By: Stephen Waguespack
While the dog days of summer continue to roll along, it’s also clearly time to get focused on some serious business coming up soon. The first day of school is right around the corner so students can no longer ignore those summer reading assignments. Football season kicks off next month, and it’s time for players to report for practice and show their coaches how hard they worked in the offseason. Qualifying for major statewide elections takes place in a few weeks and we, as voters, will soon be asked to make some serious decisions on the future of this state.
Are you ready? Have you done your election homework? If not, have no fear. Here is a quick primer to get you started.
This week, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) released it’s 2019 legislative scorecard, which is available online at http://labiscorecard.org/. We encourage everyone heading to the polls this fall to give it a read and put some thought to the issues addressed.
This past session marked the end of a tumultuous four-year term where much was debated but little accomplished. As predicted, the fiscal session that ran from April to June was largely overshadowed by the upcoming fall elections where 47 legislative seats will be vacated due to term limits, members will be retiring or shifting to the opposite chamber, and all statewide officials are on the ballot.
The 2019 election is monumental and will impact the future of Louisiana for decades. The next governor and legislature will be tasked with redrawing the electoral lines for offices such as Congress, the state Supreme Court, the Public Service Commission, and the legislature itself. Meanwhile, the state’s economy is at a tipping point with two consecutive years of significant population losses, low workforce participation rates, and employment numbers that lag the nation.
As we prepare for another election season full of rhetoric and promises, the LABI scorecard offers a data-driven analysis of how each legislator voted on the issues most important to the economy and the business community for the 2019 session but also over the past four years.
This year, LABI led the way with a proactive effort to enact comprehensive tort reform, seek taxpayer fairness, and improve the economy. Although opposed by the administration throughout the legislative process, a bill to require simple refunds of unconstitutional state taxes was signed into law by the governor. A major infrastructure funding package is now law that repurposes settlement funds from the Deepwater Horizon incident, and a statewide ridesharing bill passed after years of defeat in the Senate Judiciary A Committee. However, a package of bills to enact common-sense legal reforms to begin to lower high auto insurance rates flew through the House and once again met its fate in that same Senate committee.
2018 was perhaps the year of the most opportunities lost this term, as bills died in the regular session to reform the state’s pension system, enact statewide ridesharing, repeal the seat belt gag order, seek more accountability in Medicaid spending, and take steps toward a Constitutional Convention.
In 2017, LABI joined a diverse bipartisan coalition to pass criminal justice reforms intended to improve Louisiana’s ability to protect the public and provide education and treatment to improve re-entry and job readiness for these individuals. The major focus of that year, however, was “comprehensive tax reform”, where the governor’s main proposal was a $900 million Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) to replace the temporary one percent state sales tax – a stark departure from the recommendations of the state’s blue-ribbon task force that would have proved a disaster for the Louisiana economy.
When the new governor and legislature took office in 2016, the singular focus was to fill a deficit in the state budget by whatever means possible. Ultimately, a temporary one percent sales tax was enacted along with a bevy of tax changes on Louisiana businesses that led to the state’s #1 rank for growth in state and local business taxes in the nation from Fiscal Year 2016 to Fiscal Year 2017 at an alarming rate of 12.5 percent compared to two percent nationally. Within days of adjourning the third session of 2016, the governor released an Executive Order with seismic changes to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program as well.
This approach to funding government with little regard for the impact on the state’s economy is an avoidable factor in the state’s current economic performance. Yet during this term, many legislators worked diligently to prioritize the state’s economy, and the state’s employers are grateful for their hard work and dedication. In this scorecard, LABI is proud to recognize the lawmakers who took courageous stands to defend free enterprise and to promote common-sense reforms to improve the Louisiana economy both in 2019 and throughout this difficult term.
Summer is ending. It’s time to get back to business. Louisiana’s future is on the ballot this fall and the stakes are high. The moment is fast approaching where you, the voter, must decide how you want the next four years to look for Louisiana. To prepare, take the time to study up and ask tough questions of everyone running for office. That’s the only way to identify the leaders – incumbents and newcomers – with a vision for prosperity, concrete solutions, and a willingness to address our state’s long-standing challenges together.