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Metropolitan New Orleans Transportation Priorities

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Transportation report cover

This summer, I had the honor of personally working with change makers from the Urban Leaders Fellowship (ULF), and, on behalf of my constituency, I would like to thank them all for their diligent efforts to advance policy solutions for Louisiana. If you are unfamiliar with the organization’s mission, the ULF, with Executive Director Lani Young at the helm, recruits cadres of the nation’s most talented emerging leaders to spend seven weeks in eight metropolises across the country, including the ULF’s home base of Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Nashville, Washington, D.C., Oakland, and my own city, New Orleans.

As Speaker Pro Tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives and representative for New Orleans’ District 91, I asked my cohort of fellows to focus on six different policy areas: Early Childhood Care and Development, Community Policing, Criminal Justice Reform, Immigration, Transportation, and Equitable Development. Each fellow then collaborated with a partner organization, such as the Louisiana Department of Education or Tulane University’s Cowen Institute, to conduct research and stakeholder interviews. During the months of June and July, the fellows produced a weekly memorandum addressing specific questions as well as a culminating presentation with final policy proposals and supporting data analysis.

As my staff and I combed through the reports, we were repeatedly impressed with the thoughtfulness and creativity of the proposed innovations, as well as the attention to detail displayed by the data analytics. The work of the Urban Leaders Fellows will have a direct impact on the legislation I put forward to the Louisiana House of Representatives next session, and I appreciate having had the opportunity to interact with a group of such intelligent and civic-minded individuals.

Though I have said my farewells to the 2016 fellows, I have no doubt that I will be hearing several of their names again in the coming years and decades as they leave their respective marks on society. I offer my warmest wishes to these young leaders and encourage them to keep the fiery passion for progress alive in whatever careers they ultimately pursue.

Today, Louisiana House of Representatives Speaker Pro Tempore State Representative Walter “Walt” Leger III (D-New Orleans) convened a meeting that gathered business and community leaders to discuss a new report released by the Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE). The Louisiana-specific research includes data on the foreign-born population in Louisiana, their tax contributions, their spending power, and their role in Louisiana’s key industries as leaders and job creators. 
“As we look to grow the economy and create jobs for Louisianians, it is important that we consider all of the variables, like economic stimuli provided by immigrants,” said Rep. Leger (D-New Orleans). “Today’s roundtable provided a forum for public officials and the business community to discuss how we can strengthen our economy, expand job opportunities, and become more competitive.”
The report states that immigrants make up four percent of the state’s population and contributed $1.4 billion in taxes, or close to 5 percent of the total share in 2014. That same year, immigrants earned $5 billion, or 4.6 percent of all income earned by Louisiana residents.
According to the report, immigrants in Louisiana contribute to crucial industries, such as agriculture and health care. They make up 9.1 percent of all entrepreneurs in the state, and play a large role in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, a major component of U.S. economic growth. These and other key statistics on immigrants in Louisiana can be found in the PNAE report.
The roundtable coincided with the NAE’s launch of the Reason for Reform campaign in all 50 states today. 



Call me an optimist

Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Well, the historically long stretch of consecutive legislative sessions that ended last week has been ‘difficult’ — to put it mildly.

At the outset, we faced a mid-year shortfall of $954 million and a $2.1 billion deficit for 2017. It’s been widely reported how Jindal’s failed policies led us into dire straits and falsely reported the actual budget allocations for previous years, so I won’t rehash it here. In the end, we are left with a budget that still falls $337 million short of what was necessary in order to maintain services provided last year. The somehow still standing vocal minority that some refer to as the Jindal caucus refused to vote to fund these vital services and declined to close tax loopholes for the wealthy and big business. Unfortunately, these decisions will affect all Louisianians.

In this difficulty, though, I see opportunities. We have a new Governor. We have a chance to unite behind sound policies. We can create innovative systems to ensure Louisiana never ends up in this dreadful predicament again.

We didn’t win them all. And some legislators, blinded by ideology or driven by political motivation, failed us. But we seized some major opportunities - like the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund and other legislation described below.

On a personal note, I can’t thank you enough for your support and guidance these past several months. There were times when I was frustrated and fed up - but knowing what I’m fighting for and that you’re there with me gave me the strength to persist.

And while we will surely continue to encounter difficulties, I’m going to continue seizing opportunities. Call me an optimist - you can count on it.


