Garey Forster wrote that Louisiana might benefit by eliminating its personal income tax. He reported that Louisiana had lost population (and jobs) in recent years and asserted that Louisiana’s net out-migration was due to a weak economy.

But his real point was that the current governor is anti-business, pro-trial lawyer and not Republican. He’s entitled to his views. However, his column does not connect his viewpoint to the evidence.

He does not address how eliminating the personal income tax would stop outmigration. He does not explain how an income tax chases jobs away any differently than a sales tax or a property tax.

He does not mention that Louisiana’s economy is influenced by the worldwide decline in crude oil prices. Louisiana has for a century or longer been an economy riding on the roller coaster of oil prices. Collapses in the past (the mid-1980s make a memorable example) and now have led to extensive job losses and outmigration.

Oil prices are now about $40, maybe enough for some firms to survive, but not enough for others. Oil and gas production and exploration firms, and the service industries that support them, close, consolidate or move.

That better explains out-migration than an over-broad “weak economy” excuse and certainly better than a “we have a bad tax structure” excuse. Perhaps the real reason Louisiana’s economy is shedding jobs and population is that it remains too dependent upon its oil, gas and petrochemical industries.

Forster’s analysis was based on pre-COVID data. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening things; and Louisiana may be getting a double-whammy: low crude prices courtesy of OPEC and dramatic declines in tourism and hospitality from the virus. And the virus is taking its own toll on oil and gas demand. And there’s trouble elsewhere in the economy: President Donald Trump’s on-and-off tariffs and trade wars have created turmoil for our state’s ports. Aluminum, steel, soybeans, appliances and automobiles are among the industries thrown for a loop.

Opposing taxes is popular but may be short-sighted. Taxes are the voter-approved method of funding roads and bridges, schools and universities, parks, and other infrastructure and amenities that firms look for when evaluating Louisiana as a corporate home. So when Forster says eliminate the personal income tax, what infrastructure is he giving up?

To blame the governor for a weak economy without mentioning the causes of that alleged weakness is not analysis — it’s a political attack.

L.W. SHELL

economist

Baton Rouge