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State Sen. Rick Ward previews legislative session

John DuPont
Plaquemine Post South

State Sen. Rick Ward, R-D17, is preparing to serve as chairman of the transportation committee. He gave us a preview of that and the rest of the upcoming legislative session.

"I’m excited for it, something I’ve made a concentration in terms of what I do at the legislature because the district and not just the state has such a need, and I think that we’ve got a real opportunity to make some really important things happen.

But the biggest thing we have to do is to try to help the general public understand where we’re at in terms of why we lag behind so much in trying to get some of these projects done and move forward, change our approach and get them done."

$14B backlog

Tax can’t go on the table this year because it’s not a fiscal year.

One thing … I think you’ll see an effort for more money spent on infrastructure and road projects, even if it means money being diverted from the general fund and into transportation.

Potentially, it’s a matter of people being more created and trying out the way to get the most out of the dollars.

We as legislators don’t do a good job talking to the public about the funds avialalble, just things reported about misspent money and things like that.

So what happens … like an article about an amount of money in DHH misspent.

I get people emailing me and calling me saying we don’t need more money … just stop the misspending and we’d have all the money in the world to fix the roads. The biggest mistake we make is that we nod our heads and tell the they’re right. It’s simply not true … if we find out $200M was misspent in the DHH budget, chances are that $180 million of it was federal dollars and about the best we could do is send the money back because we can’t take DHH dolloars and turn it to road money.

The problem we have on roads and bridges is that it’s the same amount we’ve gotten since 1986, but we’re fixing roads on 2020 prices. We need to get a little more creative with the money.

OUTLOOK FOR THE SESSION

New faces:

I think it will be a change, for certain, and that can go both ways. One side of the equation, it will take a little while for everyone to get a feel in what they’re interested in doinging and their comfort level in terms of different subject matters. A lot of the process is building trust with your colleagues, and with 60-something new members, that will be part of going forward, and everyone building a certain comfort level and respect with each other .But in terms of significant changes in things that need to be done, where maybe we’ve lagged behind. Whenever you get fresh faces in there, it can present an opportunity and in sometimes it can lend itself to lawmakers agreeing to try something new.

TORT REFORM

It comes up every 10 or 15 years, and it comes from a different angle. Some things will pass, I’m confident of that. The biggest thing I caution people is about what you sell it as. There has never been a situation I know of around the country … for example, it’s being sold as a way to lower insurance rates, but we have no data or anything showing us that’s going to happen. If we want to do some tort reform for the sake of tort reform, that ‘s fine in terms of credibility with your constituents, from that standpoint, you have tobe really careful that you don’t sell it as something that it’s not. What happens when we pass a litany of things based on the fact that it’s going to lower their car insurance and then two years now four years from now, everyone will look up and realize their car insurance hasn’t gone down but instead went up. If there was a bunch of studies on hand that showed there would be a big drop in insurance, it would be adifferent story, but I’m always hesitant to sell something other than what it is. If you want to pass tort reform that’s fine, but we need to be honest about what it is.

EDUCATION

You can only present a budget based on what’s recognized, and so I don’t know the exact numbers. But to give a statewide, $500 a year raise, it’s about 50 million and a $1000 raise is $100 million, whether JBE wanted to give thr raise or not, that was taken away,and you can argue that he could’ve chosen something else, but there’s only so many places you can be maniupulated in terms of the budget --- and healthcare and the budget are two of those issues.

OTHER STUFF

Discussion about ITEP and incentive programs. I don’t know what will happen or transpire, but no doubt it will be a hot topic of conversation. For businesses that want to come in or stay ,here, we need to figure out a good plan that will make us successful going forward and we need to stick to it for a period of time. Not so mucha about the plan itself as much as it is about al2ways changing that causes the problem, and it’s a turnoff for companies wanting to invest in our state.

It’s something that will be sorted out, but it will take an issue with two-third approval because it will take a constitutional amendment.

If you can find a balance, we can come to a consensus there. Maybe we can find a way we can make everyone happy enough so we can put this whole issue to bed.