Think-tank CEO shares numbers game with Lions

By Pat Culverhouse

When it comes to Louisiana’s future, it’s a numbers game and the numbers don’t always paint a pretty picture.

Daniel J. Erspamer, CEO of the think-tank Pelican Institute for Public Policy, told members of the Minden Lions Club that Louisiana has much to offer visitors, potential business, industry and residents. Attractions include the state’s culture and festivals, plus inexpensive access to land, water and energy. 

“We have a state where people want to be yet we can’t seem to keep our people here. We need to create jobs, create that opportunity…we need to recognize what the challenges are and how we fix that,” he said. One critical issue facing the state is outmigration, Erspamer said, noting that Louisiana ranks third in the nation in losing residents (outmigration) behind California and Illinois. 

“The next couple of months and years are going to be critical to how we turn that around…to grow businesses and make Louisiana a place to succeed,” he said.

Erspamer urged Lions to consider numbers that represent some of the biggest challenges to a vibrant business and educational atmosphere that will make Louisiana a preferred destination.

“The number 432 is the number of pages in just one section of the Louisiana tax code. A barrier it presents is the complexity” he explained. “We have problems making deals with business in Louisiana and we don’t make the list of states that make it easy to come here. Simplicity is the issue. Our tax code has more than double the pages in the King James version of the Bible.”

Louisiana’s $50 billion state budget passed this year is another number that represents a mounting issue of expanding government, Erspamer said. 

“Eight years ago that number was 28 billion dollars, and this year the legislature had a three billion surplus. Instead of doing things like giving it back in tax relief, every penny was spent,” he said. “Government has grown and a challenge is a status quo that’s broken. And, special interests make a special challenge in all this.”

Erspamer pointed to one section of the state constitution containing 13,000 words which he said directs lawmakers on how to spend public tax dollars. By comparison, he said the U.S. Constitution has 7,591 words. Louisiana’s constitution was ratified in 1974 and has already been amended more than 220 times, making it the second longest in the nation, he said.

“Cutting spending is difficult because about eight or nine of every ten dollars in the budget has already been spent because it’s locked up in spending programs in the constitution and in statute,” he said. “How can anyone manage a household or small business budget when 90 percent of the money is pre-spent on priorities from your crazy uncle 50 years ago?”

Rather than call them dedicated funds, Erspamer said to consider it non-reviewed governmental spending where “…all nonsense things are locked up when it comes to cutting spending. The only things left to cut are healthcare and higher education. A major comeback issue is to get our fiscal house in order.”

(Editor’s note: Erspamer had a critical take on the state education system; see Wednesday’s edition of WPJ.)