By Robert Mann
Did you know that Louisiana is an economic paradise? Are you aware that business executives stampede here with a fervor not unlike that of the 1849 California gold rush?
I know what you’re thinking. Like me, you’re skeptical. You’ve noticed that Louisiana has the nation’s fourth-highest unemployment rate, some of the deepest poverty, the worst health outcomes and an incarceration rate that is the envy of Uzbekistan. Despite overflowing prisons, violent crime plagues us. Our roads crumble, our coast vanishes and chaos reigns in public education.
The state’s economy is so decrepit it does not produce enough tax revenue to support higher education, health care and other vital services. As you read this, Louisiana lawmakers are trying to avert disaster and eliminate a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.
Well, you and I have been reading all the wrong publications! Earlier this month, “Chief Executive Magazine” declared Louisiana the seventh-best state for business. “During 2015, Louisiana showed strong improvement in attracting and retaining technology businesses, while also benefitting from a downstream position in oil and gas,” the publication declared. “CEOs are pleased with the Southeastern state’s industrial incentives, cheap energy and non-union workforce.”
That’s not all. Last year, “Site Selection” magazine dubbed Louisiana as the nation’s second-best business climate. Earlier, “Business Facilities” magazine ranked our business climate as the nation’s best.
Among other things, these rankings gauge Louisiana’s corporate tax rates, its proximity to transportation hubs, its non-union workforce, and, most of all, as “Chief Executive Magazine” noted, our “industrial incentives.” Some of those “incentives” are what Gov. Bobby Jindal now calls “corporate welfare.”
Such profanity won’t please the people who run these publications. Jindal needn’t worry. He will have vanished from Baton Rouge long gone before their editors take notice and issue downgrades for our newfound aversion to “corporate welfare.”
Still, the question remains, how does a state that so many observers claim has a robust business climate fail to generate enough revenue to balance its budget? The answer, of course, is that our governor and his legislative enablers have handed big business the keys to the state treasury for seven years. They eagerly bestowed enormous tax exemptions and direct state appropriations on dozens of out-of-state corporations, all after recklessly slashing income taxes for the wealthy in 2008.
And what did these income tax cuts and governmental largesse for business get us, other than nice reviews in magazines that no one reads? According to a report by the congressional Joint Economic Committee, not much. “In March, private-sector employment in Louisiana fell by 2,000 jobs,” the committee staff reported. “Over the past year, Louisiana businesses have added 19,400 jobs. This compares with an increase of 35,200 jobs over the 12 months through March 2014.” The unemployment rate in Louisiana was 6.6 percent in March 2015, down 0.1 percentage point from February. The rate was 1.1 percentage points above the national rate of 5.5 percent.”
Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.