- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

If you are reading this expecting another article that tries to place blame, then this is not the column for you. It is time to be focused on solutions.

In the coming months, we will rebuild New Orleans. We must restore the charming history of this old city, while at the same time build a foundation for a prosperous future in the modern, knowledge-driven economy. We must protect the history, culture and architecture that makes New Orleans America’s most authentic city.

Let us rebuild all that is great about the New Orleans and Southeastern Louisiana area without rebuilding the 49th-worst health outcomes, 49th-worst educational scores and one of the nation’s highest murder rates. There is no silver lining in a tragedy this size, but America has never before rebuilt a major city. This should not just be about large government expenditures to preserve all that is good and unique, while not recreating the many pre-Katrina challenges. But it should be about inviting leadership and investment from the private sector.

The health-care system has a great need for community-based outpatient facilities, electronic patient records, bar coding of medical supplies and prescription drugs, and portable private insurance products that encourage patient empowerment.

The high-rise public housing of the 1960s was unsafe, and should be replaced with vouchers for private-sector housing units, which integrate retail and jobs and provide homes for a diversity of families.

Congress could postpone, or even eliminate, payment of 2004 and 2005 individual and business income taxes for Katrina’s victims and waive penalties for withdrawals from tax-advantaged savings.

We need to encourage economic growth by declaring New Orleans an “Economic Opportunity Zone” in which the capital-gains tax on investments is eliminated and government regulations are simplified or eliminated. In addition, we could allow businesses in the zone to fully expense business investments for the next five years, and eliminate tax depreciation lives of new capital equipment and facilities and “old capital” in order to reduce the cost to firms of purchasing new and more productive equipment and structures.

Louisiana should waive its interest in patents and royalties for inventions created in state labs and classrooms, in exchange for the commercialization of those ideas within the state.

We must immediately stop being one of the few states that taxes debt, new equipment and utilities — huge disincentives to business expansion.

These and other bold tax initiatives are what are needed to bring new and stronger economic development to the state, and will ultimately generate for the region and the nation greater tax revenues.

Additionally, we can create an “Educational Opportunity Zone” throughout the area. For example, business tax incentives could be offered to education service providers, such as charter-school operators or school-tutoring companies, to encourage redevelopment and reinvestment in impacted areas. It may take years to completely rebuild and restore our schools. In the meantime, we can give parents meaningful choices to go to other public or private schools. Our kids cannot wait to grow up.

A failing school system should be replaced with community-based schools that connect needed resources with schools to help young people successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life.

The state’s higher-education system features the second-highest dropout rates in the South. The city needs to strengthen and expand its technical and community colleges, which focus on the growth sectors of our economy. In fact, the state should guarantee that graduates will be ready to work on the first day after graduation or be retrained for free.

The final decisions in the rebuilding process must be made at the local level, by the men and women who will continue to live in New Orleans. However, this will be a massive reconstruction task, one that will require the help, leadership and expertise of someone who has managed a vast, diverse organization. I suggest Colin Powell, Jack Welch or someone with similar logistical and private-sector background to help oversee the rebuilding effort and bring transparency to the process — not red tape and bureaucracy.

We must meet the needs of people seeking immediate housing, health care and education solutions, but as importantly we must also create the conditions for jobs so these same people have a reason to come home. We must give individuals an ownership stake in a new New Orleans.

Ultimately, the one sure thing in the rebuilding effort is that New Orleans and the surrounding area will be rebuilt. There is too much heart and soul in the people of southern Louisiana for it to be otherwise. The true question is whether or not this rebuilding is merely a re-creation of past shortcomings or a development of a new New Orleans and a testament to the resiliency, determination and vision of its people.

Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, represents Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District.

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