Retired New Orleans educator Merle T. Harris wrote a letter to this paper requesting I answer some questions regarding my recent column about Louisiana’s population. I wrote about the U.S. Census Bureau report showing that between July 2018 and July 2019, 26,045 Louisianans left the state to live somewhere else. The bureau also found that in the first three years of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ term, a startling 80,000 people left Louisiana to live in other states.
I argued the mass exodus was a direct result of Edwards’ anti-business executive orders, his signing of legislation raising billions in new taxes, and his sue-happy ways toward the oil industry. When Edwards first took office, he told parish governments if they don’t sue the oil industry, the state will. The Wall Street Journal described the move as a shakedown of the oil industry.
“Dan Fagan’s article on Louisiana population loss begs the questions: What was the situation during the former administration’s eight years?” wrote Harris.
That’s a fair question and an important one. But I did address it in my column. The Census Bureau found Louisiana’s population grew each year after Hurricane Katrina. But within months after Edwards dramatically changed the direction of the state with his government-centric, anti-private sector policies, the mass exodus of Louisiana began and has continued up until July 2019. We don’t have census data later than July 2019.
“How much could the governor do if our legislative body did not have answers to the budget problems that were inherited from the former administration, in which the Legislature played a large part?" Harris also asked.
Another good question. Conservative legislators I’ve spoken with would have preferred that the governor first look to cut government spending instead of raising billions in new taxes. Keep in mind that Edwards tried to raise double the taxes Republican legislators finally agreed to. Can you imagine how many would have been forced to look for greener pastures in other states had Edwards soaked the private sector twice as much as he did? It’s also important to note the state has run major surpluses since Edwards took office. State leaders have clearly overtaxed us in the past four years.
Harris lastly asked, “With all the natural resources the state has and with our cancer alley booming, why is the state so ‘poor’?” Harris is right about our state’s poverty. The Census Bureau showed Louisiana with an 18.6% poverty rate. The national average is 11.8%. But I would argue growing government by transferring money out of the private sector is the last thing that will help Louisiana fight poverty. Also, gutting tax incentives for businesses as Edwards has and suing the oil industry with its high-paying jobs is the wrong approach.
There is a fundamental disagreement between the two competing ideologies dominating Louisiana politics. Edwards and those who support him seem to view the government as a catalyst of opportunity for people and a way out of poverty. The governor may not admit that, but why else would government spending within the state under his watch increase by 25%? Why would his policies hold such a government-centric and anti-business flavor to them?
The opposite philosophy of Edwards is promoting the health and viability of the private sector as the way to bring people up and out of poverty. It seems reasonable to argue the vibrancy of the U.S. economy in other states with more pro-private sector policies is driving locals to leave us. How else can one explain Louisiana’s multiyear population growth coming to an abrupt halt and instead turning into a mass exodus at the same time Edwards dramatically changed the direction of the state?
Harris concluded her letter by writing, “Fagan should answer those questions before trying to throw dirt on the present administration … Answer these, Mr. Fagan, then you may help to solve the problem instead of simply trying to create divisions when what we need is togetherness in trying to solve the problems of this state.”
I agree with Harris that working together is preferable, but when there are two competing ideologies, and the one we’ve recently adopted under our current governor has led to the exodus of 80,000 locals, I would suggest we push back and try something different.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.