Broadband expansion clears House Committee
BATON ROUGE -- The House Appropriations Committee advanced a bill last week that would create the Rural Development Fund to support the socioeconomic well-being of the state’s rural population through better health, education and infrastructure.
The program comes in addition to a USDA-funded expansion that is underway for the northern part of Iberville Parish and rural areas in more than 20 other parishes across Louisiana.
Funding for the state program would come from the sale of general obligation bonds, and authority to spend the money would be given to the state Office of Rural Development.
“Rural areas in Louisiana are losing population. We don’t have the job market, and we are also losing employment to Mississippi,” said bill author Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi. “We have to develop or revitalize our rural areas if we want to be productive.”
Thompson said residents of metropolitan areas can look at this as a help for them, too, because people with better jobs in rural areas look to move to the more urban areas so their children can go to better schools, universities and community colleges.
The bill, HB 622, would give the director of the Office of Rural Development authority to hire a regional director in each of the eight regional planning commission districts of the state.
Thompson said that everyone in the state would be represented by an economic development expert. He said each director would receive about $60,000 a year, and each would come from the jurisdiction they would represent.
The Office of Rural Development operates in the governor’s office, and this bill aims to expand its reach by adding broadband connectivity, water quality and sewer treatment to the program.
“We have spent money on all areas of state government,” said Thompson. “This is a small amount to invest in Louisiana’s rural areas. It is very little to invest for the state of Louisiana that can bring back untold dollars even with federal projects that we don’t apply for today.”
The bill has 13 co-authors. Thompson said he hopes to have over 53 by the time it goes to the House floor.