What did Acadiana's business community get out of the legislative session?

·4 min read

Some of the Acadiana region and Southwest Louisiana's most high profile legislators met with One Acadiana members Wednesday to discuss the outcomes of the 2022 legislative session, including infrastructure funding, education investments and tax reform.

A couple dozen of protesters gathered outside the event, which was held in the auditorium at South Louisiana Community College. The protesters were rallying against Senate Bill 342 and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, specifically calling out Senate President Page Cortez's support for the bill banning abortion in Louisiana with few exceptions.

More: Protesters direct anger over Louisiana's abortion ban at legislative leaders in Lafayette

Inside, the legislators stayed away from the two most controversial aspects of the legislative session: the rollback of abortion rights and redistricting. Infrastructure, tax reform, education, and Acadiana's role in the legislature instead dominated the meeting.

"We're very proud of these gentlemen and the work that they do representing us in Baton Rouge," said One Acadiana President and CEO Troy Wayman. "We're very proud of the money they brought home. Bringing home the bacon to Acadiana has not gone unnoticed."

Acadiana leadership

One of the topics that kept coming up during the panel was the Acadiana region's strong position in the legislature. During this past session, the region controlled several high-profile and important committee chairs, including House Ways and Means, Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee and the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, among other notable positions, in addition to the president of the senate.

One Acadiana leaders and Mandi Mitchell, the president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, repeatedly praised the legislators for leveraging their positions to bring money to Acadiana projects.

Louisiana Capitol, spring 2022.
Louisiana Capitol, spring 2022.

"You all are shouldering the weight of a lot of difficult and challenging decisions," Mitchell said. "We see that firsthand. You sacrifice time away from your families and your businesses to make sure that we're moving Louisiana forward."

The legislators are cognizant of how the power has shifted. Rep. Stuart Bishop, a Lafayette Republican and the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that the state's capital outlay process had been dominated by the New Orleans and Jefferson Parish delegations for years. Now, two Acadiana legislators — Bishop and Sen. Bret Allain of Franklin — are largely the ones running the show.

Allain, who chairs the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, said it's interesting how the power has shifted away from the most populous area in the state to two legislators from smaller towns.

"We (Bishop) kind of grew up together, coming out of the same small town," Allain said. "The idea that they gave all of capital outlay to two boys from Jeanerette is kind of crazy."

Infrastructure

Infrastructure was one of the focal points of the session, and both Acadiana and Southwest Louisiana managed to secure money for several important projects, including $200 million for I-49 South and $200 million for a new I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge.

In addition to those projects, the legislature is providing $300 million for a new Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge and $150 million for preservation projects across the state.

Infrastructure: Cassidy talks money for broadband, bipartisan gun bill with Acadiana mayors

"The I-49 Connector is going to get built in most of your lifetimes," Cortez told the attendees.

One Acadiana also praised the decision to use some of the vehicle sales tax revenues to fund for four of the state's megaprojects, which could provide up to $40 million per year for each project.

"We brought home more money to Acadiana than has been brought home in decades," Bishop said. "Acadiana has to stay in the driver's seat. That's where we are now."

Education

Ahead of the session, One Acadiana and local economic development groups pushed hard for education investment. The legislature ended up passing a $1,500 pay raise for K-12 teachers and a $750 raise for support staff, as well as $159 million for higher education.

The legislature also gave $10.5 million to the MJ Foster Promise Program and $84 million for early care and education initiatives.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette was also a big winner during the session, securing around $170 million for the university.

"It bodes well that UL did very well in this session," Rep. Beau Bueaullieu, R-New Iberia, said. "If y'all aren't following what UL is doing, it's amazing."

One issue that One Acadiana backed but failed during the session was one that would prevent postsecondary institutions from withholding academic transcripts due to outstanding debt to the school.

Tax reform

Tax reform was emphasized more in the 2021 legislative session, particularly with the effort to end Louisiana's decentralized sales tax system. In 2021, the legislature passed a bill that put up centralizing the sales tax system for a vote of the people, but it was rejected.

This past session, a similar measure stalled. It's still something that many in Louisiana's business community want to see, and it will likely be resurrected in future sessions.

"The grassroots effort from a constituent standpoint, I think is key," Beaullieu said. "Unfortunately it didn't make it this year."

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This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Acadiana business community recaps 2022 legislative session