A large majority for Republicans in the House and Senate will pose challenges for Gov. John Bel Edwards and Democrats in the legislature, but the push on prioritized issues must continue, state Rep. Jeremy LaCombe said.
The biggest priorities facing the state the next four years cross party lines, said LaCombe, one of the 35 Democrats – and among the only four whom are white – in the state House of Representatives,
Infrastructure will top the agenda. He wants lawmakers to find ways to cut into the $14 billion backlog of road improvement projects on the drawing board for the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Lawmakers should also push heavily for the construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge, which has been a top of discussion for several years.
“It’s not a wish list item – it’s a necessity,” LaCombe said.
State Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, has already launched a TV ad pushing for support of the new artery, which would significantly reduce traffic along the I-10 corridor throughout the capitol region.
The agreement among members of the Capital Area coalition of lawmakers for construction a new bridge reflects a bipartisan effort.
The backlog of projects – and how to tackle it – is a different story.
The state needs to consider additional sources of funding to bring roads up to standard, but legislation to help reduce the backlog have proven futile.
A bill in 2017 by Republican state Rep. Steve Carter would have added 17 cents to the gasoline tax, which has not been adjusted since 1987.
The rate of inflation has significantly reduced the amount of money the state receives from the tax, but pushback by Republicans – and a campaign spearheaded by Virginia-based GOP thinktank Americans for Prosperity – brought the proposal to an end before it could go up for a House vote.
The pushback could become worse when Gov. Edwards faces a larger makeup of Republicans in both chambers, LaCombe said.
“I don’t know how we can do it or how we can get it done, but we have to do something,” he said.
The House will have 68 Republicans, 35 Democrats and two independents. Under those numbers, the GOP does not have the power to override a gubernatorial veto.
“But it will be very close,” LaCombe said.
The House had several moderate Republicans the last four years. State Rep. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, recently won a seat in the Senate to fill the void by fellow moderate Dale Erdey. Meanwhile, Rob Shadoin, a Ruston Republican, vacated his seat to accept a job with the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.
LaCombe remains confident that compromise will be possible, largely because of the governor’s willingness to work closely with members of both parties.