The Pelican Institute Just Popped Out An Ambitious Policy Agenda We’d Love To See Pass…

…though before any thought of the “Jobs and Opportunity Agenda” becoming a reality in Louisiana can be entertained it’s pretty clear you’ll have to have not only a new governor in office but a considerably improved state legislature.

Those are, as it turns out, real possibilities. We know we’ll have a state senate the majority of which will be new in January 2020 thanks to term limits, and at least one-third of the seats in the House of Representatives will similarly be new. That’s before anybody loses re-election or decides not to run. And as we’ve reported repeatedly, the chances of a Republican challenger evicting John Bel Edwards from the governor’s mansion are quite good; last month’s Remngton Research poll we commissioned shows Edwards struggling to get out of the low 40’s against Sen. John Kennedy should the latter run, and Edwards also struggles to top 50 percent against lesser-known potential challengers.

So it’s possible that a new governor and a new legislature could galvanize around a holistic policy reform plan aimed at revving up Louisiana’s economy, lifting the state’s multitudes of poor into the middle class and getting the Sportsman’s Paradise off the bottom of all the public policy metric rankings it continuously scores so badly in.

And the Pelican Institute agenda certainly appears to be a good start down that road. From a summary provided to The Hayride yesterday, here’s a basic outline…

After years of short-term decision-making by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, Louisiana stands at a crossroads. Repeated budget crises, a confusing and cumbersome tax code, a legal environment ranked among the worst in the country, and a constitutional structure that impedes responsible budgetary practices have sent jobs and opportunity packing to nearby states with more
friendly policies.

Now is the time for fundamental reforms to the state’s budget, fiscal, and constitutional structures; the combination of which can finally turn the tide to bring jobs back to Louisiana and create a state where everyone can pursue opportunity.

It is not the time for half-measures. Only a comprehensive vision for sweeping reforms will ensure Louisiana has the essential policies to bring jobs—and citizens—back to our state.

Solve Louisiana’s annual fiscal crisis by adopting a more comprehensive, holistic approach to reform the state’s antiquated budget system.

  • End the arbitrary “silos” for government programs—re-examine those in the state Constitution, and end those created through statutory dedications.
  • Re-set the state’s current spending caps by allowing only a low percentage increase to the budget compared to the prior budget year.
  • Enact policies to bolster transfers to the rainy-day fund—both by increasing annual transfers to the fund and the maximum level of revenues the fund can hold. This allows state government to better weather economic peaks and valleys without having to turn to hardworking Louisiana taxpayers for more money.

Encourage job growth and entrepreneurship by reforming Louisiana’s tax system to make it fairer, flatter, and more predictable.

  • Lower and flatten personal and corporate income tax rates by eliminating most deductions and credits. This will create a fairer and more predictable playing field for everyone. In conjunction with modernizing sales tax implementation, lower rates while expanding the revenue base.
  • End punitive jobs taxes and remove government from the job of picking economic winners and losers by eliminating franchise and income taxes levied on businesses and many nonperformance based economic development incentives.

Give local authorities more flexibility to provide services to their constituents by removing the strings from state government, while enhancing accountability at all levels of government.

  • Reduce the indirect subsidies they provide to local governments.
  • In exchange, parishes should receive more flexibility to govern their finances as they see fit.

Protect the 2017 Louisiana criminal justice reforms and build upon those successes by updating archaic state policies like civil asset forfeiture and mens rea laws.

  • Protect the sweeping reforms enacted by the 2017 Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package.
  • Abolish civil asset forfeiture and require a criminal conviction before an individual’s property can be forfeited.
  • Adopt policies that prevent Louisianans from being convicted for acts that do not warrant criminal penalties or without proper due process safeguards.

Ensure that every Louisiana child has access to a high-quality education of their choosing, providing all citizens with the opportunity to succeed.

  • Allow all Louisiana families the flexibility to choose whatever educational opportunity will best meet an individual child’s needs by:
    • Adopting a system of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) where taxpayer money goes to parents, to spend at the school or schools that best serve each child’s needs.
    • Expanding Louisiana’s first-in-the-nation course choice program and making it
      available to all students.
    • Strengthening Louisiana’s public charter school systems.
  • Empower every student to graduate high school prepared for whatever comes next, whether that’s college, a career, or the military.

Reform Louisiana’s legal and regulatory policies, which is vital to attracting new business investment to the state.

  • For new businesses to choose to locate in Louisiana, the state needs to present a friendly, fair, and legally consistent business environment to those looking to invest and grow within the state.
  • Place the burden of proof as to whether a profession requires a license on the government instead of on the individual or business owner.
  • Reduce the number of state and local government regulations to allow innovation to flourish through advancements in technology.

Redirect Louisiana’s Medicaid system to focus on its original purpose – serving the state’s most vulnerable populations.

  • Submit a comprehensive waiver to the federal government to reform Medicaid that would:
    • Add consumer-driven options
    • Increase wellness incentives
    • Increase access to home-based care for the chronically ill
    • Crack down on fraudulent scam artists
    • Prevent the use of taxpayer dollars to cover individuals who already have affordable health insurance
  • Unwind the expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied adults by freezing future eligibility.

There are other items we’d add to this, some of which are purely policy and others which are more procedural in nature. Like for example, we would set the state’s $75,000 homestead exemption free and allow each parish to peg it at a number befitting its tax base and economic competitiveness – Tensas Parish would clearly lower that exemption so as to create a larger property tax base in a parish with dirt-cheap property values, while Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes might very well raise it. That would be a major policy reform aimed at giving local governments the ability to take on more responsibility for things like teacher salaries, supplemental police pay and even infrastructure improvements.

Or from a procedural standpoint we think a brand new governor and legislature in 2020 might well be convinced to bring back closed party primaries for state and federal races. Reinstitute those and you’re very likely to sharpen the ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats and give voters a lot clearer choice on Election Day than they’ve traditionally had in Louisiana, where elections at the state level often turn on stupid subjects unrelated to governmental performance. The Blake Miguezes and Alan Seabaughs are relatively few and far between in the Louisiana legislature compared to neighboring states, though this state is just as red as those – and the reason why is Louisiana’s jungle primary system which rewards the Norby Chaberts and Ryan Gattis of the world.

But nothing in the Pelican Institute’s Jobs And Opportunity Agenda is off-base. And frankly, nothing in the agenda should even be controversial. Our only lament about it is that we think Louisiana’s voters won’t be mobilized by a sensible policy agenda in next year’s election. Policy doesn’t win elections at the state and local level here, and for the sad reason that Louisiana’s voters haven’t seen much evidence that policy drives results at the state and local level. Until they do, they won’t believe it. That it produces vast differences in other states – Texas next door is a perfect example, as is Florida – doesn’t really register in a place where 80 percent of the current residents were born and raised here and haven’t experienced those results first hand.

That means this agenda might not – and perhaps should not – be aimed so much at galvanizing public opinion behind the items within it, though in most cases that’s likely going to have to happen. Rather, this needs to be presented and defended to candidates for governor and the legislature next year. Pelican says they’re going to be cranking out position papers in support of the agenda every few weeks, and it’s a solid bet those will get a lot of discussion in some relatively narrow quarters without too much public fanfare – and that’s OK.

But we’ll cover the rollout of the Jobs And Opportunity Agenda as it comes, and we’re going to be supportive. Louisiana needs everything within its pages, and has for quite some time.

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