Speaker Pro Tempore, Louisiana House of Representatives
State Representative, District 91, New Orleans

Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund

During years of high revenue collection, the State invests in education, healthcare, infrastructure and other priorities; but historically, lawmakers have ignored the inconsistency of these excess revenues, especially in volatile markets such as the oil and gas industry. So when there’s been a downturn in revenue, government has been forced to raise taxes or find some other saving grace. This boom and bust cycle has once again reared its ugly head as we have seen historically low mineral and corporate income revenues. It’s time we take this problem head on, and that’s why I sponsored legislation to create the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund.  

This represents the most significant opportunity created during the sessions of 2016 for long-term fiscal reform that addresses the cycle of ups and downs our State has faced for generations. It will be up for a vote this fall, and I urge you to VOTE FOR OUR FUTURE

Riverfront Development

My legislation passed to give the Convention Center flexibility within its own district to boost commercial development along the New Orleans riverfront. The Convention Center plans to spend as much as $175 million of their bond capacity on infrastructure and improvements along Convention Center Boulevard with the hopes of attracting up to $1 billion in private investment for a mixed-use development that will include a 1,200-room hotel and entertainment district. This is primed to be one of the most transformative projects in decades and will reshape our riverfront into a true destination for visitors and residents alike, with the added bonus of diminishing the pressure imposed by masses of tourists on other major tourist destinations in our great City. 


Protecting the Coast

My legislation passed allowing the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to create large-scale restoration projects and provide corresponding credits available for purchase by Responsible Parties in minor oil spills as fulfillment of their obligation to restoration. The exciting part of this bill is that private investors can develop and fund wetland projectsthat are already part of the existing $90 billion Master Plan in coastal restoration. These private projects will have a direct and immediate impact on coastal restoration and protection at a quicker pace and a much lower cost than would be incurred by the government. 



Throughout this extraordinary year of budget negotiations, I made healthcare a top priority. I fought to fully fund Louisiana's safety-net hospitals, medical school system, and the University Medical Center, which are all critical for the health of our citizens and the health of our economy.  I'm proud to report that we finally expanded Medicaid in Louisiana. Healthy Louisiana goes into effect on July 1 and will extend healthcare coverage to almost 375,000 eligible Louisianans. I sponsored two bills that did not advance but that I will continue to champion: one to provide for Medicaid-managed long-term care and support systems, which would save valuable state funds, and another to require wellness exams for students entering kindergarten and sixth grade, which would help catch health problems early and improve overall well-being of school-age children.  If the child isn’t healthy, success in the classroom is that much more difficult.  


Internet Sales Tax

Before our government looks to collect revenue through new taxes, I thought it prudent to collect revenues already due to the State.  That is why I sponsored legislation to even the playing field between brick and mortar small businesses right here in Louisiana and their online competitors -- who often don’t remit and collect taxes that our small businesses must already collect.  This legislation will begin the process of ensuring that taxes currently due from online purchases are remitted to the state and local governments. It is estimated that between $80 and $400 million in lawfully due taxes are uncollected. These collections can have major impact on improvement to our local roads and infrastructure, as well as to the provision of vital services for the people of Louisiana.   


Criminal Justice Reform Task Force

For years, Louisiana has carried the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world, which unfortunately has not been met with corresponding low crime and recidivism rates. Something isn’t working and it isn’t good for the economy or for our communities. Last year, I passed a resolution establishing the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force in order to achieve the type of -- bipartisan, common sense, taxpayer-saving, public safety outcome-improving -- reforms that states like Texas, Georgia, Utah and others have produced over the past several years. The Task Force was extended this year and has the goal of producing evidence-based legislation for 2017 that will lower incarceration rates and increase public safety. As a former Assistant District Attorney who has seen the system from the inside, criminal justice reform was one of my original motivations for offering myself for public service.  Now, with this task force of highly qualified and experienced people, we have a chance to get on the right path.  With the support of Governor Edwards, conservative think tanks, progressive and conservative advocacy organizations, the faith-based community and democratic and republican lawmakers, the time is now to push for meaningful reforms.

At the end of the legislative sessions of 2016, we are left with a budget that still falls $337 million short of what was necessary in order to maintain services provided last year, which means underfunding our safety-net hospitals and state aid for public schools and only funding TOPS at 70%, and continuing the short-sighted practice of investing the minimum amount in higher education just to stay afloat. This is what we are left with after 19 weeks of the somehow still standing vocal minority that some refer to as the Jindal caucus, who refuse to vote to fund these vital services and decline to partially close loopholes for the wealthiest taxpayers and for big business.

