Editor’s Note: The following is the second of a two-part guest post by just-sworn-in Louisiana state representative Chuck Owen of District 30. The first part of the post appeared yesterday and can be found here.
Our pathway out of stagnation and economic decline is through a healthy economy, which means embracing free enterprise, and essentially unleashing the ingenuity of the people of Louisiana. Now, I want to address what I think can happen in our State if we turn our economy around.
A vibrant economy will result in many things. While some argue with the origin of the “surplus” we have now, it’s hard to argue with the notion that a surplus is a good thing. Policy initiatives and long-neglected projects and activities can be funded with surpluses and through healthy tax coffers. I believe a healthy economy will result in a significant, non-tax-hiked-surplus for our State. Consider, just for a moment, what we might do with more money in Louisiana’s treasury
Education and Training: Of course, we need better pay for our teachers. But, we also need MORE teachers, so we can reduce class sizes. We need resources so we can both give teacher pay raises but also add in things like merit-based pay raises or signing initiatives when we attract talent to the classroom from other states or fresh out of college. Yes, I am insinuating signing bonuses to bring in teachers in areas where we currently have shortages (math, science, special education, etc.). We need to hang on to high achieving teachers, cut loose those who are NOT contributing. And no, I am NOT recommending privatizing our school systems. I adamantly am FOR public education, but I am also for parental choice and home schooling. I support charter schools as long as they are necessary and making progress. Children are the responsibility of their parents, first, and parents get to decide what happens to their kids.
We need to energize pathways to technical training and careers for high schoolers and help those in the workforce who want to garner baseline education and technical skills. We’re moving in the right direction now, but the “Jump Start” initiative needs to be put on fast forward. High Schools need better routes and resources for students to pick and obtain training for entry in the work force if college isn’t their choice. We need electricians, plumbers, pipe fitters, electronic technicians and other skills-based workers to stay in Louisiana and know their lives can be good if they go such a route. We can do great things by helping those in the workforce who want to improve their situation through new training and skills.
And, yes, we need to maintain standards and accountability. We also need to push control back to the local level and stop choking off local initiatives and autonomy. And no, I’m not against college; I have a few degrees, myself. I am for legitimate and sensible pathways to the work force.
Infrastructure: Our roads are mostly a mess in Louisiana. We all know this fact. Our roads are a big time mess where I live. The roads that connect Leesville to Natchitoches and Leesville to the Texas line are dangerous and need widening and improvement. Our whole state needs attention and we need to do things soon. I-49 needs to be completed. The loop around Lake Charles and other I-10 improvements are imperative in southwest Louisiana. Interstate 14 has to be recognized and moved on quickly. And we SO need to do something about one lane in Baton Rouge on I-10. But, we can’t do these things if we don’t have the money.
And don’t forget other infrastructure issues: Water systems across much of Louisiana require attention. Electrical systems and internet access need significant upgrades and aggressive action.
Security: We are living in a dangerous time. A massive influx of unaccounted for illegal visitors has changed the dynamic for our law enforcement professionals. I’d love to find ways to send more resources to our State Police and Parish Sheriffs’ Offices. I’d love to live in a world where our police forces can be paying attention to drug traffickers, human traffickers and other nefarious elements of our world as opposed to spending time writing traffic tickets to pay bills. Taxation through citation really can be stopped if our economy is strong enough to empower law enforcement to do more important jobs than issuing speeding tickets.
Fort Polk, Barksdale and other military installations: The impact on our State from our military installations is an oft-forgotten fact in Baton Rouge. Fort Polk has the largest payroll in the State. Thousands of service members, civilian employees, contractors and family members live in and travel TO Louisiana to keep our nation safe. Lots of times soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors deploy to foreign lands from Louisiana. We can’t forget about the economic and national security impact of these locations, including Guard and Reserve installations in places like Pineville, Hammond and New Orleans. The State needs to hang on to these national assets both because it’s the right thing to do and because they are important to our economy.
I firmly believe ALL these things can be achieved through a healthy economy. Turn loose the engine of free enterprise and the ingenuity of our people. We are the children of Acadians who were expelled from Canada and settled a land others couldn’t; we’re the descendants of those who thwarted the Brits in 1915; we’re the people who inhabited the No Man’s Land and hosted the Louisiana Maneuvers. There’s nothing we can’t do if we’re turned loose. I believe in the capacity of our great state and most of all, I know of the resilience of our people. Let us reconcile to move forward, to work together for the good of every citizen of our state. I commit to meeting in the middle with members of the other party as long as they come to the middle an equal number of times. I won’t be a participant to a deficit in terms of times compromised.
Why can’t we have the same, vibrant economies of places like South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia? Why can’t Louisiana be the place where oil exploration is booming, as opposed to fleeing? Why can’t we have the problem of needing more roads to accommodate an expanding economy as opposed to maintenance of a crumbling situation? Why can’t Louisiana be better? I pose this question to citizens in the 30th and throughout Louisiana. Why not?