MORGAN CITY — State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, and newly elected state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Adeline, addressed the Council of Governments on Monday about the upcoming Louisiana Legislative session.
Much of Jones’ comments centered on proposals to change portions of the state’s retirement system.
One proposal is to tie the state employees system with the teacher’s system, which has an unfunded liability of over $10 billion.
Jones, who is a member of the state’s retirement committee, said that some of these retirement changes could create problems without solving anything.
Another plan is to start a defined contribution plan, though he questioned who was going to pay those in current retirement plans.
He said if changes need to be made, they need to be done more reasonably.
Jones explained that the retirement systems are among the benefits needed to get good people in jobs and to keep them there.
Jones also addressed Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal for a voucher program in which students that attend underperforming schools in the state would be able to attend private schools using tax payer dollars.
While he noted he has voted for every tax credit, Jones said, “What’s being proposed now could technically make 320,000 kids available for, they call them opportunity scholarships (vouchers). There is no capacity to take 320,000 kids out of the public school system and put them in the parochial schools or private schools. I’m sure Central Catholic could take a few people. I’m sure Hanson could take a few people.”
Jones questioned why if the program is for failing schools, why is the state “messing” with schools that are not failing by placing these students in there.
He also noted that taking students out of schools means those schools receive less monies from the state. He questioned what would happen to the remaining students who do not transfer to private schools.
During his remarks, Allain said that Jindal has announced about $27 million in funding that will be cut in funding from state hospitals.
“They’re going to be severe,” Allain said of the cuts. “They’re going to be actual total services that these hospitals that provide that probably are going to be moved to the privates (sector) or to other carriers. There’s going to be some huge gaps and a lot of challenges.”
Services, such as psychiatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, will probably be moved to the private sector.
He also expressed displeasure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be closing its Farm Service Agency Office at the St. Mary Parish Courthouse. The office is one of five statewide that will be closing.
He said he will be going to Washington, D.C., to fight to keep the office open and will argue that closing the office results in no savings. He noted that the USDA is not being charged rent for this office at the courthouse.
Allain also said that Laura Meadows, secretary for former state Sen. Butch Gautreaux, has joined his staff.
Allain encouraged local governments who have bills they would like to be proposed to get them to Allain or Jones as soon as possible, as the deadline to get these filed in time for the upcoming session is in about a week and a half.