Parish roads could benefit from state surplus funds

Deidre Cruse
BREAKFAST BRIEFING...The members of Iberville Parish’s legislative delegation answer questions at the Iberville Chamber of Commerce “Breakfast with our Legislators” Tuesday at The Island. Rep. Elton Aubert, left, Rep. Karen St. Germain, center, and Sen. Rob Marionneaux, right, will join their colleagues in Baton Rouge for the fiscal session from April 27 to June 27.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to announce a plan this week for spending some of the state’s $850 million surplus on transportation projects, state Sen. Rob Marionneaux said Tuesday.

Marionneaux, along with state representatives Karen St. Germain and Elton Aubert, discussed the upcoming legislative session at the Iberville Chamber of Commerce’s “Breakfast with our Legislators” Tuesday at The Island Country Club.

“The governor is going to roll out a plan to spend part of the $850 million surplus on transportation,” the senator said.

St. Germain said there was a possibility of using surplus funds for a variety of infrastructure projects. That could free up local government money for other purposes, she said.

Marionneaux said he objected last year to the distribution of transportation funds in a manner that excluded a number of parishes in the Baton Rouge area -- including Iberville -- which he said comprised 10 percent of the state.

“Don’t forget my turn lanes,” called St. Gabriel Mayor George L. Grace.

Grace is pushing for turn lanes on La. 30 for his city’s community center, a proposed indoor soccer stadium and new subdivisions.

The Legislature will meet from April 27 to June 27 for a fiscal session, in which legislators can introduce only five pieces of general legislation each and local bills. All other measures must center on money issues.

Under the amended 1974 state Constitution, the Legislature can only raise taxes during the fiscal sessions held during odd-numbered years.

Marionneaux, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he did not expect to see to many measures proposing to raise taxes, even though the state faces a large deficit in this year’s budget and deep cuts in some state programs.

The senator said he would again offer his as-yet unsuccessful proposal to repeal the state income tax, but did not think it is “the right year.”

He said the repeal of the Stelly Plan last year cost the state $350 million in income tax revenues and “helped get us into this trouble.”

Marionneaux said he plans to offer a proposal to increase the amount of state severance taxes shared with individual parishes.

A constitutional amendment proposed last year, which would have greatly benefited Iberville Parish, was defeated at the polls.

“We were not careful about the language,” he said, so that the proposition that appeared on the ballot statewide looked like a tax increase.

In fact, the measure would increase Iberville’s take of the severance tax from $850,000 a year to $1.85 million next year and then to $2.85 million in subsequent years, Marionneaux said.

Governor Jindal had opposed the measure, he said, but supporters reminded him that, as a congressman, he had supported greater sharing of federal severance taxes with the state.

Representative St. Germain said she thought the state’s impending budget deficit meant that it was time to tap Louisiana’s rainy day fund, but wanted to make sure there were arrangements to replace the money as soon as possible.

“We see the economy will not go up real fast,” she said. “We have to be conservative right now.”

St. Germain said she has no local bills to file, but plans to file three proposals for firefighters and two for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. She also wants to outlaw children’s “novelty lighters,” some of which look like handguns.

Aubert, who represents East Iberville and the west bank from Bayou Goula to White Castle, said he wants to ban solicitation for credit cards on college campuses.

He said he is passionately interested in education and in creating jobs to keep Louisiana’s college graduates in the state