Tonight On The Red Bayou Podcast – LABI President Stephen Waguespack

We’re recording it tonight. It should be live for listening sometime tomorrow.

Brian Haldane and I are going to talk to Stephen about LABI’s legislative agenda, which he presented today at a lunchtime speech in Baton Rouge. It was a quite impressive statement of priorities and frankly, something which reflected the kind of leadership one would have thought we’d have seen out of Gov. Jindal heading into his final year in office.

The highlights? LABI is looking for reform in three areas – workforce development, transportation infrastructure and the judicial system.

Workforce development is something that has been a priority for LABI for a long time. They’ve been involved in all of the key education reform measures over the past few years, and while part of that involves Common Core, which we know is a hot-button topic and LABI’s position isn’t exactly universally popular on the right, their agenda includes a lot more than that.

More interesting than the Common Core fight – LABI will be trying to hold the line on the status quo in hopes that it will start producing some results and the perceived connection to federal policy can be either severed or proven false – are some of the arguments Waguespack is making on higher education. He’s hinting at the need for systemic reform, though he won’t go so far as to march into the jackpot that is the question of closing any of the state’s four-year public colleges, but he’s talking about two other things where real progress can be made this year. One of those is already happening – building private sector funding for the state’s public universities through partnerships with industry, and having those universities being increasingly funded with self-generated revenues (as in tuition and fees, as well as those partnerships with industry). The other is likely a major focus in the upcoming session – giving the universities autonomy over their operations, including prices of tuition and fees and the ability to work on things like their purchasing arrangements in an effort to save money and streamline their operations.

As for transportation infrastructure, he’s talking about stripping out the streams of cash leaving the Transportation Trust Fund to fund things other than roads. For example, that fund spends $60 million on the State Police every year. Waguespack says it’s time to fund the State Police out of the general fund and use the TTF as a means of giving the state troopers decent roads to patrol. Also, the state has been putting off implementation of a 2008 law that would fully dedicate gas tax revenue to roads – they’ve been raiding some $400 million of that money per year to shower on other purposes.

LABI is also bringing a few bills on the judicial system, mostly in an attempt to increase transparency.

Waguespack also got into the state budget at his speech, noting that the unsung majority of Louisiana’s $1.6 billion budget deficit comes from the fact that pension costs are skyrocketing and represent more than $1.2 billion a year out of the state’s pocket now, which has more than doubled over the past decade. He’s pitching a switch to a defined-contribution retirement plan for state employees, which will make for an absolute war and will probably take more than one legislative session to achieve. Waguespack is also outspoken with respect to all of the funds which are dedicated rather than available for the general fund to be prioritized properly, which is something everybody says they understand except each year there are two or three more bills passed which make that problem worse.

And of course the state inventory tax, which LABI wants to eliminate completely.

So we’ll be discussing many of these issues, and perhaps a few more, with Waguespack tonight. Stay tuned for the result when it’s posted tomorrow.



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