By Stephen Waguespack
Reputations can be hard to earn and even harder to keep.
This week, a few important rankings came out that provide insight into some aspects of Louisiana’s reputation.
Chief Executive magazine released its annual rankings of the Best and Worst States for Business. Louisiana ranked No. 37 in this year’s report, while other southern states like Texas, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia top the list.
Yet, the real story is not that Louisiana currently ranks among the bottom 15 states for business, but that we too were in the Top 10 just one year ago. That’s right: in one year, Louisiana fell 30 spots in a prominent national ranking of state business climates. In 2006, Louisiana ranked 46th on this list and in the past decade have made consistent strides to improve our reputation. Now, in one year we have dropped toward the bottom of the pack.
The ranking cites Louisiana’s litigation environment and budgetary chaos as two of the state’s biggest challenges. The magazine reports that CEOs around the country place a high value on states with smart tax policies, sensible regulations and a quality workforce. The magazine specifically opines that companies tend to “favor states with few regulatory encumbrances and report that most remedies dangled by politicians only makes things worse.” The publication goes on to add that, “The evidence suggests that pro-growth policies influence perceptions of competitiveness, particularly in the eyes of business leaders.”
If the report is correct and pro-growth policies will influence the perception of Louisiana’s competitiveness, what influence will the most recently enacted taxes and mandates have on the national perception of our state in next year’s rankings? What influence will the impending second special session have on that reputation, as lawmakers seek to change the tax code for the third time in 12 months? I think you know the answer.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to quickly conclude that Louisiana’s massive drop in these rankings is not likely to reverse anytime soon unless our leaders take action to prioritize a visionary, pro-growth economic agenda that recognizes the value of private-sector job creation and the policies that promote opportunity and prosperity for individuals and businesses alike.
Speaking of opportunity, another ranking released last week shines a bright spotlight on other Louisiana policies that are actually working quite well. The Louisiana Department of Education announced that the state’s high school graduation rate was up 2.9 percent from the previous year, the second largest annual increase in the past decade, with improvements in graduation rates in 57 of the state’s 69 school districts. Considering the national average increase was 0.9 percent, Louisiana’s jump was truly remarkable. The news was even more positive and notable for the improvements made by African-American students whose graduation rate increased by 3.5 percent.
The positive news on Louisiana’s graduation rates justify the focus and effort the state has made over the past two decades to expand choice, elevate standards and improve accountability in our schools. Noteworthy gains are also visible in student participation rates in Advanced Placement courses and the record numbers of Louisiana young people earning ACT-qualifying scores to enter college and obtain TOPS awards.
This success story is real. Educational attainment is improving every year, and it is absolutely something worth protecting and building upon – which makes it so shocking that some are now supporting efforts to roll back laws and policies that were foundational to this progress. Despite the fact these efforts seem to be thankfully falling short this legislative session, the very existence of those bills fly in the face of these hard-fought educational achievements and stand as the biggest threat to continuously providing high-quality education options for all children each successive year.
Improving educational outcomes are not only the right thing to do for Louisiana’s communities and workforce, but also critical to reverse a third ranking issued this week.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Louisiana is once again the No. 1 state for incarceration rates. The state locked up over 38,000 people in 2014, which is 816 people for every 100,000 in the state. This rate by far tops the nation, outpacing second place Oklahoma by over 100 people. The ranking is a consistent and embarrassing trend in Louisiana and will continue to inhibit our ability to build healthy and safe communities. We must work to keep more of kids in school and away from crime while reforming our criminal justice system, including re-entry programs that better prepare exiting prisoners for the workforce and society.
Louisiana’s rankings on three very different issues tell a part of our story, but fail to accurately reflect the fantastic potential of the state.
The famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Our reputation is firmly in our own control and has been for generations. In fact, the formula is quite simple. Pro-growth policies can drive up our rankings and improve our reputation in numerous areas. The opposite decisions can do just the opposite. The choice continues to be ours. It is time for us to choose wisely.