Kennedy speaks on I-49 expansion, education

CROWLEY – The next four years will be very important for the state of Louisiana, according to John Kennedy, state treasurer.

Kennedy was on hand for the Rotary Club of Crowley’s meeting this week to discuss the main issues facing the state over the next four years, mainly the expansion of Interstate 49 and education reform.

“I am a big believer in having a plan,” he said. “Too often we don’t have a plan in government. We don’t think that far ahead.”

Kennedy began speaking about I-49, which the state wants to expand both north and south. I-49 North funding is in place, according to Kennedy, they only need to finish the project.

I-49 South, however, is a different story.

“Now, we have to get serious about funding I-49 South,” he said.

Kennedy believes I-49 is the most important infrastructure in the state of Louisiana and linking Lafayette to New Orleans, and thereby creating seemless travel from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, is key for Louisiana’s future.

The question is how to fund the project, which would take about $5 billion. Kennedy knows we cannot rely on the federal government.

“The federal government, as we all know, has it’s own problem starting with $15 trillion of debt,” he said.

He also knows the state cannot fully support the project at this point.

“We need to continue to spend less so that we can invest more,” said Kennedy. “But I would be lying if I stood here today and told you we had $5 billion to spend on this project.

“We can come up with some of that money, but we are not going to be able to come up with all of it.”

That leaves “someone else” to foot the majority of the project’s bill.

Thus, Kennedy has proposed setting up a public-private partnership between the state and private investment funds to have the funds in place to complete the project. He also knows the usage of funds is a necessary thing in this case.

“Remember, though, these are private sector investors,” he said. “They expect their investments to be returned. There are no free lunches, folks.”

Thus, Kennedy feels that tolls must be talked about frankly and realistically.

“I’m not a big fan of tolls,” he said, “but there are times when tolls are appropriate.”

Kennedy, also explained that he has no problem putting the tolls to a vote, but he wants the public to be well informed if there is a vote.

Private-public partnerships are nothing new to the world of infrastructure as they have been used throughout the world, including the U.S.

Kennedy then moved on to his other main topic, one of the hottest topics in the state right now, education reform.

As Kennedy points out, other than home environment, the single biggest factor in whether a child learns is teacher quality. All children can learn, but whether they learn is a different story.

“Kids only get a chance to be educated once,” he said.

Kennedy has two main thoughts toward school reform. For starters, he has a resolution in Congress that would get the legislators to substitute teach for one full day to better understand what today’s teachers are facing.

Secondly, he wants to pay teachers like the professionals they are, but wants them to understand that comes with sacrifices.

“If you look at the countries that are succeeding with their schools ... what you will find there is that teachers are treated like professionals,” said Kennedy. “Their status is elevated.

“If I were king for the day, I’d go to our teachers and say I will make a deal with you. Starting teacher salary in Louisiana will be $60,000 a year, but in return, if you want to be a professional, no tenure.”

Kennedy believes the state must find out what teachers can teach and which can’t and make the necessary moves to ensure the state’s future is good in education.

Earlier in the meeting, the Rotary Club of Crowley presented it’s Vocational Award to Sylvia Habetz.

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