Louisiana will shortly be electing a governor, other statewide officials and a new legislature. Here are five goals these new leaders should set for themselves, and for the state, for the next four years:
- Create 250,000 new, good jobs. Do it by lowering taxes, eliminating needless regulations and especially by concentrating on existing Louisiana businesses, particularly small businesses of 100 or fewer employees. Every state wants to land the big fish – the car plant or the software manufacturer – but we don’t spend enough time or money helping the businesses already here.
- Finish I-49 North and begin I-49 South. The funding is in place for I-49 North; we just need to finish it. Now Louisiana needs to get serious about completing I-49 South. I-49 is the single most important infrastructure project in our state. It will create a seamless north-south trade corridor from Canada to the Gulf. It will generate over 100,000 new jobs. Tolls, TIFIA funds, the Unclaimed Property Leverage Fund, a public-private partnership between the state and private investment funds, a joint venture between the state and sovereign wealth funds, and a greater percentage of Louisiana’s capital outlay budget are possible funding sources.
- Reduce state government spending. Since 2005, Louisiana state government spending has increased 32%. We have too many state employees, adjusted for population, compared to other southern states. 22% of our managers manage one employee. Last year taxpayers paid for 900,000 visits to expensive emergency rooms for routine care. We have too many colleges offering the same programs and way more consulting contracts than we need. It’s true our state budget is balanced, but balancing the budget is not the same as reforming state spending in a way that solves our long-term structural fiscal problems. Remove the inefficiencies in state spending and invest the money saved in roads, universities and reduced taxes.
- Reform teacher tenure and raise teacher pay. Other than home environment, the single biggest factor in whether a child learns (and all children can learn) is teacher quality. Over the next four years we need to lead the nation in finding out which our teachers can teach – and pay them – and which of our teachers can’t teach, and either teach them how or remove them. Couple the reform of teacher tenure with a starting salary of $60,000 a year to attract the best teachers to our classrooms. Yes, it will be expensive. What we’re doing now costs even more.
- Reduce poverty by reducing out of wedlock births. This year 49% of all Louisiana babies will be born out of wedlock. 1 out of 2 newborns will probably never know the firm hand of a father or the loving hand of a mother. Statistically, these kids are more likely to grow up to be undereducated, underemployed and less healthy. They will likely commit more crimes and access more social programs that cost taxpayers more money. Louisiana’s political leaders need to acknowledge this problem. They need to end their embarrassed silence and speak up and out, with one voice, about this socio-economic challenge in our state.
Opportunities always look bigger going than coming. Shakespeare was correct when he wrote that “in delay there lies no plenty.”