Economic secretary facing final session, replacement unknown

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics


Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret was peppered with questions by members of the Senate Finance Committee last week and offered them a mini-preview of several business issues to be debated in what will be his final session working for the governor.

But Moret was not questioned about who might replace him when he steps down next month for a new job leading the LSU Foundation as its president and CEO.

When asked via email by LaPolitics, Moret deferred to the administration.

"We're still in the process of working with Secretary Moret to identify a replacement," said Jindal spokesperson Shannon Bates Dirmann.

It's unknown if there's a national search underway, or if the position will only be filled by an interim secretary. A full appointment, if made during the ongoing session, would require hearings before the House and Senate governmental affairs committees.

Considering the position's current $320,000 salary, lawmakers with oversight may pose interesting questions in contrast to the $1.6 billion shortfall.

With only months remaining in Jindal's term, and the possibility that the next governor may have an appointment in mind already, the Jindal hire may not require a huge rollout.

It's also unknown whether the administration and Moret will look internally. If so, and there has been no such indication, the top three on staff at LED under Moret are Deputy Secretary Steven Grissom, Assistant Secretary Quentin Messer and Undersecretary Anne Villa.

For now, Moret is still steering the ship.

Back at the Capitol last week, when he was asked about proposed legislation to limit the movie tax credit program, Moret said lawmakers should be open to change but willing to protect an important economic engine.

“The program is so big that it is now in competition with other state priorities,” he said.

More predictability for the state and industry is critical, Moret added, and bills to cap the program and add new oversight could provide a pathway to a middle ground for the Legislature.

The Enterprise Zone program, which offers taxpayer-funded incentives to businesses willing to relocate to depressed areas, in on the session agenda too. There have been complaints in the past about large retailers benefitting from the program for moving into tony neighborhoods, although Moret's office has sorted out those challenges.

Moret said lawmakers might want to think about restricting eligibility, which would make Louisiana’s program, the most generous in the region, more comparable to what other states are offering.