By Stephen Waguespack
Last week, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) released its annual legislative scorecard, now available at www.labi.org. Each year, we release an analysis to illustrate exactly how lawmakers voted on the issues most critical to free enterprise, job creation and economic growth.
The Legislature met for a record-setting 19 weeks in three separate sessions in 2016, and the LABI legislative scorecard provides Louisiana residents and the business community with valuable information on how their representatives voted at the Capitol and the practical impact of those votes. And frankly, the scorecard reflects the fact that the 2016 legislative sessions were especially challenging for taxpayers.
Earlier this year, we collectively witnessed months of debate in a divided legislature that was contentious and frustrating for officials and stakeholders alike. All the while, a dispirited populace watched and hoped for a sensible solution and a clear path forward.
For decades, Louisiana’s government has found itself mired in perennial deficits unless temporarily “saved” by an infusion of tax increases, enhanced revenues from a storm-induced false economy or budgetary gimmicks. This cycle has hindered economic growth, led to unstable budgeting for governments, businesses and families across the state and convinced far too many that these broken budget practices are simply unavoidable.
These discouraging budget battles are very much avoidable, but they will remain firmly entrenched until we collectively embrace an entirely new way of thinking, budgeting and governing. The Louisiana tradition of an oversized central state government with numerous programs, services and subsidies has become too expensive and ineffective at solving our challenges. The cost goes up each year while major priorities like education, infrastructure and healthcare must continuously fight for attention. Our populist past continues to cast a long shadow on all that we do, though deep down we know that this governing tradition is no longer economically viable.
A simple tax code that is fair to all must replace what we have today and fund a government that is more limited in scope but more effective in application. The goal must shift from fully funding the “wants” of government to meeting the real “needs” and priorities of the people. Many in the Capitol resist such a transformation, and to be sure, there are risks with taking such a leap. But leap we must because our same old way of doing things simply will not work going forward.
An estimated 20,000 Louisiana jobs have been lost since September 2015. If you or your family has recently lost a job, you understand this clearly. While the economy is suffering and families across the state are responding to this challenge, the reaction in the State Capitol seems to ignore these hard facts. New taxes on business and consumers were imposed in order to fund an ever-growing state government. The new state budget is nearly $3 billion larger than the budget that passed in the prior year, including $800 million in new state dollars and more than $2 billion in new federal dollars.
At times, the Legislature took a strong stand against measures to place new hurdles on the path to economic growth. They did, in fact, mitigate some of the most harmful taxes proposed. They refused to roll back education policies that have led to greater school choice and improved student performance, and legislators rejected unnecessary regulations and new mandates on the hiring practices of small and large employers.
Still, these bright spots are only a footnote to the fact that 2016 was once again a year that the priorities of government clearly outweighed the best interest of taxpayers.
LABI’s scorecard not only holds legislators accountable, but it also serves as an annual medium through which members of the Louisiana Legislature can be recognized for their support of the state’s employers and workforce. In 2016, LABI is recognizing five legislators with a perfect 2016 score as Most Value Policymakers (MVPs), ten legislators with a 2016 score of 90 percent or higher as All-Stars and 13 legislators with a 2016 score of 80 percent or higher with Honorable Mention.
LABI encourages the public to review the detailed publication explaining LABI’s 2016 priorities, the outcomes of the recent sessions, descriptions of the votes that were analyzed and individual legislative scores and votes on each bill.
Despite the challenging times in 2016, we know that Louisiana is blessed with tremendous natural resources, a unique culture admired around the nation and a generous and resilient population. We at LABI will continue to partner with stakeholders from all perspectives to promote free enterprise and protect Louisiana’s employers and taxpayers. Serious efforts to address the state’s budget challenges in a responsive way will require a holistic and comprehensive approach. We remain committed to that cause.
Transform government spending. Reform the structure of the state budget. Address the sacred cows. Make our tax code simple and fair. That is the only way to responsibly fund government and create a strong economy that we deserve. Go to www.labi.org to find the legislative scorecard and see if your local lawmaker advocated for these principles in 2016… and then do everything you can to encourage them to do so more often in 2017.