Jindal emphasizes state role in recovery
U.S. focus on levees, jobs, housing urged
Friday, January 27, 2006
By Kate Moran
East Jefferson Bureau
The federal government has a responsibility to rebuild levees and restore the degraded coastline, but Louisiana must invest in its own recovery instead of leaning on federal largesse, especially in the areas of health care, education and public housing, U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal said in a speech Thursday night.
Speaking to a packed audience at Loyola University, the freshman congressman painted hurricane recovery as a joint venture by the federal and state governments, which must make separate but equally important commitments to the rebuilding effort. He outlined three responsibilities that each should tackle.
Jindal argued that the federal government should pay to restore levees at least to Category 3 strength, but it should also consider sharing oil and gas revenues with Louisiana so that the state can fortify a coastline that has shrunk partly because of offshore exploration.
He said the federal government should promote economic development here by providing tax incentives to make Louisiana "very attractive for businesses," offering programs to retrain unemployed workers and speeding up the process by which distressed entrepreneurs can acquire Small Business Administration loans. The state, meanwhile, should incubate growth by eradicating taxes on debts and the purchase of new business equipment.
Last, Jindal said, the federal government should take on the housing crisis in New Orleans, because it was the failure of federally built levees that caused many houses to flood. He regretted that the White House -- which has proposed bailing out homeowners who had no insurance because they live outside the flood plain -- this week torpedoed the broader program of government buyouts proposed by U.S. Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge.
"I was disappointed in the decision about the Baker bill, but where I especially disagree with the administration is in the plan to focus on those houses outside of flood zones. That might work in Mississippi, but the problem in Louisiana is that you have tens of thousands who say, 'My house was not flooded because of rain, but because the levees did not work the way they were designed to work. My house flooded because MR-GO was a hurricane highway,' " he said.
State government also bears an enormous responsibility to build Louisiana back better than it was before Katrina, the congressman said. In particular, he said the administration of Gov. Kathleen Blanco should focus on rebuilding the decimated health care system, creating better public schools and bringing back public housing in a way that does not mimic the prison-like, 1960s-era projects that dominated the city before Katrina.
"These are three critical areas for the state to take the lead, with federal support, to say, 'We can do it differently,' " he said.
Jindal offered a vision of a more modern city that offered solid public education and well-paying jobs that would prevent natives from fleeing to other states. While preserving what is special about the city, he said, New Orleans should not make the "politically easy" decision to rebuild exactly what was there before, complete with crime and substandard schools.
"We have a culture that is unique to this area that gives us authenticity. We do not want to create a Disneyland version of New Orleans," Jindal said. "There is nothing contradictory about saying, 'We have a first-class medical complex, but we are still going to preserve our heritage.' "
What needs to go first, he said, is the old culture of political cronyism that has bred skepticism in Washington.
"There are skeptics in Washington who may not want to help us rebuild, and they are looking for the first $200 toilet seat, for the first time we get money for reconstruction and spent it on other things, for the first time elected officials or relatives profit from the rebuilding," Jindal said. "There are certain things about our past that we should not continue in our future. We have to live better than the perception out there. The stakes are too high. We have to stop laughing at our politics and say, 'We're going to accept that anymore.' "
His appearance was sponsored by the Joseph A. Butt College of Business Administration, the National Center for Business Ethics at Loyola and Dr. Nick Capaldi.
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Kate Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 883-7052