Unfortunately, these decisions and nondecisions will affect all Louisianians. It will affect our children, our young families and our elderly. And it will affect our students. A last-minute amendment was added that front-loaded TOPS awards, which will cover full tuition costs in the fall, but will leave our students with only 40% coverage in the spring without the ability to apply for more financial aid. This means that students at LSU will have to find an additional $2,133.30 halfway through the school year to continue their education, students at other colleges across the State will likewise have to find additional dollars to fund the TOPS shortfall. This amendment, along with the provision that one third of any new revenue must go to TOPS, higher education and DHH, leaves us with a budget that, although honest, is deeply flawed. This also strips the executive branch of its constitutional authority to spend funds as necessary throughout the fiscal year to carry out the appropriations made by the legislative branch.

This is a budget that ties our hands and is neglectful of so many other important considerations such as our children, families, youth services, and public safety. To further complicate matters, as we work through a Justice Reinvestment Task Force, these handcuffs will make investment and reform even more difficult to achieve in meaningful corrections activities like drug courts, re-entry programs, job training and education opportunities, as well as alternatives to incarceration.


Vote Yes

Constitutional Amendment #5

November 8

For decades, Louisiana has been caught in the same cycle—when times are good, the state spends every dollar generated—and when times are bad, there isn’t enough revenue to pay for all of our obligations. All too often, we’re left with hard choices like cuts to healthcare and education or raising taxes on hardworking families.

Without raising taxes, the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund will take the volatility out of our state’s revenues and spending practices. Please join me—along with Democrats and Republicans across the state—and vote for this common sense, long-term solution on November 8.

Republican and Democrat Bipartisan Support
Unanimously passed in the Louisiana House and Senate and now goes to a vote of the people

“A spending reform that should not be overlooked.”
-Council for a Better Louisiana

Although investing tax dollars can be good public policy—like raises for teachers—we need better planning to ensure the state can meet those obligations when the economy slumps and revenues decline.

The Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund does just that—without raising taxes.

It is fiscal reform that prevents politicians from spending every dime they collect from taxpayers every year. It creates a trust fund where excess dollars will be deposited during good years to build an asset for the future.

It is overwhelmingly supported by Republicans, Democrats and Independents. In fact, the legislation unanimously passed through the House and Senate. Now, the constitutional amendment to create the Fund will go to a vote of the people, and it must receive a majority to pass.

That’s why your vote for Constitutional Amendment #5 on November 8 is critical.

How does it work?

We chose to focus on the State’s mineral and corporate tax revenues because they can change drastically from one year to the next, adding greatly to the volatility of our economic cycles. Annual corporate tax revenues, for example, have gone as high as $1 billion and as low as $262 million in the last nine years. Then we calculated a middle range revenue projection over the last twenty years that would allow for a responsible budget. What the numbers showed was that our budgets can be strong and cover necessary expenditures with $660 mineral revenues and $600 corporate revenues. So, without raising taxes, Constitutional Amendment #5 requires us to save any money that we collect beyond those amounts and put it in the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund.

Where does the money go?
Once deposited, the dollars grow into a valuable asset for Louisiana, but it doesn’t just sit there! First, the interest generated off of the Fund each year is deposited back into the State General Fund for appropriation by the legislature. Once the Fund reaches $5 billion, the Legislature is authorized to use up to 10% of the Fund to work on the things that seem to always get left behind, like transportation infrastructure and construction projects. Additionally, 30% of the Fund deposits will go to pay down currently unfunded state retirement debt.

Will this tie our hands when we have a budget deficit and need money like we do right now?
No! We worked with experts around the country to find a responsible cap that wouldn’t be too high when we’re hurting financially or too low when we’re in a stronger revenue position. Right now we’re recovering from a low point, so we don’t expect to hit these caps for at least the next five years. Which means that we can use everything we have right now to get back on our feet again.

Will this affect the Rainy Day Fund?
No—it doesn’t impact any of the money that contributes to the Rainy Day Fund. The Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund is designed to work hand in hand with the Rainy Day Fund to create a stable funding structure—much like it functions in other states.

Has this ever worked before?
Yes! Seven other states that have suffered from the same boom and bust due to volatility in the oil and gas industry have created similar trust funds. States like Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming have all found some prosperity and peace of mind.

Today we enter into our 19th consecutive week of session, which marks the longest weekly stretch in our legislative branch's 204-year history.

These 19 weeks have included two extraordinary sessions and a regular session, and as we all know, rough politics began that very first day and have continued through to now. At a time when many despair that the partisan divide is too wide to bridge, I see something else, the opportunity for good to break through and a breeze of hope sweeping across our State.  And now more than ever before in my time in public service, a clear message emerging...fix the problem.  Fund k-12 education; fund healthcare; fund higher education; fund our medical school; fund the UMC.  But with the second special session adjourning no later than midnight on June 23rd, we can't do it without your help.  Please contact your Legislators and tell them to GET TO WORK, AND DON'T STOP UNTIL THE JOB IS DONE!

