By: Stephen Waguespack
Finger pointers are out in full force these days in the State Capitol.
Louisiana is once again facing many of the same problems we have faced for DECADES. Ask anyone in the Capitol why and watch the fingers start pointing.
The state budget is once again in a deficit, a problem we hear could easily be fixed if someone else somewhere would just do something in some way at some time. The tax code is an ever-changing mess, and it’s all the other guy’s fault. The economy is struggling thanks to the policy decisions of the other dude.
It must be the fault of “big business.” Those folks have the audacity to want to be treated similarly to how they are treated in other states. The wealthy are blamed for not paying government more, though most people would be amazed how broadly the government defines “wealthy.”
It must be the Democrats’ fault. They want more tax dollars to fund more government programs intended to solve Louisiana’s perennial problems, a recipe the Legislature cooked up time and time again for decades when they controlled the votes in the Capitol. It must be the Republicans’ fault. They are now the legislative majority and they have the nerve to want their ideas on smaller government to get more votes than the other party – a trait that historically comes with the majority territory. Imagine that.
The Governor and some in the mainstream media like to blame partisan politics, frequently singling out one party as the problem each time, even when bipartisan opposition is the reason a bill is defeated (see the Commercial Activity Tax).
It’s a spending problem. It’s a revenue problem. It’s the fault of unrealistic reformers. It’s the stubbornness of the status quo to blame. We have too many/too few state workers. Taxpayers of all types are to blame for trying to keep more of their hard-earned money.
This public discourse throughout the legislative process focuses relentlessly on the finger pointing, masking any thoughtful discussion on what really ails Louisiana. All the while, most people in Louisiana are just sick of it all.
Whatever the cause, finger pointing in the Capitol is at an all-time high, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Instead of trying to suppress it, perhaps we should try to channel the blame game into a productive direction. To do so, might require all those finger pointers in the Capitol to take a walk.
If the Capitol finger pointers walked outside that beautiful building and headed south on the gracious lawn about a hundred yards away, they would find themselves standing next to the statue of former Governor Huey Long. If they turned around and looked back at that impressive Art Deco building, I would urge them to raise their hands and point their fingers in that direction.
Huey Long created Louisiana’s modern form of government. This model was that everything had to flow through a few well-connected hands in Baton Rouge. The concept was every man could be a King and the politicians of Louisiana’s state government would decide the terms, price and process. Great things were promised for all. Many of these promises never came to fruition.
Local government has been told over the years to beg Baton Rouge for money or a dedicated fund rather than face their local voters and live within their constituent’s direction. That outdated and top-heavy concept of government is starting to fray at the seams. This is the absolute largest problem we face, and will continue to face, until we embrace a holistic reform of the Huey Long model of government. It is this 90-year-old system of government that deserves the attention of each finger in the Capitol.
In many other states, a larger percentage of regulatory decisions and tax dollars stay closer to the people at the local level. In these states, local taxpayers look more often to local government for good schools, safe communities and a healthy economy. States like Texas, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee spend much less per capita than Louisiana does at the state level, yet they seem to prosper more and more each year. Their skylines have grown while ours have shrunk. How many of us would trade economies with them today? How many of us would trade for their school systems?
In Louisiana, we have a problem. It’s a big one, but it is not one any politician wants to talk about because it has no easy solution. Our system of government has shown its age and no longer functions appropriately. It has led to low outcomes in pretty much any performance metric a state can track. This system of government is uncompetitive with other southern states. It is unaffordable and incompetent at meeting our needs. It can no longer be patched up with new taxes, budgetary tricks or sporadic oil booms.
The gig is up. Louisiana’s state government must decentralize, shrink, reorganize and become more locally accountable to the people. The Louisiana people have been told for generations they can only prosper with a strong and growing state government. History has proven this fallacy to be wrong. The future offers no hope this generational trend will change without drastic restructuring of state government’s role in our life.
For better or worse, the political finger pointers are likely here to stay. Instead of lamenting that reality, let’s unite and demand they all finally point those fingers in the right direction. That starts with taking a walk outside the Capitol…looking back at that architecturally timeless building that has stood watch over state government for generations… thanking Huey for his past service…and letting him know his services are no longer needed.