ERSPAMER: Fall Elections Present Opportunity For Louisiana – Will We Seize Them?

If you’ve lived in Louisiana in the last few years, you understand that the state hasn’t been doing well in nearly every category. In fact, it’s been regressing at an increasingly rapid rate. Thanks to a diminishing jobs market, broken tax and budget systems that push the state from one financial crisis to the next, a struggling education system and a legal system that is stifling jobs and opportunity, Louisianans are fleeing the state en masse to seek refuge in more prosperous neighboring states.

With all of these critical issues holding Louisiana back, one must assume the state legislature is taking up major reform proposals to get the ship on course, right? Wrong. Instead, it seems like too much of this session was more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Some of the proposals the legislature decided to take up during the recently concluded 2019 regular legislative session included:

Does anyone, particularly our elected leaders, truly believe these types of legislative items do anything to improve the lives of Louisiana’s working families? How can we reverse Louisiana’s downward trend in nearly every category when we’re busy focusing on such menial issues?

Fortunately, several legislators realize this and are working to do just that. Many are referring to the Pelican Institute’s “A Jobs and Opportunity Agenda” when crafting new legislation to address Louisiana’s core problems. This agenda is the result of months of data-crunching, research, analysis and consultation with experts from Louisiana and across the country. In crafting these solutions, our team sought to answer a basic question: given Louisiana’s unique resources, history and culture, what set of policies would best bring quality jobs and opportunity for all our citizens?

Despite these recent steps toward getting Louisiana’s economy back on track, we still have a long way to go. Fear not though, as there is an opportunity is on the horizon. This fall’s upcoming election will result in a huge group of new lawmakers descending on Baton Rouge in 2020.

These new legislators have the opportunity to set the tone and determine the policy future of the state. This puts Louisiana at a crossroads. It’s up to the newly elected officials to either continue on the same road of short-term decision-making, with the occasional small policy victory, or blaze a new path for the good of all Louisiana’s working families. Simply put, they can protect the status quo, which has left Louisiana at the bottom of nearly every list, or they can reject the entrenched special interests running the show in Baton Rouge and chart a new course for jobs and opportunity.

This is precisely why the Pelican Institute began rolling out deep dive reports and recommendations to comprise its agenda last fall. We must enact comprehensive reforms to nearly every area of our state’s governmental structure, from tax and budget reform to education, legal and Medicaid reform. The vision must be cohesive, coherent and built on successes achieved in states around the nation. A Jobs and Opportunity Agenda for Louisiana accomplishes all of these and provides lawmakers with a clear path forward, which many are currently taking.

So, when you see candidates for this fall’s election out and about in your communities, ask these questions: Where do you stand on tax reform? What are you going to do to improve Louisiana’s legal and regulatory systems? How can you prevent Louisiana from experiencing budget crisis after budget crisis? What are your plans to ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a school that fits for him/her?

It’s past time Louisiana’s leaders abandon the approaches of the past. Those same approaches have undeniably gotten us to the lowly place we’re in today, and a better Louisiana, rife with jobs and opportunity for all, will not materialize on its own. We must take determined action and implement major structural changes to nearly all of our systems across the board. A new vision for a better Louisiana has been realized, and the playbook is in front of our elected leaders. Will they make this vision a reality? It’s not too late to plug the proverbial leak and bail out the boat, but we must cease toiling with the deck chairs and work hard if we want to stop the rising water. It’s time to act boldly together.

Daniel J. Erspamer is the CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. – New Orleans

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