At the outset, we faced a mid-year shortfall of $954 M that had to be solved by June 30, 2016 and, a $2.1 B dollar deficit for the impending Fiscal Year 2017 budget.  In the first special session, the Legislature cut an additional $80 M, utilized $200 M of BP settlement payments, $128 M of Rainy Day Funds, and a combination of revenue measures. By the end of that first special session, we had reduced the deficit from $954 M to $70 M for the current year, and from $2.1 B to $750 M for fiscal year 2017.

Once the regular session began on March 14th, we were left with the particular challenge of having to pass a balanced budget while still working with significant shortfalls and no way to generate revenue. Faced by a myriad of tough choices, we passed a budget that managed to protect funding for some waiver programs that provide health care services to the elderly and disabled. However, it substantially cut funding for TOPS ($155 M short and funded at 50%), K-12 Education ($75 M short), Higher Education ($55 M short), Corrections ($35M short), and our health system especially our hospital system, ($174 M short), jeopardizing our public-private partnerships. This is a budget that is far from perfect, but for the first time in many years is actually balanced and honest. I am proud of that achievement, but I am disappointed that Louisiana continues to lead from behind at the hands of an unfortunate fiscal legacy.

We have now reached the final week of the second extraordinary session and we still have the power to surge forward and take the lead. Governor John Bel Edwards has asked that we raise revenues by $600 million in this special session, and that's just to keep Government services at the same level as the 2015-16 Budget. So far, the House has only agreed to $220 million in tax increases. While a few legislators have taken a stance against ALL additional raises in taxes, there has been a strong bipartisan effort to generate revenue and ease the strain of decreased expenditures and subsequently avoid further detrimental cuts.

The days of Louisiana living paycheck to paycheck must come to an end. Stability and Sustainability must be the foundation of our economy moving forward, one where we live within our means, but understand that our primary focus must be in hearing the message we have received loud and clear: fix the problem.

We must prioritize education and health care and protect our people. This shall be the moral test of our Government and shall be the foundation for a Louisiana and New Orleans blessed not only with some of the world’s greatest natural resources and people, but also with an abundant and unmatched future.


Find your legislator here:

It's been a week since the shooting in Orlando.  Let's reflect and look at how we can fight hatred here at home in Louisiana.  

The attack in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history,  was inspired by hate. It was a flagrant disregard for each individual’s humanity and uniqueness,  and it was a saddening embrace of bigotry and evil.  These evils are not found in Orlando alone. In fact, in Capitols across the nation year after year, Legislation inspired by the same hatred & bigotry are being filed. In Louisiana, last year's so called “Religious Freedom Bill” and this year’s “Pastor Protection Act” sought to divide not unite - to spread discrimination and hate rather than unity and love. There is a constant and eternal struggle between right and wrong. Bills that seek to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation are wrong - wrong for people, who are called to be instruments of peace - wrong for the economy -  wrong for Louisiana.

I am proud that we stood together against these bills and that, as a result, both failed. 

We, in New Orleans and across Louisiana, must continue to lead. We recognize that a healthy economy is a diverse economy and that our acceptance and recognition of the humanity and uniqueness of every individual creates an ongoing opportunity to be a beacon of hope across the South and the nation. While we pray for the victims and their families and unite in our mourning - let us pray for elected leaders and remind them that darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only love can do that.  

(Excerpt from Speech Rep. Leger delivered to the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce on June 14, 2016.) 

The Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA) honored Rep. Leger and some of his colleagues as Champions for Healthcare  for the work they have done protecting access to quality care for their communities over the past four years. This past session, Rep. Leger was instrumental in championing for competing the construction of and fully funding the University Medical Center in New Orleans. Leger also serves as co-chair of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Health & Human Services Committee. NCSL is a national bipartisan organization dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures.

“We thank these senators and representatives for making patients and hospitals a priority and listening to a majority of their Louisiana constituents who oppose unsustainable healthcare budget cuts,” said LHA President & CEO Paul Salles. “Through their hard work, these Champions for Healthcare helped to avert a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, and they prevented proposed funding reductions for hospital emergency rooms, medically-fragile infants, rural providers and other life-saving services. Louisiana hospitals commend these legislators for their strong leadership on healthcare issues in Louisiana.”

The LHA launched a website,, that allows Louisiana residents to search for their local Champions for Healthcare by zip code. It also contains photos and contact information, including links to legislators’ Facebook and Twitter pages, if available, so residents can express their gratitude towards these individuals.