The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many difficulties to Louisiana — sickness and death obviously, but also traumatic economic, social and psychological injuries. Rarely have we faced these difficulties all at one time.
It is vital that Louisiana respond with innovation and a determined sense of urgency. We cannot settle for a mere return to “pre-COVID normal.” The time is now for once-in-a-generation change that improve Louisiana today and brighten its future. Our families, businesses and communities deserve no less.
RESET Louisiana’s Future is a targeted, nonpartisan effort led by The Committee of 100, the Council for A Better Louisiana, and the Public Affairs Research Council focused on four state policy issues: education, state finance, criminal justice, and transportation infrastructure. RESET encourages the Louisiana Legislature and Governor Edwards to fully embrace the time is now for these five state policy improvements during the upcoming legislative regular session:
- Improve our state tax system. Individual and corporate rates should be lowered while eliminating the state deduction for federal taxes. The mark of good, fair tax design is low rates and relatively few deductions. Louisiana has the opposite — high rates and large deductions. This change would significantly improve the fairness and stability of Louisiana’s income tax system.
- Centralize and simplify sales tax collections and administration. Louisiana is one of the few states where local governments collect sales tax, a system that places businesses at a disadvantage with multiple audits, different rules, varied rates across parishes, and a lack of uniformity. A more centralized system — involving and protecting local governments — would enhance business compliance and fair collections. Louisiana’s current sales tax system is vulnerable to constitutional and court challenges.
- Prioritize funding for early childhood education. The state should make funding for early education a budget priority and appropriate a meaningful level of revenue to expand access to quality early care and education programs. This investment will allow Louisiana to continue to support low- to moderate-income workers by allowing them to place their children in high-quality child care settings, which will support the businesses where those workers are employed.
- Ensure every student has access to opportunities to earn valuable postsecondary credits while still in high school. More of our students than ever are earning college credits and credentials while still in high school, but those credentials often do not lead to a quality degree or job. Louisiana needs a value-focused framework for all dual enrollment and other postsecondary opportunities to ensure high school students graduate with apprenticeships, associate degrees, college credits or high-demand credentials that lead to quality jobs.
- Increase Louisiana’s annual investment in infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and ports — enhancing public safety, relieving traffic congestion, and supporting commerce and economic competitiveness. Louisiana should make substantial investments to reduce the state’s $14.2 billion backlog of safety, maintenance and bridge work, and the $15 billion of identified needs, including Priority A and B megaprojects. Our poor transportation infrastructure is a big liability. We should make it a major asset.
Last year, with the pandemic and abbreviated legislative sessions, Louisiana’s new state Legislature had limited opportunities and still accomplished more than expected. This year they have a greater chance to demonstrate their commitments to making Louisiana a better place for family, community and commerce.
The time is now. Nothing changes when we wait.
Michael Olivier is president of Louisiana's Committee of 100 for Economic Development.