Over the next few days, ultoday.com will publish notes on the Legislative Luncheon hosted by the Acadiana Regional Alliance and the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. The first part present the comments of Chamber of Commerce Rob Guidry, ARA Chairman Pete Yuan, and Senate Finance Chair, Mike Michot.

Rob Guidry

Rob Guidry introduced the meeting by saying that this presentation was the 1st official function of the Acadiana Regional Alliance. Many local Chambers have held their own Legislative forums and some will hold them in the future, but this luncheon involves all members of the Alliance.

Rob noted that he served as a judge for the National Chamber of the Year. Of the 50 Chambers he judged, all of them included regionalism as important enough to include in their submissions to the National Chamber.

He also commented that the strategy for the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance is to work in concentric circles: first, the cities in Lafayette Parish, then the contiguous parishes, the the entire State of Louisiana, and then beyond.

Pete Yuan

Next speaker was the Chairman of the ARA, Peter Yuan. Peter began by explaining that Rob had mispronounced his name.

It is now pronounced "Yuaneaux."

Peter began by mentioning a couple of statistics that Elliot Stonecipher had shared with the Chamber. First, over the past 25 years, there has been a huge population shift to the I-10/I-12 corridor, with a 34% growth. Second, and more importantly, this corridor grew from 1/4 of the state's population, to 1/3. This means that with the next census, there will be a reapportionment of the elected officials, with House & Senate shifts in the Legislature. This will result in a huge struggle for state resources.

So, Peter noted, it's important to get regionalism right.

The ARA is a coalition of 8 parishes within Central Acadiana: Acadia, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, and Vermilion. Other parishes are welcome to join; the ARA meets once a month, each parish has one member and therefore an equal voice.

Regionalism, Peter continued, is not a new concept, but for it to be successful, it needs to involve more than a few people. The effort needs participants; the successful regionalism programs have great community involvement.

Senator Mike Michot

Senator Mike Michot of Lafayette addressed the audience next. Rob Guidry introduced him, pointing out that as he is Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, he is the Dean of the local delegation.

Mike's opening comments noted that Lafayette now has tremendous assets, in Kam Movassaghi, formerly the Secretary of Transportation; UL President Joe Savoie, former Commissioner of Higher Education; and Jerry Leblanc, former CAO for the State. This puts us in a unique position to effect changes for our region, and for Louisiana.

Because of the turnover from term limits, and the new members of the Legislature that turnover has produced, a group of Legislators created Coeur Acadiana, involving the districts of Lafayette and the contiguous Parishes. They meet once every other week.

One important point that Mike touched on is that there are 4 universities in the 22 parishes of Greater Acadiana, but there is only one University in the Coeur Acadiana: UL. So the group felt that this was a unique opportunity. The Lafayette Chamber, City-Parish President Joey Durel, and the neighboring parishes have been very supportive of this.

In the past 6 months the Coeur Acadiana has accomplished great things, but the greatest potential is yet to come.

Mike then talked about the Jindal Administration, observing that it had started with the highest popularity ratings, and ended with a mix of issues. The Governor had immediately called a Special Session to work on Ethics & Campaign Finance reform, and he had successfully passed a comprehensive reform package. Overall this effort has been very successful, as it moved Louisiana from the bottom to the top of a number of lists, based on our disclosure laws. There has been some monkeying around with boards & commissions, some fallout from it, but he felt the Legislature could work that out.

The Governor then parlayed that into second Special Session to address about $1 billion in surplus. There was a vote to eliminate the spending cap, so that the Legislature was allowed to spend this surplus. One half of the money went to roads, universities, and infrastructure. One important local item was widening Highway 90 into Broussard.

When the regular session came around, Mike continued, it was a wide-open session, not just fiscal issues, but anything. The Governor told the Legislators, "This is your session. I'm not going to be involved on a day-to-day basis. We took care of our stuff during the regular session."

But then Mike explained, repealing the Stelly Tax hit the Floor, and suddenly the Administration was scrambling. We're losing $300 million in the budget, and their comment was, that the Bill wasn't supposed to get out of Committee. Mike asked the Administration, "Did you have anyone monitoring the issue?" Finally, we reinstalled the basic Stelly Plan for another year, after which it will expire.

Mike then noted that there 60 new members of House, 40 of whom had run unopposed, and 9 of those had run for the first time. So when Legislative pay came up, several members wanted to talk about it, particularly since some of them had lost revenues from State business because of the new reforms. The Governor told them he didn't support the pay raises, but he wouldn't veto it. Finally he had to veto it. Mike said that the Administration learned some valuable lessons from this.
So then Governor Jindal started to take on earmarks. Earmarks fund some valuable things, but there is some abuse. The Governor wanted four things, that any Non-Governmental Organization would have to meet before receiving funding. First, the NGO must have the proper disclosure form published online, prior to consideration for funding; the NGO funding must have statewide or substantial regional impact; the request must be within the role, scope & mission of the agency; and the funding must have been openly discussed during the Legislative session. Mike noted that he worked with the Legislature to see that funding requests met those four priorities. The Governor simply warned that he would have to veto some of them; he vetoed 250 line-items.

Mike said that earmarks can be positive things, they can address anything. He noted that last year there was a lot of money to be earmarked for I-49 in north Louisiana. Senator Donald Cravins, Jr., and he met with Senators Jackson & Cheek on Finance, to ask them what that was about. "With all due respect, in north Louisiana, they don't know what traffic problems are," Mike quipped. But the Senators explained that Congressman McCreary had secured a $200 million match from the Federal Government for I-49 in his district. Donnie & Mike admitted that they didn't want to lose that Federal funding, so it was a good earmark for the state.

Mike continued by explaining that our region wants to take advantage of earmarks, too. I-49 has been a priority for a while, we're ready to commit to a match; that's an earmark. Earmarks can be the most powerful way to get funds for progress.

He concluded by pointing out this is no longer Lafayette vs. New Iberia vs. Opelousas, it's a regional issue. Our delegation is now a regional delegation. He invited the audience and everyone to become more involved, that it all started with the people in the room.

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