The Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce hosted a discussion Tuesday about this year’s legislative sessions.
The discussion featured comments from top executives and lobbyists. Guest speakers included Barry Erwin, the president and CEO of the Council for a Better Louisiana, Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, Eric Sunstrom, president of the Chesapeake Group and chamber of commerce lobbyist, and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack.
The panelists discussed the possibility of a constitutional convention to address the state’s fiscal instability. They also talked about the concern for workforce preparedness in students leaving high school.
The officials were asked if their organizations support the calling of a limited constitutional convention focused on fiscal affairs. Waguespack asked for a show of hands from those who believe that Louisiana has the perfect government set up and only needs a little more money and time to resolve its issues. Not a single hand was raised, but a few muffled laughs could be heard.
“We know we don’t have a perfect system, but the question is, should we take a chance and try to create a better system? The growing consensus is that yes it is time to do that. Most businesses that we represent crave certainty and reliability. That is almost impossible to find in Louisiana these days.
The thought of a constitutional convention seven years ago would have been too risky and uncertain, Waguespack said. Now, a number of LABI members are saying the stated needs a convention.
The organization looks at what factors hinder growth, investment, hiring and other economic issues. They hope to take on the biggest problems facing free enterprise.
Scott agreed that a constitutional convention is needed.
“The Public Affairs Research Council was a major proponent of having a constitutional convention back in the 70s. We’re going to be looking at the state Constitution to try to show what could be done with a redraft. This is going to be a big campaign issue in 2019 and has been coming for a very long time,” he said.
For a convention to be called, a resolution must be passed by the Legislature to decide which parts of the Constitution will be open to change and which are off limits. Then, when the convention is called, delegates would have to be elected. Those delegates would review the issues and present a proposal. The state’s voters then decide whether to amend the governing document.
But a new constitution would not address all of the state’s problems, some said.
“There are a lot of spending problems that won’t be solved by a constitutional rewrite. You could come in and minimalize the amount of mandatory spending and financial mechanisms that you have in the constitution,” said Scott.
This wouldn’t be the same people going into a room and redrafting a document, which is one safeguard of the convention. Once it’s written, it goes straight to the people, which presents another safeguard, Waguespack said. If the document has been approved, it still can go through the Legislature to be refined in coming years.
Sunstrom said a fiscal constitutional convention won’t be enough to solve the state’s problems, one of which is the disconnect between sending the money to the state and it trickling back down to the communities who paid.
“I think it should be a full-blown constitutional convention,” said Sunstrom. “Scratch the whole thing and start electing members to the convention and go from there.”
The panel also discussed the need to improve workforce preparedness for those entering the workplace. The members said schools should better prepare students to succeed in technical schools and four-year colleges.
“We’ve still got a little way to go in terms of blending the transition from high school into the workforce or other post–secondary options. We need more programs for seniors in high school to get accustomed to go to college or learn a skill. This area is ripe for continued discussion for us to look at,” Erwin said.
Waguespack said employers complain to him about not being able to find young employees who can read, write and stay off of drugs. This is a problem the panelists agreed should be addressed in schools.