Bickering may overshadow big projects in legislature, LaCombe says

Staff Report

A robust state surplus and an influx of federal money gives Louisiana lawmakers a chance to tackle sorely needed projects, but state Rep. Jeremy Lacombe said he fears partisan politics could pose a roadblock.

Decisions on how to spend nearly $3 billion in “one-time” revenue await state lawmakers during the 2022 regular legislative session that kicked off Monday at the State Capitol.

The revenue comes from the $1.2 billion state budget surplus, along with leftover pandemic relief and unobligated current-year tax revenue.

State Rep. Jeremy Lacombe

“We have a unique opportunity in this session with revenue that can enable us to do a lot for the state, including the building of roads and bridges and an increase in teacher pay,” said LaCombe, D-Fordoche, , who represents the northernmost portion of Iberville Parish.

Bills that determine what – or what should not – be taught in public schools, as well as vaccination bills and other legislation could consume time that lawmakers could otherwise use to address much-needed infrastructure work, among other things, he said.

He also worries about the partisan squabbles that could stem from the decision last week by Gov. John Bel Edwards to veto the redistricting bill.

“We have a lot of things on the agenda but what you may get instead is a lot of bipartisan bickering about bills that don’t mean a heck of a lot to ordinary, everyday citizens,” LaCombe said.

In many cases, it may involve bills for issues in which lawmakers have no constitutional right to legislate.

He alluded to bills that focus on curriculum, an issue that does not fall under the control of state lawmakers.

“All these bills on what should be taught in schools aren’t items the Legislature should deal with because BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) has the constitutional authority to determine what’s taught in schools,” LaCombe said.

Bills on the left side of the floor promote the teaching of critical race theory, while bills on the right move to limit or abolish it.

Either way, it’s out of the control of legislators, he said.

“If people are dissatisfied with what is taught in schools or if they want to prohibit what is taught, they need to take it up with the BESE representatives,” LaCombe said.

He added he fears the session will end with money left on the table – funds that could go toward the thousands of miles of road in disrepair statewide, along with other public works projects.

“We have a good opportunity to take care of some great projects, yet we will probably be dealing with issues for which we don’t have any part in,” LaCombe said.

“We will do it, but people probably won’t hear about that or other good work going on.”

State lawmakers need input on the construction of a new $1.5 billion Mississippi River Bridge, along with a $1 billion bridge that would replace the aging Lake Charles bridge that is near structural deficiency.

“We need input from the public and for the people to know what we’re doing and what’s going on,” LaCombe said.

“There is good work to get done, and you can fund these projects and get them done, but instead we will be stuck in partisan politics and fighting about things we have no reason fighting about.

“There is good work to get done this, and we can fund these projects and get them done,” he said. “Instead, we will be stuck in partisan politics and fighting about things we have no reason fighting about.”