Louisiana State Senator Mike Walsworth told a crowd of locals today that North Louisiana should be more focused on education and not sports. The Monroe Chamber of Commerce held a Legislative Delegate Luncheon today at the Monroe Civic Center. Walsworth, along with nine other senators and representatives of the region were in attendance to speak about the recent Legislative Session in Baton Rouge. The panel of elected officials spoke about an array of topics from the budget, to health care, TOPS, MFP, water systems, sales and property taxes, roads and bridges, the upcoming fiscal cliff, criminal justice reform, and whether to spend money or make cuts. They spoke of many of the challenges that made the session difficult and what make balancing the state’s budget difficult. Here are a few comments made by the panel:
Neil Riser (R) District 32
“I think everybody realizes we need new roads. Everybody drives up and down and realizes that. The water situation….I still have ground water in my house. I realize that.” Riser said that a number of measures failed in the session. He said that many in Louisiana have lost confidence in government.
Mike Walsworth (R) District 33
“We lost our first wife, that was State Farm. I remember that and how tragic that was. We’re in our second marriage now, and that is with Century Link. We have gotta up our game. We’ve heard that our friend (Glen Post) is retiring. He’ll still be chairman of the board, but there are going to be some changes. We’ve got to invest more in our education. Invest more in the kind of things that they (Century Link) are interested in. Let’s be honest, we need to be investing more in STEM than we are in football fields in Northeast Louisiana,” Walsworth said.
Francis Thompson (D) District 34
Thompson spoke about his indifference to the tax credits for the movie industry. He said that money needs to fund education in the state. He also presented the challenge that most legislators have: spend or cut. “Tough issues take a long time to solve,” he began. “You have an option of raising additional dollars or you can cut the budget,” he said. He said he doesn’t think its a spending problem over a revenue raising problem. Thompson also spoke about criminal justice reform. “I don’t want open the jail doors, but I don’t want to slam them. We’ve got some serious problems in not just this state, but in this whole nation. And we have to learn how to deal with that, and its certainly not locking them up for 20 or more years for non-violent people. We’ve got to find a way to rehabilitate them. I came from the old school, where you get a few chances, but you don’t get many,” Thompson said.
Jim Fannin (R) District 35
Fannin said that Louisiana doesn’t have enough of its population paying into government. He also cautioned those in the room that internet sales are an immediate threat to the state’s fiscal affairs. He said that many of the college graduates leave the state, so their tax dollars go with them. “Higher ed has done a good job. The unfortunate thing is that many of our graduates leave the state. Unfortunately, all of our dropouts from high school do stay here and then we have to deal with that,” Fannin said. “The people on the street tell me ‘Don’t raise my taxes’. But that encourages folks to go online and buy where they don’t have to pay taxes. If more and more people do that, that gives us a smaller base,” Fannin added.
Rep. Terry Brown (I) District 22
Representative Brown said that TOPS is a good thing but it needs reform. He said that college students should have more strict rules applied to them when accepting free money from the state. “There are students who attend colleges on TOPS that the state pays them to go play for one year and they either flunk out or drop out. I think there needs to be some stipulations in TOPS that if you go to school on TOPS and you do not stay and finish your degree, then you should be required to pay back at least a portion of that to the taxpayers who helped you get it,” Brown said. His remarks grew an applause from the audience. Brown said that the state should no more be subsidizing the film industry as it does the New Orleans Saints. “We talk about money that is no necessary to be spent on the movie industry. Are you aware that we still subsidize the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans. What benefit does that have to Northeast Louisiana,” he asked. “Zero. “But your tax dollars go to the 17th richest man in the United States (Benson). That’s wrong,” he said.
Rep. Charles “Bubba” Chaney (R) District 19
Chaney spent his time reprimanding the media for what he said was an incorrect report on what was going on in Baton Rouge during the session. He claimed that the media led the public to believe that legislators were not accomplishing anything during the session. So, he went down a list of measures that were passed that will have positive effects on Louisiana. He referred to the media as Saturday Morning Quarterbacks taking score of what passed and what didn’t pass. “The media basically scored these past sessions as ineffective and productive. I will disagree,” Chaney said.
Rep. Katrina Jackson (D) District 16
Jackson refuted many of the claims that legislators are against medicaid and welfare assistance. She painted a picture for the audience of what would happen if medicaid were cut or if the hospitals were closed. She reported her success in getting community policing and law enforcement measures passed and signed by the governor. She said that the amount of a felony offense was raised and used the value of a cell phone as an example. She also said that the state shouldn’t be spending $26,000 a year to house one prison inmate and less on education. She followed up by telling them that there was no way she could see any merit to cutting food stamps. “You can cut it, but then they’ll be stealing out of your stores,” she reminded them. “I don’t believe in handouts, but I do believe in handups,” she said.
Rep. Jack McFarland (R) District 13
“With the exception of Monroe and Shreveport, we don’t have a great population. It’s a rural area. For many of us, it is a challenge,” McFarland said. He echoed the sentiments of others about TOPS. “It is a priority. We’ve got to find a way to fund it. And it it means taking that $185 million (movie tax credits) to do it, I agree with you,” he said. He said the larger cities in Louisiana that are dependent on the movie industry don’t want to hear talk of eliminating the movie tax credits. “Their representatives and senators are fighting to keep them. And I commend them for doing that because they are representing their people. This delegation, I can assure you, is working to represent you,” he said.
Rep. John “Jay” Morris (R) District 14
Morris said that people like spending the state’s money when it refers to spending it on them and when it comes from someone else’s pockets. “We have two options of dealing with this. Taxes. Nope….or cutting spending…not yet. Some people say we’re giving away stuff, but it depends on whether you’re the recipient or not. We subsidize the film industry. You tell people in New Orleans about cutting, they’ll fall into the Gulf of Mexico if you cut that one bit,” he said. Morris said that the state also subsidizes the horse racing industry by $70 million. He said that he introduced a bill to cut back on the subsidy and he had no support on it. “Until we make these hard choices, we’re going to be stuck telling people nope,” he ended.
Rep. Rob Shadoin (R) District 12
Shadoin said that there is a fiscal cliff on the horizon because the legislature created it. He said that he was disappointed in the sessions and that they appeared more to be a kneejerk reaction instead of a session of being proactive. “Where do we cut,” he asked. He said that legislators should put principles over politics and quoted John F. Kennedy in reminding his colleagues of their duties to their constituents over party affiliation. “With a lot of prayer, we can make progress,” he said. He concluded with a New Testament passage “That which you do unto the least of these, my brother, you have done unto me.”