La. Has to Solve Education, Infrastructure and Tax Problems to Avoid ‘Brain Drain’

Williams Guy
Guy Williams is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Bank & Trust.

This guest editorial is based on remarks delivered at the March 8 Jefferson Chamber Legislative Breakfast.

We just experienced a wonderful Mardi Gras. On a beautiful day, the queen of Rex, Elinor White, waved happily to the crowds.

What was not apparent was that this Louisiana native, whose family has been here for generations, was also waving goodbye. 

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Despite her deep local roots, the University of Texas graduate plans to make her home in Austin.

Elinor White is not alone. Louisiana’s population peaked in 2016. Since then, the state has been losing people yearly while the rest of the South grows rapidly.

As we look at the states doing well and talk to economic development experts, the solution is obvious. For years, Louisiana has under-invested in education, failed to keep up with infrastructure needs, and tolerated a tax system that is overly complex and makes us look uncompetitive.

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The state’s school system still fails to prepare students to succeed in a complex digital world. At the university level, underinvestment means that we lose qualified faculty to other states. One of my friends teaches at UNO. He told me that he didn’t know whether to celebrate or cry when one of his doctoral graduates received a job offer. The reason: the student’s first job offer came with a higher salary than my friend was making after 40 years of hard work. We must do better.

Louisiana’s infrastructure challenges are visible every day, from streets that flood, to road congestion, bridge failures and potholes.

Finally, the state’s tax system is a mess. We look expensive, but after all the deductions and exemptions are factored in, we are about in the middle of the 50 states in revenue collected per capita. The problem is that we are competing with three very rapidly growing states — Texas, Florida and Tennessee — that have no income tax. Businesses looking to relocate understand “zero.” No income tax must be our goal. We made progress last session, but more needs to be done.

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The South is growing; we are not. When we solve our tax, education and infrastructure problems, we can — and should — be the leader in prosperity and growth. If we don’t, the next generation of Louisiana residents will continue to wave goodbye from atop Mardi Gras floats. 

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