By Kevin Shannahan
“Well Mr. Shannahan, it’s like this. They all drive drunk. Nobody has insurance. They’re all hurt in the wreck, sue and their cousin’s the judge.” That rather unforgettable, if not exactly polite, answer came from my auto insurance agent 22 years ago when I called to ask why my auto insurance premium had more than doubled when I moved to Louisiana from Seattle. I was sure the hefty figure had to be a mistake. As anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows, it was not.
My welcome wagon was not finished rolling however. The military has a tradition of one’s driver’s license, registration and residence not matching. Such is not the case in civilian life, so off to the local DMV office I went. I left with new plates for my decidedly modest car $180 later, having had the privilege of paying sales tax on it in two states. My first month in Louisiana proved to be quite the challenge.
I recently attended a presentation from the Committee of 100, a group dedicated to reforming Louisiana’s budget. I found out that, since our overall tax burden is so low, the prospect of having the highest sales tax in the nation is of little consequence. The local sales taxes, combined with the state’s would exceed 10 percent in many areas. A mere trifle as we get to celebrate Tax Freedom day (when you are working for yourself as opposed to for the government) earlier than most states.
While it may be true that we celebrate Tax Freedom day a bit earlier in the year than residents of our sister states, there are some “days” we do not celebrate as early, if at all. The first one that comes to mind is “Freedom from auto insurance rates that are higher than when I lived in California Day.” Then there is the ever popular “Not having to shell out a small fortune in private school tuition since I’d like to have my children not attending a school that is proud of its “C” rating and I lack the political pull to get them into a Magnet School Day.”
When looking at the quality of life in Louisiana, taxes are only a part of the barriers facing educated middle class families, who are exactly the kind of people our state needs more of and has such difficulty attracting and retaining.The current debate over TOPS Scholarships will be rendered moot if our young graduates head for the Texas border as soon as the ink on their diploma dries. Quite simply, in addition to the “official” taxes which are bad enough, especially considering what we get for them, there are costs and structural barriers to a middle class lifestyle that constitute an “unofficial” tax that costs our state’s citizens dearly.
Louisiana’s auto insurance rates, the toxic result of our state’s judicial climate are consistently rated among the nation’s worst. Substandard roads and our casual laws concerning alcohol (drive-thru daiquiri stands never cease to amaze me, and not in a good way) are a drain on Louisiana families and a huge disincentive to moving here or staying here to start a family. But this and some of the other problems facing our state are an effect, not a cause. It’s not the shockingly high insurance rates, the indifferent quality of the schools or any of the other measures where we fall short, in and of themselves, that are the problem. Their underlying causes are the real issues we face.
These problems are more than a financial drain, they threaten one of the very basic premises of our country: that the circumstances of your birth do not have to dictate the outcome of your life, that your children can work hard and build a better life than you had. Social mobility is becoming more and more constrained. We fall farther and farther behind the rest of the nation.
This does not have to be. We live in a state of rich natural resources with the major port on the Mississippi River in our borders. Our schools may be largely indifferent, but the children in them are not. They are no different than their counterparts anywhere else. We are failing them. They are not failing us. Our problems are serious and growing, but not insurmountable. Next time you look at your insurance bill ask yourself why. Let’s get to work!
The Natchitoches Parish Journal received this submission. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal. If you have an article or story of interest for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.