee, the National Significant and Freight Corridor, funded by a multi-billion dollar grant.
“It should be a national priority,” Graves said. “…It’s time for this area to be prioritized.”
“Things are happening and we are working to get a new crossing of the river,” he continued. “…We know that much more needs to be done.”
“Let’s figure out how to work together to help improve Iberville Parish, to work on some of the objectives on the transportation crisis that we have, help to improve our economy and create new job opportunities, work with the community college, technical system to make sure that we have the workforce prepared for the workplaces in America,” Graves said.
About 10 minutes into his talk at the Grand Ballroom at Nottoway Plantation, the congressman said the federal income tax system needed a serious revamping.
While Democrats say the tax plans that have been proposed are designed to lower taxes for the rich and businesses while making middle and lower class people pay more, Graves said the two parties need to work in bipartisan fashion to come up with a plan.
The taxes levied on businesses, especially small businesses, he continued, also needed to be reevaluated and lowered.
“We need to lower taxes,” Graves said, and not just for individuals but business and industry as well. The federal government also needs to continue to deregulate industry.
A report issued last year from a study of federal regulations showed Louisiana businesses were up against being at 74 percent higher of the national average, which the congressman said drives new business and industry to other states and countries while putting many small companies out of business.
Because of the repeal of a number of regulations on companies this year along, Congress saved about $90 billion for those companies, monies that can be used to create jobs, improve the economy.
“Congress is trying to reduce taxes,” Garret said. “We’re doing it because we want to help everybody...making the economy more competitive.”
“We have an opportunity right now to update our tax code,” he continued later, saying the current tax code was put into effect in 1986. “The tax code affects every person in this room.”
“Help us make sure that the tax code benefits Louisiana, benefits America and is truly something that is fair, simple and low,” Graves said.