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Q&A: La. Sen. Landrieu digs into dredging, coastal restoration

By Jeff Matthews, The Town Talk

June 3, 2012

Transportation, small business and education issues were among the topics U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu addressed in an appearance in Alexandria.

Landrieu, D-La., appeared Wednesday at a Central Louisiana Business After Hours event at River Oaks Square Art Center. She spoke with The Town Talk about, among other things, two Louisiana-slanted amendments -- the RAMP Act and RESTORE Act -- to proposed legislation to fund federal highway construction and infrastructure projects.

The RAMP Act is the Realize America's Maritime Promise Act. It would ensure that the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is used for harbor maintenance.

The RESTORE Act is the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunies and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast At. It would allocate 80 percent of any Clean Water Act fines for the 2010 BP Plc oil spill to the five Gulf of Mesico states.

Question: How would the RAMP Act benefit Louisiana's ports, specifically the one on the Red River in Alexandria?

Landrieu: It basically directs taxes that the maritime industry pays to run our ports and our channels, to keep that money in the pot to fund dredging.

Do we have a problem with dredging along our rivers and our ports? Yes.

So the RAMP Act will help our ports, keeping them open, keeping them dredged, so that we can have the kind of trade and commerce that we need, not just at our coastal ports, but our inland ports like (the Port of Alexandria), as well.

Q: What is the idea behind the RESTORE Act, based on legislation you sponsored?

Landrieu: To direct 80 percent of the penalty money that BP is going to pay, based on the amount of oil they spilled in the Gulf.

That was devastating to our state, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, to some extent Texas. I filed a bill quickly to say the penalty, which could be anywhere from $5 billion to $20 billion, should not go to the general fund of the United States when the injury and accident happened off the coast of Louisiana.

With the support of Republicans and Democrats and President Obama, we have moved the bill all the way through the process and the good news is, I believe that when the transportation bill is passed in the next two or three weeks that Restore will be a part of it, the Ramp Act will be a part of it and we will be bringing a lot of money and a lot of help home to all of our communities in Louisiana.

Q: Are you optimistic that efforts to keep the Louisiana Air National Guard 259th Air Traffic Control Squadron at England Airpark will pay off?

Landrieu: It is a priority for our delegation to keep that division at England and the tower at England.

The military budget is being cut, but we're hoping to fight as a united fight, our delegation, to hold that asset right here in Central Louisiana.

The England Authority has done a tremendous job taking the lemons that were given to it some years ago, turning it into lemonade and really creating a fabulous asset.

Q: As someone who has supported charter schools, what are your thoughts on Gov. Bobby Jindal's education reforms?

Landrieu: I generally support the education reform agenda.

But there's no silver bullet here. Charter schools work when there's great leadership, enthusiasm in the community and an entrepreneurial model focused on serving the children.

Yes, choice is important, options for parents are important. But the real goal is quality academic excellence and we're just failing in too many places in our school systems throughout the state. So we have got to try some new things.

I've observed that charter schools -- quality charter schools with the right leadership, the right board -- can deliver a quality education even to special-needs children, even to very poor children.

So each parish has to assess for themselves how they're doing and to not accept failure any longer and be willing to venture out and try high-quality charters or even a limited number of vouchers for their children stuck in failing schools.

I think the governor's [school] voucher program went too far. I've said that on many occasions. I've written many letters publicly about it and explained why.

They can be used strategically in a turnaround effort. But the schools in Rapides Parish and some of the surrounding parishes, there's some schools that are D and F and they need a new approach. They need a turnaround opportunity.

Q: You referenced the Startup Weekend event in Alexandria this weekend presented by the Kauffman Foundation and Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. Why are you excited about that for this area?

Landrieu: This is the smallest market they have ever come into. It's in appreciation and admiration for the great work, I think, that your economic development team does with small business.

I hope you all will take advantage of that and use it as an opportunity to accelerate the growth of some of your small businesses, as well as identify some potential startup businesses.

You know, there's really nothing small about small business. It creates a tremendous amount of new jobs in the United States.

If we want to end this recession, which I'm committed to, President Obama is committed to, many others on both sides of the aisle, it's going to be because of what we do in Washington to help create a better atmosphere for small business to operate, grow and expand.

Less regulation, fair taxation and capital and technical assistance is what helps small businesses to grow.


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