Governor candidate makes a pitch in Morgan City

Abraham believes flood control work will be safe

President Donald Trump's border barrier isn't likely to affect the barrier federal and local officials hope to build to combat Bayou Chene flooding, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham said Wednesday in Morgan City.

Last week, the president reluctantly went along with a budget deal that contained only $1.4 billion of the $5.7 billion the president wanted for a wall on the Mexican border. Then Trump declared a national immigration emergency that could allow him to re-direct other federal funds.

One source mentioned as a possibility is flood prevention work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One pending project is the $90 million Bayou Chene Flood Control and Diversion Project, which would funded as part of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. The project includes a permanent flood wall near Amelia to stop backwater flooding from Bayou Chene.

Abraham, who voted against the budget deal and supports the emergency declaration, said Louisiana officials have been monitoring the status of those projects and have been assured they won't be affected.

Wednesday marked Abraham's second stop in Morgan City in less than three weeks, following a Feb. 4 appearance at a St. Mary Industrial Group meeting. Abraham, R-Alto, is challenging Gov. John Bel Edwards' re-election bid. The third announced candidate is Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.

The winner of the gubernatorial election could be the candidate who wins a pair of arguments: Were tax increases pushed by Edwards to overcome a big budget shortfall the right course? And can Louisiana reinvigorate the state's energy industry with tax cuts and deregulation, or will the state lose out to inland shale plays?

The inland production has put the United States back on top of world oil producers. U.S. production rose from 5.3 million barrels a day in June 2010 to an estimated 11.9 million barrels a day this month, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Alone, the Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico has seen production quadruple to 4 million barrels a day since 2010.

Abraham blamed part of Louisiana energy's slump on the legal climate and tax disparities. Louisiana's severance tax, the money companies pay for extracting oil, is 12.5 percent, while the same tax in Texas is 4.6 percent.

"We can compete," Abraham said. "In Louisiana, we have reserves that can compete with the Floridas and the Texases and anybody in the world."

The tax debate results from Edwards' steps to deal with a projected $750 million state budget shortfall as he took office in 2016 and a projected shortfall of nearly $2 billion for 2017. His solution, engineered in a series of special sessions, included tax increases. Among them was temporary sales tax hike.

Last year, the Legislature went along with a partial sales tax renewal. Edwards also pointed to a state budget that spent $1 billion less and employed 30,000 fewer people than a decade earlier. But Republicans criticized the seemingly never ending special sessions and the increase in sales taxes that were already among the highest in the nation.

Abraham said that even with the tax increases, Louisiana hasn't managed to devote more money to its deteriorating infrastructure.

"We've got to spend more wisely," Abraham said. "And we've got to get these taxes under control. With a Republican governor and a Republican Legislature, it's doable."

Abraham, who trained as a veterinarian and went back to school to become a physician, is also no fan of Edwards' decision to expand the state-federal Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this year, the administration announced that the expansion has added more than 500,000 people to the Medicaid rolls in a state where nearly a quarter of the population was already on the program.

"I'm a country doctor and I want everyone to have insurance," Abraham said. But "they don't have medical care under Medicaid."

This story has been corrected to name Eddie Rispone as a Baton Rouge businessman.

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