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The state House chamber.

Louisiana’s legislative leadership and Gov. John Bel Edwards are failing to provide the strong initiatives to help the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

They are finishing a fiscal session and spending over $43 billion for 4.6 million residents, an awful lot of goods and services for a poor state.

Republicans control the leadership of both House and Senate. Many would expect spending, taxes and unemployment would be down, with a pro-growth agenda set for the future. Not so.

When ranking states by unemployment rates to see which workforces bounced back from COVID-19 the quickest, Louisiana is near the bottom.

WalletHub compared states based on five key metrics using unemployment statistics from the latest month for which data was available (April 2021) to key dates in 2019 and 2020.

Only six states were bouncing back from COVID-19 more slowly than Louisiana: California, Nevada, New York, New Mexico, Connecticut and Hawaii. Democratic governors head those states just like Louisiana. Surprised?

The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.1%, high but much lower than the historic 14.7% in April 2020. This drop was attributed to a combination of vaccinations and states loosening restrictions.

Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 7.3%. The top twelve states were all under 4%, nearly half ours. The real telltale of what’s going on is in the “Not Seasonally Adjusted Continued Claims,“ a term used by the U.S. Department of Labor. Comparing April 2021 to April 2019, Louisiana is 288.2%, meaning almost triple the number of people were continuing to draw unemployment benefits in April 2021 than the year before COVID-19.

That puts Louisiana way out of line with 25 other states, which in April 2021 were at or below the number of continued unemployment claims as the year before COVID-19.

The data for this study was taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ten Louisiana business groups begged Edwards for something half the country had done, cutting off federal enhanced unemployment benefits so people would go back to work. Edwards stalled their request by requiring a study from his Workforce Commission (Department of Labor) — recently caught twice by the Legislative Auditor’s Office giving away benefits to more than 100,000 undeserving recipients.

Just imagine what their study will conclude. Workforce would rather give away more free money for the three remaining months of the federal program than help employers recover from COVID-19.

Republicans hold 68 of 70 votes needed to pass tax reform bills in the House. Those require two-thirds votes. Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, had to cut a deal with the Legislative Black Caucus to get 70 votes to pass his legislation centralizing sales tax collections, probably the most important bill for business this session. It still has to pass a statewide vote of the people, then would await legislation to define how it will work. That’s a lot of uncertainty.

Businesses won’t be moving to Louisiana or expanding and hiring more people until it finally passes and that’s at least another year away. It’s maintenance at best, not economic development, and does very little to help tourism or oil and gas, major industries that are hurting.

A bill to tax medical marijuana was hijacked to extend the temporary 0.45-cent sales tax permanently. Since the tax was due to expire in 2025, consider that a tax increase.

The Senate certainly did and killed it although the tax increase would have been dedicated to roads and bridges, a noble idea but not transparent, and not the way to do the state’s business — even though Edwards' secretary of transportation applauded this last-minute policy initiative.

The political infighting during this session was so counterproductive that 41 Republicans formed their own group, the Conservative Caucus, big enough to block a tax or any other issue requiring 70 votes. It’ll be interesting to watch that group and the Black Caucus in the future.

Maybe the days of business-friendly economic-conservative Legislatures are over.

Is it a fair expectation that Edwards and the Legislature would do something to improve Louisiana’s economic recovery from COVID-19, or is spending a lot of money enough to satisfy modest ambitions?

Email Garey Forster at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.

Our Views: Even for a good cause, sales tax extension would be an exercise in bad faith

Garey Forster is former chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives and a former Louisiana Secretary of Labor. His column runs weekly. Email him at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.