APPEL: What’s The Truth About Louisiana’s Economic Performance Under JBE?

On Sunday morning the Advocate published a surprisingly good analysis by Tyler Bridges of the status of Louisiana’s economy. What Mr. Bridges didn’t discuss was the significance of the state’s economic performance under the current governor and its impact upon the election.

Governor Edwards’ main campaign approach appears to be that he somehow saved us from an obviously well-tested representation of Bobby Jindal as a failed governor. But Mr. Bridges acknowledged in his article that Bobby Jindal’s entire governorship was defined by the impact of the Great Recession of 2008, the intra-state oil/gas recession, and the lethargic recovery under President Obama. However, as Mr. Bridges points out, though the significance of these events on the state’s economy and state finances was devastating, by the numbers the state’s economic performance under Jindal was actually stronger than under Governor Edwards.

History tells us that state revenues soared in the post-Katrina time and the state went on a recurring spending spree with those one-time funds. After Jindal’s first year in office the Katrina windfall was gone and his Hobson’s choice was major tax increases that in the face of the recession would have been job-killing or reducing state spending and using one-time funds that were mostly built up pots of funds that were the result of structural inefficiencies in the state’s budget.

Devastating jobs for Louisianans was not an option and ironically even then-Representative Edwards agreed, as he voted for most of the Jindal budgets. By the end of Jindal’s terms the state had been weaned off of the folly that was the post Katrina spending spree and state government had been brought into line with spending patterns that existed immediately before Katrina. Anyone caring to look into this should go the House Fiscal Division website and see the excellent data presented there.

Mr. Bridges continues that under Governor Edwards, state revenues, that is, mostly taxes but also other sources derived directly from citizens and businesses in Louisiana, have jumped by $2.2 billion since Bobby Jindal left office. This does not include Federal funds which have increased nearly $5 billion more.

Governor Edwards has increased state spending not by reforming government as he promised but by increasing in-state generated revenues to about the same level as during that heady post-Katrina windfall time. Very ominously noted by Mr. Bridges, our Rainy Day Fund has declined to a level that is about $2 billion below where Moody’s Analytics maintains is necessary to survive even a moderate recession.

So during the campaign the governor’s opponents will be able to honestly say that Governor Edwards is soaking up far more money from Louisiana citizens than ever in history and, possibly with the exception of the short, illogical heyday after Katrina, he is spending it on the largest government in history. As the governor is using Bobby Jindal as the straw man in this election I don’t think that you will hear those statistics from the Edwards’ camp.

Now to the pocketbook issues that Mr. Bridges cited. The article featured a quote by Dr. Richardson, a well respected economist, in which he said that a governor can’t really control the economy. In the short term time frame I agree. For instance Governor Edwards is fond of claiming a lowered unemployment rate but that comes during the greatest economic expansion in history, while Jindal’s unemployment numbers were indicative of the Great Recession. Neither of these statistics is a good long term economic health indicator.

But a governor can have a significant impact on the long term prospects of the state’s economy, the avenue that leads to job creation and higher wages. This is where Governor Edwards’ opponents will see great political opportunity to call out his failures.

Governor Edwards has not offered even the slightest indication that his Administration understands the significance of economic growth and the resulting prosperity for the people. Except for the constant message, lacking demonstrable linkage, that his answer to everything is to increase taxes and spending, he has not offered even one proposal to address education, infrastructure, tort reform, and all the other problems of our state that keep us from benefiting from our amazing assets. As Mr. Bridges pointed out, under Governor Edwards Louisiana remains mired in last place in most social and economic metrics and as governor he hasn’t seemed capable of addressing any of the underlying reasons. Perhaps he doesn’t get it or, perhaps worse, he likes Louisiana as it is?

So The Advocate offered far more campaign ammunition for Edwards’ opponents than for the governor. Declining private sector jobs, taxes and spending up, savings down, no vision, and perhaps the most personal outcome on voters of the Edwards administration’s failures, out-migration of Louisiana’s children to find better opportunity. The only positive he can cite was a decline in unemployment but, as discussed, that was due to president Trump’s economy, people dropping out of the labor market, and to out migration. Alarm bells should be sounding all over Louisiana; we are missing out on the extended benefits of the dynamic American economy and when it cools we will slump badly.

In the upcoming election, political observers such as Mr. Bridges will be watching whether the governor’s political people will be able to disguise the governor’s failure of leadership on economic issues. The governor’s re-election prospects will be diminished if the citizens understand that their long term prospects have not been addressed. They will not look kindly on a governor who refused to do anything about the miserable performance of our state’s economy during his term, a governor who offers no clear vision of economic leadership that the people will actually believe.

Remember Governor Edwards’ campaign promise not to raise your taxes? As Edwards had been deeply involved with the entire budget process during his service in the House the people trusted in that promise. But now they suffer under some of the highest sales taxes in the nation, taxes that Governor Edwards has used to fund his growing government. In the context of that broken promise it will be hard for the governor to overcome four years of economic lethargy with glowing promises that no one will trust in.

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