Buddy Roemer guest column: Why we need real tax reform in Louisiana more than ever _lowres

Former Gov. Buddy Roemer

There are considerations that make tax reform mandatory for the long-term health of our economy in Louisiana: competition with surrounding states, diversity of corporate investment, health care infrastructure, development of the coastline, the value added to crops and resources produced in Louisiana.

But in addition, there is the fact that Louisiana has been growing slower than any Southern state for the past 45 years.

Texas is growing at eight times our rate, Florida at five times our rate. Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico all beat us by wide margins. Even Alabama and Mississippi outgrow us.

Our economy is vibrant only for relative short periods of energy resurgence. Simply put, we are a one-trick pony built on a rapidly declining resource, and that is oil.

If the problem over 45 years is hurricanes, why are other Gulf Coast states like Florida and Texas so far outdistancing us?

This growth gap leads to bad outcomes for our state.

Our university system is antiquated and built on the principle of quantity, not quality.

Our economic conditions are not diverse and innovative.

We are dependent on individuals for spark, rather than on systems. My colleagues and I built a $1.2 billion bank in Louisiana over the past nine years from scratch — we think one of the best banks in America. But if we were in Texas, our consultants estimate that we could have grown 10 times faster.

The working poor are in ruins in Louisiana, underfinanced and underappreciated.

Our kids are leaving the state to find jobs and opportunity.

On and on it goes. Things are a fraction of their true value: newspapers, television stations, law firms, partnerships, car dealerships.

The Legislature needs be to independent of the governor, but within reason.

I tried tax reform 25 years ago. That proposal failed in large part because of a failure to convince the black community. I got the overwhelming majority of the white vote but failed miserably among the black vote.

Still, we got better than 44 percent of the total vote for the most progressive, business-people friendly tax reform in America. What a difference it would have made in Louisiana.

We ought to try it again. We need it more than ever in Louisiana: more people, more activity, more value, better jobs, better working conditions, a reduction in the working poor, all could result. It ought to be carefully done, examining every idea.

In light of my experience, too, it ought to be carefully orchestrated to gain the best chance of victory.

Buddy Roemer is a former governor of Louisiana and chairman emeritus of Business First Bank.