For all the criticism of Gov. John Bel Edwards' decisions on property tax breaks for industries, or lawsuits against energy companies he's pushed, or his rhetoric on business taxes being too low, it's really his opponents in the Legislature who have provided the single biggest obstacle to economic development in Louisiana: uncertainty.
A state budget in chronic crisis during most of two terms under former Gov. Bobby Jindal is now a drag on the state's future. Businesses around the country and the world have taken note. Wall Street bond houses have reduced the state's credit outlook.
We might agree with some of the governor's critics on several issues, but what can't be reasonably argued is that he is wrong about the harmful impact of an unstable state budget. It threatens not only today's constituents but prospective businesses we want to bring to Louisiana.
The politics of change are daunting. A significant number of legislators, particularly in the GOP House, refuse to vote for any taxes, even to substitute for other taxes that could be repealed. The governor rightly pointed out that tax reform bills have been bottled up in the House Ways and Means Committee, where the leadership has stacked members hostile to Edwards, a Democrat.
The mechanics are further complicated by a two-thirds rule for tax increases, even for replacements for existing — or, in this year's case, expiring — taxes totaling more than $1 billion.
With Louisiana's economy growing, albeit slowly, the revenue loss is estimated at $994 million. As the governor was also correct to note, opponents in the Legislature cannot object to that number and yet refuse to identify specific and realistic cuts to make to the budget as an alternative to new taxes.
Either option, it seems, is unpopular. But the business community within and beyond Louisiana does not care if legislators are weak or merely confused. What matters is results: "Economist after economist, task force after task force, over several decades and during Democratic and Republican administrations, have recommended long-term solutions to our problems, and yet we continue to ignore their advice," the governor argued, once again correctly. "These experts — our experts — have been telling us over and over again how to pull ourselves up and out of this mess. We can take the best practices we see in neighboring states and implement them here in Louisiana."
Or we can once more, in the fifth special session the governor has called in a little over two years, fail to act. The consequences include a future of more uncertainty and political maneuvering in the place of policy adjustments that are well-known to members of the Legislature.
Let's not wait again.