By: Stephen Waguespack
Sometimes we can lose sight of the ultimate goal, especially when we are in the thick of the fight. The current political debate in Louisiana on government budgets and economic growth is a good example of this common mistake.
These days, it is very much en vogue to wail away about the budgetary challenges of state government and promise to bear hug any option thrown around to address it. Countless officials are promising anything and everything to protect government spending, regardless of whether it makes economic sense for taxpayers.
Media and political voices are demonizing most policies that put money back in the very same private sector in which it came from and glorifying those policies that instead simply keep it in the public sector. Investments in state government and taxpayer subsidies to local government either receive no oversight whatsoever or defined as critical to survival itself, while proposals that help encourage private investment and job creation are heavily scrutinized, generally deemed reckless and forced to overcome the assumption that it is harmful to our state’s prosperity.
Have we forgotten the ultimate goal we are trying to achieve? Aren’t we striving to build the Louisiana we have always wanted, where an innovative and growing economy provides a good quality of life and a robust variety of employment opportunities for our people? A smart government may be a partner to make that vision become a reality, but a growing one is surely not a replacement for it.
This week, over 60 business and civic groups announced a new partnership called the Coalition for A Stronger Economy (CASE). The CASE agenda is made up of six clear and concise strategies that can help us reach our ultimate goal of making Louisiana the economic engine of the South. The full CASE agenda and a listing of the many organizations that support it can be found online at www.labi.org/CASE.
The CASE urges candidates and public officials to take concrete action in six strategic areas:
1. Accelerate growth in the private sector.
- Private-sector job creation and diversification of the state’s economy should be advanced through proactive recruitment and retention activities that include data-driven, competitive incentives.
- Government at all levels should seek to reduce regulations on the private sector, favoring limited government and a free-market approach.
2. Adopt a pro-growth tax code.
- The state tax code should be nationally competitive and drive economic growth.
- The tax structure and administration should be simple and efficient for businesses and citizens alike.
- Local reliance on state support should be right-sized in line with best-practice states.
3. Transform state budgeting to allow for prioritization of spending.
- Statutory limitations that prohibit the prioritization of state spending should be reviewed, reformed, reduced, or eliminated where appropriate.
- The cost drivers in the state budget must be addressed, reducing the need for more taxpayer dollars year after year. This includes long-term changes to state retirement plans, laws that are smart on crime, risk management reforms, and others.
4. Develop Louisiana’s workforce to promote individual prosperity and a healthy economy for the future.
- All students in preK-12 schools should be provided with the foundation for success through high standards, accountability, and choice.
- Demand and performance should drive an innovative, responsive education system from pre-K through higher education.
- Louisiana’s institutions of higher education should be efficient and empowered to be market-responsive.
- Federal, state, and local workforce training efforts should be aligned, coordinated, and leveraged to meet the needs of workers and industry alike.
5. Prioritize infrastructure to sustain economic growth.
- Taxpayer funds intended for state transportation and infrastructure should be invested accordingly.
- Areas of economic growth should be prioritized with strategic investments for urgent improvements, including large-scale capacity projects.
- Infrastructure should be defined comprehensively with appropriate emphasis on multi-modal solutions.
6. Improve Louisiana’s legal climate to be fair, efficient, and accountable.
- Frivolous lawsuits – including such litigation by public bodies – should be discouraged, preserving a fair and efficient system for real claims and real victims.
- Transparency and citizen access should be hallmarks of the legal system.
In the coming weeks, many of the diverse groups within the CASE will publicly emphasize and illustrate specific proposals that align with the CASE agenda and are most relevant to their regions or stakeholders. This will be done to help educate and remind candidates and elected officials of the ultimate goal we should be pursuing: to create the strong and growing Louisiana economy our people have long coveted AND deserved.
It will take courage, conviction and even some good, old-fashioned compromise to implement the CASE agenda. Some of it will be easy to accomplish; other parts will be complex and controversial. A few items have the potential to show immediate results, while others require patience and fortitude to generate the results we need. This variety is not a weakness, but rather, a symbol of a comprehensive approach.
All of the agenda is critical to accomplishing our ultimate goal and that – rather than the current debate that has forced us to lose sight of our mission – should be our only focus.