Published: Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 10:34 p.m.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter pledged support today for local projects including the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection levee system and the Interstate 49 corridor between New Orleans and Lafayette.
Vitter, R-New Orleans and a candidate for governor, said there is potential for state and federal money for the Morganza project. But the Army Corps of Engineers will have to cut costs and economize first.
“I’m going to be very focused, hopefully as governor, to line up support for that so we can actually start doing some specific portions of Morganza sooner rather than later,” he said while attending the South Central Industrial Association crawfish boil at Southdown Museum.
Vitter also said he would make the I-49 project, which has been strapped for money, a priority in the coming months and years.
“That’s the single most important infrastructure project in the state, period, bar none,” Vitter said.
Vitter said he is working to inform his colleagues on Capitol Hill of the effects of a federal flood protection executive order President Barack Obama issued on Jan. 30.
The purpose of the order, which strengthens flood elevation requirements on federally funded construction projects, is to protect federal investments from storm and flood damage.
However, Vitter and dozens of local and state officials are concerned about the potential of unintended consequences.
“It’s a real threat to us because it could dry up a lot of activity in a lot of parts of the country, not just in south Louisiana,” Vitter said. “It’s so vague and so ill-defined that it makes people particularly nervous because we really don’t know what it might involve.”
Vitter said he and his colleagues from other coastal states are working to “educate the federal government” on some of the implications of the order.
He compared working to block the executive order to the repeal of the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2014.
“It started from most members of Congress not really understanding what was involved,” he said.
“We launched a good education effort that was successful,” he said. “We need to do roughly the same thing with this issue.”
Vitter also took issue with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s support for capping the state inventory tax refund to the amount of money owed to the state. Jindal also said he supports repealing the tax, which is paid to parish governments.
The state refunds the tax assessed on businesses’ inventories for the full amount.
“The governor’s inventory tax proposal is a very bad idea. Because it would really back us up in terms of job creation and economic development,” he said. “I’m hopeful that as I speak out and others speak out that’s not going to pass this legislative session.”
Business owners argue capping the refund would hamper growth while local governments argue that a total repeal of the tax would carve significant portions out of local budgets.
In Terrebonne Parish, the loss of the inventory tax revenue would constitute a $10.3 million annual budget hole.
However, Vitter supports the repeal of the tax. But he thinks Jindal is going about it the wrong way.
According to his recently released plan, “Together Louisiana Strong,” Vitter would repeal the tax and the credit, while adding support money to offset the loss for local governments.
He said his campaign for governor will highlight “strong leadership.”
“Most of these people are ready, even hungry or desperate, for strong leadership, for having us face the issues and not just kick the can down the road,” he said.