Louisiana remains poor despite its vital importance to the welfare of the nation, its strategic location, its abundant natural resources and its people who for generations have had a strong work ethic.
In stark contrast to Louisiana, East Texas (including Houston) with the same assets — except the Mississippi River — has grown rich since 1935 while our state has remained poor. Why?
This writer opines that the state’s poverty despite its valuable assets results from too many governors with poor leadership skills, too many governors who served to better themselves, not the state, too many governors who spent the state’s finite oil and gas money in the wrong places and too many legislators who voted in the best interest of the exploiters of the state rather than in the best interest of the people of the state.
A recent example of the mismanagement of the state’s assets is the six-year assault by Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies, the legislators, on the state’s best hope for a better economic future, Louisiana’s public universities. State Legislative Fiscal Office statistics reveal that the legislators have cut funding of higher education by more than $1 billion in the last six years.
The “our hands are tied by the state constitution” excuse used by legislators to do nothing to stop university cuts is a myth that has been debunked by state Treasurer John Kennedy on numerous occasions. Billions in statutory dedications and corporate tax exemptions could be trimmed to fund higher education if the lawmakers had the guts to risk losing the political support of special interest groups that wield undue influence over the Legislature.
The powerful influence of special interest on the Legislature was evident in 2013 when “fiscal hawk” legislators proposed trimming some of the 450 corporate tax exemptions in order to reduce another billion-dollar state deficit and thereby help higher education. The measure was gaining momentum in the House when, suddenly, the “hawks” surrendered when told “no” by special interest groups composed primarily of companies that have, for decades, treated Louisiana as a colony, a place to be exploited for its natural resources, with the profits invested in other states.
Despite its valuable assets, Louisiana not only ranks at the bottom of the nation in higher education funding, it is also stuck at or near the bottom in the other quality-of-life national rankings.
What needs to change? The moving force will have to be a governor who combines strong leadership skills with honesty and with determination to work for the people, not the special interest. This visionary governor will lead our state to its rightful place in the sun, a place of prosperity.