Stephen Waguespack, President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), gave Chamber members an update on state level business issues relevant to the businesses of the Natchitoches Area at the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon March 28. He discussed what issues LABI will be concerned with in the upcoming Legislative Session, asking the question: “Are we ready to face the truth?”
Four Big Issues to be Focused On:
· Fiscal Reform
· Criminal Justice
· Litigation and Legal Reform
Louisiana is a cool place to live. It’s got a certain Joie de Vivre (Joy of Living). But is it still enough? Stephen said that for 90 plus years the culture, history, cuisine and community in Louisiana has been enough. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Is Louisiana wasting its potential?”
Either way Stephen said it’s time for change. We can see a renewed focus on jobs and growth at the federal level, including tax reform, regulatory reduction, legal reform and innovation in schools and workforce. However it’s a different story on the state level, which has a persistent focus on the public sector including tax increases, new employer mandates, state-led litigation and status quo for schools and workforce.
“We have to budget according to what the economy can handle,” said Stephen. Louisiana spends $5,599 per person annually when the SEC average is $4,010. Louisiana spent more than its peer states before $1 billion plus in tax increases in the 2017 fiscal year.
“Where’s the money going,” he questioned. “Why are we always broke?
Retirement costs (around $2 billion) are an ever-growing burden on the budget. State Medicaid spending increases ranks #1, even before expansion, which doubled the spending rate from 2014-15. The Louisiana economy is contracting. Around 25,000 jobs were lost in the last two years.
“The spending isn’t matching the performance,” said Stephen. “We have to turn around the state’s employment numbers, but policies aren’t changing.”
LABI has a multi-pronged approach to the state’s budget challenges:
· Overhaul tax code and budget
· Address spending
· Fix the economy
“It may sound complicated,” he said. “But we’ll always be in this annual fight for budget deficit, economy and workforce. There’s no short cut to the big change we all want. Louisiana is ready. No one rallies like Louisiana. We are surrounded by adversity and we need to rally now.”