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John Kennedy's Blog

Are interest rates being ignored in transportation debate?

Time and tide wait for no man, as the saying goes. The forces that will drive economic prosperity in this century are moving at full speed, so the time is now for Louisiana to take full advantage of a unique financial opportunity to create jobs and transform our economy by smartly and responsibly investing in Louisiana roads and Louisiana infrastructure.

We are in the midst of a historic low-interest rate environment that experts have predicted will be with us for only a short time. As chairman of the state Bond Commission, Iíve sought every opportunity to improve our bond rating and save the taxpayers millions by using these low interest rates to refinance our existing state debt.

The time is now to take advantage of these low borrowing costs by investing in roads and infrastructure, or watch regretfully as the price of progress becomes more expensive over time.

I strongly believe that the completion of I-49 South from Lafayette to New Orleans is the most important infrastructure priority for Louisiana. Nothing will create the good paying jobs of the future and grow a 21st century Louisiana economy better than by opening up this commercial superhighway to the nation and to the world.

I am proud to have lead a successful initiative that will provide financing for the completion of I-49 North by leveraging idle funds in the stateís Unclaimed Property program. To finance I-49 South, we can do the same thing, but because I-49 South is so expensive, we must also devise other innovations to fund this critical project, such as exploring the use of public-private partnerships to attract private sector investment, and, yes, carefully explore the option of funding portions of I-49 South via tolls, if taxpayers vote to do so. Letís get the debate out of ìneutral.î

Completing Interstate 49 will have enormous economic multiplier effects for the economy of Louisiana, but we must also use this low interest rate opportunity to meet long-standing infrastructure needs in every corner of our state.

A good down payment on that is House Bill 783, authored by Rep. Jim Fannin and supported by Governor Jindal, which generates over $325 million for long needed road repairs in rural areas across the state.  The plan would use an existing revenue stream to leverage the funding of these repairs and improvements over a three-year period.  I strongly applaud efforts such as these to get road projects moving without raising taxes.

I know that as important as summoning the political will to make these important investments is, itís even more critical that we do so with the full confidence and backing of our ìshareholdersî ñ the hard working taxpayers of Louisiana.

To that end, the state should take the lead in initiating these road and infrastructure projects, while at every opportunity enabling the leadership of our local communities ñ and the voters of Louisiana directly ó to decide how we can best and most efficiently finance them. Our shareholders must have the final say to make sure their tax dollars are wisely invested ó not sent down another ìblack holeî at the state capitol.

The time is now to make the tough choices about reducing the size and cost of state government so that we may direct those precious taxpayer dollars to a smart and responsible road and infrastructure agenda. Letís not put our progress in ìreverseî by missing this window of opportunity to invest in our future in a manner thatís most cost-effective for the taxpayer. Letís get moving!

First published at www.thepoliticaldesk.com

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