By Times Staff
It’s by far the number one issue State Senator Louie Barnard hears about on a daily basis and it’s probably the one he has the least control over. “Since I have come into office, probably 7 to 8 million phone calls are from people who want roads fixed, “ he joked. “There is a huge belief out there that if they would be more efficient at DOTD, hire less people, quit using the money to put money into retirement and quit wasting money, quit doing all these things, that there would be enough money to fix the road,” he said. “I want to say this, and I don’t mind saying it in front of people I know who don’t want to hear it, that is not true.”
The DOTD has a $14 billion backlog on projects that they need to take care of. “So the notion they are going to come and take care of parish roads knowing that if they do it here they have to do it all over the state is just not going to happen. “I’m aware of the motion/petition coming,” he pointed out. “I respect it and I applaud them for getting together to do it. And we will advocate it to the top of our lungs. But I want to be realistic, if DOTD does that they’ve got 63 other parishes that are going to want them to do the same thing.”
“It is the single most aggravating part of this job so far. We’ve been able to help so many people with so many things, unemployment, Social Security issues, etc. We sift through the issues and try to cut the red tape for them. I feel good about being able to do that.”
“The big thing on everybody’s mind,” he said, “is I need a better road to drive on.” And in conjunction with that the reason people think if they quit wasting stuff we would have enough money and we wouldn’t have to pay taxes.
“I don’t know how realistic that is, but I know that the worst thing, coincidentally, is the thing we want the most is the most expensive thing to build. You can’t just go out and throw down a road. We’ve had experience with that and we know what that yields.” “We’ve got to be able to do them right and that depends upon a dependable source of revenue to do what we need done to our roads,” Bernard said
He added Winnfield lawmaker, Jack McFarland-R, may strike out, but he has been working the last six-eight months on a new highway funding plan. “Conservatives already object to a gasoline tax, but all of them will agree there is a critical need to improve the infrastructure of this state,” he added. “Jack is saying ‘I’ll either find it corrupt down there or inefficient and we’ll fix that and we’ll find enough money.’ But we haven’t done that in the last 25 years.”
There will be a gas tax component in his legislation. That’s going to be extremely hard to pass. Most people in the state just don’t want to vote for a tax. “I have told people, I said I know a lot of elected officials are not gong to tell you this, but I don’t want to come back in four years.”
“Without some way to make our roads better we are going to be like Evangeline sitting under an Oak tree for a lover that will never come,” Bernard reasoned. Eight years ago DOTD had 9,251 employees according to Bernard. Today they’ve got 3,675. “So it’s not just a matter of if we cut employees we can solve our problems. It’s a lot bigger than that and getting money for roads, it involves more people working, more people paying taxes and that comprises the umbrella of how do you get young people and business to come to Louisiana,” he said. “Businesses looking at Louisiana want a lot of things when they’re done, they want lower taxes, reasonable regulations, a good infrastructure and a quality education,” Bernard added.
“They’ve also got to have a skilled workforce and I think they want safe communities. So when you lump all those those together, our job is to create an environment that can exist.”
“I know that’s pie in the sky sometimes and easier said than done. But if you are a business and you have to get your product from over here to over there, you have to have a way to get there.”