Its Time to Bring Reform to the River Pilots
Louisiana has a long history of boards and commissions that lock out competition and exert enormous political pressure. The board that oversees river boat pilots on the Mississippi River is the clearest example of a system that hinders true government reform that our state desperately needs.
Never heard of the river boat pilot board? You’re not alone, but they have an impact on a vast number of products you- and millions of Americans – buy every day. Every foreign flag vessel that comes up the Mighty Mississippi must be guided by one of these pilots.
The Board of Examiners of the New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots (NOBRA) is the board that oversees and determines who gets a license to pilot ships on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Furthermore, the government sets the salaries for these pilots and regulates all the traffic coming up and down the river. That’s why transparency in these operations is badly needed.
While the board is supposed to regulate the licensing of river boat pilots, it instead is used to concentrate these lucrative jobs—paying a minimum of $500,000 per year–in the hands of a few families. For example, six NOBRA pilots share the same last name as a former state senator who is the association’s longtime lobbyist.
The clear political ties of the members of NOBRA came to light when the fight between two political families on the board was published in the news. The fight began over the governor’s appointment to the board which showed favoritism to one family over the other.
Boards like NOBRA are a continual reminder of the policies of the past that send business and investment to other states. It is time for reform so we can attract new business and bring job growth and opportunities for Louisiana families. It’s time to reduce the influence of the river boat pilots and increase transparency by including voices of ports and industry leaders whose commerce is often being shipped on boats up and down the river—who could choose to bring their goods to port in Houston for far less. Also, anti-nepotism policies must be instituted to level the playing field for qualified candidates, including newcomers and minorities who do not come from political or pilot families, to compete for piloting licenses.
We need real reform. NOBRA was created to regulate the business of river boat pilots, but instead has been used to monopolize power that creates excess charge for ratepayers and nepotism in a high paying job. By reforming this critical part of our economy, we will send a message that Louisiana is open for job creation.