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State Rep. hears St. John concerns on idle equipment, agricultural losses, I-10 & education

LAPLACE — Louisiana House of Representatives member Randal L. Gaines answered questions on financial policy Wednesday night in an address to St. John the Baptist Parish business leaders.

Randal L. Gaines

Gaines, who represents the West Bank and approximately 80 percent of the East Bank in St. John, served as guest speaker for the November St. John Parish Business Association meeting at Petra Restaurant & Lounge in LaPlace.

Members listened intently to Gaines’ presentation on two years’ worth of unprecedented special sessions and followed up with their own concerns.

Steven Louque, managing member of Mr. Block’s Computer Repair, in LaPlace, told Gaines St. John Parish potentially loses revenue when construction equipment sits on the side of the road, unattended for months.

“If you want to rent a piece of equipment for six months, you’ve got it for six months,” Louque said.

“If you finish in four months, you’ve got a contract that doesn’t say you can turn it in to save that money.

“When we provide money to the state contractors to do these jobs, there needs to be flexibility to the end of the rentals. I don’t want to see equipment siting out there not doing anything.”

Gaines said Louque’s suggestion sounded like a “great, cost-effective measure,” agreeing to mention it to Dr. Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Steve Fraker, president of the St. John Business Association and owner of Economy Bookkeeping & Tax Service, expressed concerns relating to agriculture.

According to Fraker, Louisiana has lost its standing in the agricultural world and suffers from the staggering cost of tariffs.

He’s also concerned about the waste of restaurant leftovers, which he said could be allocated to local Second Harvest Food Bank sites.

Gaines agreed to take a further look at reports Fraker mentioned in his comments, emphasizing resident voices are key to forming agenda items.

Business Association members also brought up concerns about traffic crashes on a congested stretch of I-10 and a request to “delete” the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Gaines said education is an area of focus for the River Parishes, particularly within St. John Parish.

One of his goals in the Louisiana House of Representatives has been to make higher education more accessible to local families.

Gaines said a recent 45-cent sales tax renewal halted higher education budget cuts.

“We had already made $230 million in cuts, and we were starting to endanger critical services,” Gaines said. “We had moved from tightening our belts to strangulation. We were able to come together with a compromise and put Louisiana first instead of party first.”

Gaines said St. John Parish has wonderful career opportunities in industry and a strong business community.

“Small businesses are the cornerstone of our community,” Gaines said. “They provide up to 75 percent of new jobs in our society. One of the agenda items we didn’t get to this time is a need to redo our tax structure to make it less confusing for small businesses. That should start in 2019 or 2020.”

Fraker said political leaders are assets to Business Association members, who should always stay informed on changes in state policy.

Gaines is also a lawyer from LaPlace, chairman of the Louisiana Black Caucus and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Louisiana National Guard.

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