Poor Showing in State Rankings Shows It’s Past Time to Act

The opening line in 24/7 Wall Street’s description of Louisiana’s business climate could hardly be more damning: “No state is worse for business than Louisiana.” That unfortunately coincides with another new ranking list, this one from U.S. News & World Report, that landed Louisiana at number 50 in its index of the best states.
At the outset it’s totally fair to say that rankings like these are driven by a set of metrics that the architects of the studies feel are important. That means they take into account some things, but not others and in that sense can be seen as somewhat subjective.
Still, it’s helpful to look behind those metrics to see what factors are the ones that continually bring us down. When you do it looks like a shortlist of all the issues Louisiana has been struggling with for the last several years:  health care, educational attainment, public safety, infrastructure, fiscal stability. You get the picture.
It’s interesting to note that when budget hawks in the House of Representatives put together a budget proposal tapping less from the Rainy Day Fund than the governor wanted, they couldn’t do so without making further cuts to public schools, higher education, corrections, and health care – the very metrics that cause our rankings to plummet.
That’s not meant as an indictment of anyone, but it should be seen as a reality check. What these rankings suggest is that Louisiana is outside the norms of what’s widely viewed as the “best” qualities a state should have. We’re not just below average – we’re at the extreme bottom.
Of course, if we’re satisfied with those findings, think their metrics are flawed or don’t care what others think about us, we don’t need to do anything. But, most would probably admit that those results ring fairly true.
Turning the ship around is a long-term process and the results, even if successful, won’t be seen for years. But if we’re going to do it, we need to start sometime. The first step would seem to be to extricate ourselves once and for all from the budget crisis mode we’ve been in for most of the last decade. Key to that is doing something that we should have done long ago and set some real priorities for the state.
At some point we need to ask ourselves why we continue to cut things that everyone says we shouldn’t. That’s not going to move us off the bottom of any of those lists. The next thing we need to do is commit to aligning our revenues – whatever we decide they should be – with our expenditures for the services we think the state should provide.
And the final component is fiscal reform. We need to move to a tax structure that is fair, competitive, and raises the dollars we need to sustain the services we want over a long period of time.
None of this is exactly new, but what’s different is the feeling that this time the clock is really ticking down to zero. We have cut, we have failed to reinvest, and as the rankings show, it’s not moving us forward. That has to change.
It may be impossible to think we could ever move up to first on any of these lists, but clearly our state is too good to settle for last.

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