Proclaiming its diversity, a coalition of 61 chambers of commerce — yes, virtually no group on the list does not have “chamber of commerce” in its name or job description — offers Louisiana a progressive agenda for the 2015 election season.
Lest we forget the burdens on business in Louisiana, six strategies for progress start with taking care of Number One.
“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,” says CASE, the Coalition for a Stronger Economy.
In case it’s not clear to anyone without a functioning calculator, that means returning to old-fashioned check-writing to absentee owners of industrial plants. As a diversification strategy, that goes back to the 1930s when southern states ran ads denouncing unions and urging Yankee businesses to invest below the Mason-Dixon Line. As a “strategic plan,” that’s a bit dated.
But if you don’t want to go back that far, think of the past seven years of busted budgets based on cutting taxes and taking the ax to higher education and health care in Louisiana. Even Gov. Bobby Jindal, in this year’s address to the Legislature, achieved a Saul of Tarsus moment; he said it was time to dial back “corporate welfare.”
Many resolutely pro-business legislators who backed Jindal for years had little choice but to suspend tax exemptions and other breaks that were lavished on CASE members and their client-masters over the past decade.
That turnabout still rankles with former Jindal aide Stephen Waguespack, of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Here is LABI’s take on recent history: “In an abrupt departure from a record and reputation that Louisiana’s elected officials place a high value on the state’s economy, lawmakers chose instead to raise more than $600 million in new taxes from the private sector to fund the ever-growing needs of state government, jeopardizing the state’s positive economic trajectory.”
That’s not all: “Elected officials not only failed to structure the tax increases to be least harmful to jobs and the economy, but also refused to make reductions in less critical areas or even debate reforms to the state budget that would allow lawmakers to prioritize higher education and health care over the general needs across state government.”
Given that LABI has endorsed many of those same legislators for re-election, their betrayal appears to have been less than Judas-like, but what is telling about the diverse group of chambers of commerce allied in CASE is that they believe getting corporate welfare back up is first on its list for the future.
Despite that staggering tone-deafness, there are some constructive ideas on the list. A few are actually politically courageous. “Local reliance on state support should be right-sized in line with best-practice states” is a bit of corporate-speak that could generate serious fights in the State Capitol, if CASE members were serious.
One can doubt we’ll get that far down the list. Once business gets its tax breaks back, we certainly won’t see CASE members going to the mat to cut off state subsidies for police jurors, sheriffs and police chiefs and the others on the capitol dole.
And what is an economic development strategy that does not mention restoring some, if not most, of the debilitating budget cuts imposed on colleges and universities in the Jindal years? The best CASE comes up with: “Louisiana’s institutions of higher education should be efficient and empowered to be market-responsive.” F. King Alexander, you’re on your own.
It’s a shame that CASE’s discussions appear to have had the intellectual diversity of a Jindal staff meeting. Anti-government screeds don’t reach far enough to constitute a strategic plan for business itself, much less those outside the tax-break community who might be asked to sign on.
This fails the test of the word “coalition.”
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email is email@example.com.