Editor’s Note: The following is the first of a two-part guest post by just-sworn-in Louisiana state representative Chuck Owen of District 30. The second part of the post will appear tomorrow.
Politics usually generates platitudes and squishy comments on what the future “can” hold if “someone” does the right things. During a campaign, those aspiring to office either have the audacity to say what they want to try to do or the political savvy to not say very much, knowing that they might be held to account for their “promises” or the visions they proffer. I was the former in my campaign. I offered up ideas I firmly believe are the route out for Louisiana, and the 30th District where I live. Before the gamesmanship starts, let me put these ideas on the table for all to see. These are the things I will stand behind and pursue as a first term legislator. I will seek the help of fellow Louisianans in the legislature who I hope will listen and give the ideas consideration and hopefully support.
The Foundation: Free Enterprise
I believe the answers to Louisiana’s economic woes are rooted in a vibrant economy. While this answer is remarkably simple, implementing such a pathway will require a paradigm shift from our current way of operation. There are multiple layers to this discussion, and it seems like for years, we just get stuck in the arguing mode. I hope for something different in the years ahead.
The question I pose is: Why can’t we do something we’ve never really done? Why can’t we have a vibrant economy that encourages and doesn’t discourage economic activity? Why not, Louisiana? During the campaign, someone asked me if I was a “Jindal guy” and believed in taking the State back to the days of ‘cuts, cuts and more cuts’ as a way forward for the economy. I told him unequivocally “NO.” I told him I embrace something else—free enterprise, which means allowing businesses to operate with less strangulation from government and the things our government allows; the result of a more open business environment is more business activity, which means employment for more Louisiana citizens and an environment that draws business and innovation to our state.
Louisiana needs to be open for business. That doesn’t mean SAYING we’re open for business; it means actually BEING open. We need an environment that attracts and does not scare OFF economic development. This pathway has micro and macro layers. On the micro side, we need a concerted effort to make it easier for people who are in business to stay in business and we need to make it easier for small businesses to locate in our State. We have to stop harassing people who currently are trying to make ends meet. Sadly, our state feasts on licensing and fees that cut into the profitability of small businesses. I’ll propose significant moratoriums on onerous practices that harass small businesses, such as forcing people in trades to travel to Baton Rouge for continuation training. If we’re going to cut into their profitability, then at least give these folks a break and stop taking them off track by forcing training they may or may not need. A top to bottom review needs to be conducted—QUICKLY—to determine what could be eliminated or put on hold for a few years.
At the macro level, we have to address different issues, such as the legal environment that is scaring away or running off businesses. “Legacy” and “Coastal” Lawsuits are crushing oil and gas and many related industries. For those unfamiliar, legacy and coastal lawsuits are basically situations where businesses are being sued for operating within the laws in decades or years gone by, but are now deemed as good pickings for a lawsuit. We’re losing exploration and production opportunities because many large oil companies prefer not to take the chance of coming into our legal morass. This needs to change if we want to participate in the oil and gas boom that is pushing our nation towards energy independence.
The collateral effects caused by our legal environment are the sky-rocketing insurance costs we all live with here in the Bayou State. Individual households are being crushed as a result of high auto insurance premiums. Businesses who operate trucks or other vehicles are being bled dry because rates are so outrageous. Small loggers and truckers are being run into bankruptcy or forced out of the state. Our state’s paper mills are affected by the costs and are less able to expand or produce because of the difficulties in getting the products (timber) to the processing facilities (mills). We have a major processing facility in the 30th in Beauregard Parish and we have others throughout the State. These folks need positive government protection. There is NO reason in the world we should have the second highest insurance cost in the country—-behind only Michigan. Our population is low and most of our state is rural, which usually means LOWER insurance costs. In Louisiana, however, the insurance we all pay is feasted on as an element of the economy, which is abnormal and has negative effects across the board for our economy.
There are other elements to the need for legal reform in our state, as well, and they need to be addressed. Most people who follow policy matters are aware of these circumstances, but I’d bet that most who don’t have the time to get into the minutia are not. We have something in Louisiana that no other state has, and it’s not a good distinguishing feature; a person can sue or be sued with NO trial by jury up to the amount of $50,000. This figure allows for and begs an onset of lawsuits that choke an already burdened system and provides yet another impediment to progress for our State. A group of legislators tried to undo this situation in 2019 but were thwarted by the State Senate. This phenomenon simply needs to be changed—significantly reduced down to a miniscule level if not eliminated. I support elimination.
Money goes where it’s treated best, and it’s not treated well here.
And for the record: None of these problems we have can or will be solved by higher taxes.
In short: Our regulatory and licensing environment needs to be reviewed and put on pause so people can come to this state. We need to stop choking off exploration, processing and production activities of all kinds; we need an environment that encourages free enterprise, not the decimation of businesses and individuals through lawsuits. If we do these things, we have a chance to cut insurance both for businesses and for individuals and kickstart a flailing economy.