The four announced candidates for this year’s gubernatorial race squared off today for the first time in a forum dedicated to discussing the state’s transportation and infrastructure needs.
During the nearly two-hour gathering, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Rep. John Bel Edwards, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and U.S. Sen. David Vitter steered clear of the kind of political jabbing that typically characterizes such forums. Instead, they delved in detail into their respective plans for funding critically needed improvements to the state’s roads, highways, bridges and coastal protection projects.
On most areas, the four candidates—all of whom except Edwards are Republicans—agreed that infrastructure needs are one of the state’s most pressing problems. All also agreed on some of the potential solutions. Among the plans they said they would implement if elected:
Vitter said he would call a special session on spending and tax reform, then propose a targeted highway building plan. The projects in the plan would be funded, in part, by the savings identified in the special session.
Dardenne said he would call for a long overdue reform of the state’s capital outlay process. An overhaul of the state’s funding allocation methods for construction projects could free up funds for new transportation projects.
Angelle said he favors public-private partnerships and also the creation of toll roads to help pay for bridge and highway improvements.
Edwards said he would crack down on spending money from the Transportation Trust Fund, specifically some $60 million now allocated to the Louisiana State Police for traffic control.
That the four candidates would devote their first face-to-face showdown—and two hours at that—to issues of infrastructure and transportation underscores how important the topic is to the state.
The high-profile attendees at the event also drove home the significance of infrastructure issues to the business community. They included the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack; the Baton Rouge Area Chamber Senior Vice President of Economic Competitiveness Michael DiResto, Center for Planning Excellence Director Boo Thomas and Mayor Kip Holden’s Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel.
“This is a top level issue for us this Legislative session,” Waguespack says. “We are hearing from our members more and more that this is a real area of concern for them.”
BRAC, too, will focus on transportation and infrastructure during the spring session.
“We are grateful this is the first issue the candidates took up,” DiResto says. “When we ask our investors what their biggest concern is, this tops the list.”
The forum was a part of the two-day 2015 Critical Issues Summit taking place at the Renaissance hotel. It is sponsored by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana, Louisiana Associated General Contractors, AIA Louisiana and Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association.