BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana will remain at the bottom of the heap for economic opportunity until lawmakers embrace a new approach to make the state more business-friendly, according to the head of a Louisiana political action group.
The state Legislature must move away from “status quo” and move past the legislation of the last 60 years if it wants to provide more opportunities to stop the state’s decline in population and become more competitive for prospective employers, according to Daniel Erspamer, chief executive officer of The Pelican Institute, who spoke March 4 at the weekly luncheon of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
The state currently ranks 50th in an evaluation of economic opportunity compiled by U.S. News & World Report.
The bottom of the heap ranking has led to an outward migration of 10,840 people from 2017-18, the second consecutive year the state has led the nation in population decline.
Changes in the way the state addresses business need to change now, although Erspamer said an overhaul could not happen in a short span, and the same approach must apply to budget reform.
He compared the current budget and tax system to “a family operating off the budget a crazy uncle made 50 years ago.” The budget problems with the state stem not from taxes being too high or too low, but from the complexity.
The Louisiana Tax Code contains 430 pages of exemptions and deductions, he said.
Louisiana could benefit from a simple flat rate across the board, which would the state more business friendly and keep both residents and jobs from moving elsewhere.
He also called for an overhaul in K-12 education, with more emphasis on private and charter schools.
Erspamer said Louisiana spends one of the highest amounts in the region per student but remains among the lowest on outcomes from educational opportunity.
In regard to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, Erspamer believes the conversation among lawmakers during the upcoming session should instead focus on a simpler tax structure.
He considers ITEP “a good faith gesture to the business community to address Louisiana’s complex tax structure.”
Elimination of the occupational licenses for occupations across the state would also make the state more business friendly, Espamer said.
In the 1940s, one in 20 jobs required licensing in Louisiana. The number has swelled to one in four today, which makes the Pelican State the sixth most licensed state in America.
Among the occupations for which Louisiana is the only state to require licenses are florists, interior designers and hair braiders, he said.