On Thursday in Lafayette, a home-grown technology company announced its expansion in the Hub City of Acadiana. The firm, Waitr, will add 100 employees to its existing workforce. The expansion was cheered at the ABiz State of the Economy luncheon.
The restaurant delivery app was invented in Lake Charles, and the company benefited from state programs to aid emerging businesses. And it’s dependent for its growth on a robust university system.
Across the Atchafalaya Basin, in the alternate reality that is the State Capitol, the Louisiana House balked at passing a modest income tax increase to avoid budget cuts that include another reduction in funding for higher education.
So also on Thursday, the Council for a Better Louisiana had to issue yet another warning to any lawmakers who would listen, that the future of our state is dependent on higher education.
“Whatever happens in terms of revenue during the current special session, it seems like higher education is going to end up on the short end of the stick again,” CABL commented. “At least that’s what it feels like right now.”
Unfortunately, the realities are that many legislators are putting self-interest ahead of the public interest, refusing to pass tax bills — some of them flawed, no doubt — because of the political ramifications.
Many are just frightened of political risk; were socialism popular, they’d be lining up with Bernie Sanders.
But Louisiana’s hard core of anti-tax conservatives sees every dollar taxed as a dollar stolen, and every dollar spent by government wasted. And that includes the colleges, and just about everything else.
The biggest hypocrites in the GOP are those who say that they ready and willing to vote with Gov. John Bel Edwards for tax reform — as if any of them are willing to risk even a dime’s worth of political capital on tax increases in one of the lowest-taxed states in the nation.
“I’m not voting for any taxes unless it’s included in a comprehensive tax reform and spending reform package,” said state Rep. Lance Harris, the head of the House Republican delegation, in a typical dodge. “I think a lot of our members feel the same way.”
This is an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good, because Harris and a lot of his members lined up to oppose the income tax increase in key legislation rejected by the House. And that income tax change, involving lowering deductions for upper-income taxpayers, is recommended by the experts as part of the comprehensive tax reform that Harris says he is for.
Does anyone believe he and his friends will grow a collective spine when the time comes for tough votes on tax reforms?
No one seems to be looking ahead to the future, a time when the knowledge economy will grow Louisiana’s next generation of workers and leaders.
Instead, while other states are reinvesting in their colleges and universities, Louisiana has seen a net loss of total-dollar-funding of more than $350 million, CABL said, “and there’s more on the current chopping block.”
The cuts that CABL said might reach another $100 million are a disinvestment in the state’s future. Louisiana’s no-more-taxes crowd appears to believe that prosperity comes without sacrifice, that public services pay for themselves and that people in affluent suburban districts don’t have to worry about cutbacks in colleges.
It’s as if fully funding TOPS scholarships for the middle-class families is vital, but the quality of the education that a TOPS recipient gets is immaterial.
This is truly a pipe dream. But it will turn into a nightmare if the Legislature balks at even the smallest steps to pay for the costs of inventing Louisiana’s future.
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.