Legislators address constituents at legislative breakfast
By Howell Dennis
Louisiana congressmen Dan ‘Blade’ Morrish, Jack Montoucet and John E. Guinn addressed dozens of concerned citizens in advance of the start of this year’s legislative session Tuesday morning at the Legislative Breakfast at Freys Crawfish Restaurant in Jennings. The meeting was put on by the Crowley Chamber of Commerce, the Rayne Chamber of Commerce and the Jeff Davis Business Alliance.
After a breakfast and ‘getting to know you’ session the legislators addressed the audience before taking questions. First to speak was Senator Morrish.
“I going to mmake this short and sweet. We’re broke. Have a good morning,” joked Morrish to the laughter of those in attendance.
“Seriously though, this is going to be a tough session,” he continued. “There will be some cuts and they’re going to hurt. It’s very important that we hear from you and get your input. All three of us (Morrish, Montoucet, and Guinn) need to hear from you not just about your business problems but what is affecting your families. That’s your job.”
La. Representative Montoucet displayed similar sentiments.
“We have a $1.2 billion deficit presently,” said Montoucet regarding one of the issues he is most concerned with. “Now I don’t have to tell you how bad the roads are, you drive on them. I drive on them.”
“In Acadia Parish we’ve seen some good things happen,” he continued. “We’ve brought in a new economic development engine with the ULL/Cleco biofuels plant that will be coming up soon. It will help with the parish’s employment as well as hopefully helping to support the vocational/technical college. It is imperative that we hear from you during this session so that we can maintain a pulse on the people we are representing during this session.”
Representative John E. Guinn, a quite colorful speaker, also emphasized the need for public input.
“Well I’m glad that the men up here with the brains have had their chance to talk before me,” he said. “I just want to reiterate what both Blade and Jack have said about your input. We work for you. We need to hear from you.”
The legislators then took questions from those in attendance.
Mike Hensgens asked about the possibility of creating toll roads to help raise money for the state.
“We’re looking at all kind of ideas and toll roads are one of them,” said Montoucet. “We are also looking at a road use tax to generate income but toll roads aren’t out of the question.”
Crowley Mayor Greg Jones spoke to the point in asking where the deepest cuts would be coming from.
“Education and health care,” responded Morrish. “I know that people moan and groan when they hear this but 70% of our budget is health care and education. No matter what you do that’s going to be affected.”
Mike McBride of Crowley asked about how the passage of the health care bill which has dominated the news in recent days would affect Louisiana’s citizens.
“I have no idea how it will affect us nor do I think the people who voted for it have any idea ,” said Morrish as the group laughed.
“I think small businesses are going to suffer,” added Montoucet. “I believe that the bill requires that all businesses with 30 employees are more get insurance. I can tell you that I have a business with eight employees and if I was forced to get insurance for all my employees I’d have to close the door.”
It was mentioned that Louisiana’s attorney general, as directed by Bobby Jindal, is looking into filing suit about the bill’s constitutionality. Thirty-three other states have already done so.
Pat Miers, assistant dean of the Louisiana Technical College-Acadian campus in Crowley asked about how any cuts would affect the technical colleges in rural areas.
“I’m very concerned about that too Pat,” replied Morrish. “We have 40 vocational/technical schools with nine different regional offices overseeing them. We have some very responsible people such as Pat who are in charge of each of these schools and I think they can handle running their own schools. The answer is to leave our schools alone. I think all of these schools could be run out of one office in Baton Rouge as opposed to one regional office.”
“I think Baton Rouge has set these schools up to fail,” Morrish added emphatically. “If we don’t step up to the plate we will lose them.”
“With all these regional offices I think we got top-heavy when things were good,” added Montoucet. “Let these schools run themselves.”
The legislators wrapped up by imploring constituents to help.
“I ask that you not only come to us with your problems, bring us your solutions,” said Montoucet. “These are hard times and we are going to have to tighten up our belts. People need to watch out for themselves and stop asking the government to fix everything. It’s easy to govern when you have a lot of money. There comes a point when we have to reexamine things and look at how we can make things better.”