Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack made an appearance Tuesday at the Wheless Auditorium in the Regions bank building in downtown Shreveport to outline his organization's top four priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Making a stop in Shreveport during a whirlwind tour around the state to business leaders, Waguespack spoke with local business leaders from Shreveport and Bossier City about what they're planning to dial in on and asked for their help in getting local legislators on board with issues like criminal justice and legal reform and infrastructure spending.
Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Johnson said it's important that we as a region unite to address issues important to north Louisiana.
"We need to come together collectively as one on our priorities and our issues," Johnson said.
In order to reduce the amount the state spends on inmates in its prisons, LABI is aiming to work with the state to identify ways to keep low-risk drug offenders out of prison.
Waguespack said LABI has consulted with businesses to identify skills needed in the labor market, and wants to work with the Louisiana Department of Corrections to train those low-risk offenders to gain those skills so that when they return to society, they will be more employable and less likely to recidivate.
Another area Waguespack said will be a focus for LABI will be fiscal reform. Rethinking the state's tax code is a key issue to address if lawmakers want to tackle the state's deficit issues.
Shifting to a tax code more like Texas or Florida, where property taxes are the bigger sources for revenue, would be beneficial for local growth instead of sending tax dollars to Baton Rouge through income taxes.
Waguespack said while this is unlikely under Gov. John Bel Edwards, they believe that changes to the pension system are necessary for economic prosperity. As state employees become older, the money they accrue under the current pension program grows, and that system is becoming unsustainable, he said.
Waguespack also made the case for electing Louisiana House District 8 candidate Raymond Crews. Crews is facing off against Baptist minister and retired physical therapist Robbie Gatti.
"I've had to encounter a lot of legislative candidates over the years," he said. "I've kicked the tires on a lot of candidates and in my opinion, I think it's unique how qualified he is for the position.
He's got the moral characteristics, the experience and the embrace of the community; he really is the total package, and he's just a darn nice guy."
The seat became vacant after Mike Johnson, who also endorsed Crews, successfully ran for U.S. House District 4 which covers the area.
LABI represents the interests of more than 200 businesses in the state.