State's economy going strong

STRONG STATE ECONOMY — Republican gubernatorial hopefuls are failing to give voters the real truth about Louisiana's economy. It is strong, thanks to bipartisan work of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Facts, statistics and credible spokesmen have discredited some major issues being used by two Republican candidates in their efforts to try and unseat Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Three of those issues are criminal justice reform, the governor’s revision of the way industrial tax breaks are given and the loss of jobs in the state.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone have hammered blame towards Edwards in all three arenas. They have criticized his support of criminal justice reform and the way he changed the awarding of tax breaks and continually harped about the loss of jobs during Edwards’ term.

David Safavian, general counsel at the American Conservative Union Foundation in Washington, D.C., in a guest column in The Advocate, strongly defended the criminal justice reforms and called attacks on it dishonest. He said critics ignore the truth about what the reforms actually did.

“What is more surprising is to see these politicians failing to follow Donald Trump’s lead,” Safavian said. “Just last year, the president pushed through Congress his signature achievement: the First Step Act. Working with Democrats and Republicans, law enforcement and civil rights groups, faith and business communities, and even some celebrities, Trump got Congress to approve the largest overhaul of the federal criminal justice system in decades.”

The reforms, Safavian said, have allowed nonviolent offenders to achieve redemption, forgiveness and a second chance at life without sacrificing public safety. He added that a Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted last year showed 92 percent of Louisiana voters voiced their support for offering more rehabilitation and job-training programs for low-level, nonviolent offenders.

Safavian added, “After all, if Donald Trump supports this approach, why shouldn’t the voters in Louisiana?” Doing otherwise, he said, is a losing strategy that would be rejected by voters. Safavian called Louisiana critics “justice reform-bashers (who) have embraced a theme that divides rather than unifies, using some of the most cynical language possible.”

Edwards reformed the industrial tax exemption program (ITEP), a local property tax break that a state board had given almost without exception. The governor reduced the 100-percent, 10-year tax break to 80 percent. He also — for the first time — gave local government agencies that are losing tax funds a voice in awarding the tax breaks.

Abraham said, if elected, he would seek to immediately revoke the Edwards changes. Local parish governments, school boards and state sheriffs can’t be too happy about losing that local input.

The Advocate, in an editorial, said the pause in construction feared by critics of Edwards’ changes, hasn’t come to pass and “the statistics seem to bear that out.” The newspaper talked about the “industrial construction boom” in the state, which is unprecedented in Southwest Louisiana.

Respected Louisiana economist Loren Scott and his colleagues are the authorities quoted by The Advocate. They forecast billions in new petrochemical manufacturing projects that are gearing up for construction.

“The Scott team projects Louisiana will add 24,700 jobs, up 1.2 percent, in 2020 and another 28,800 jobs, or 1.4 percent, in 2021 (a total of 53,500 jobs),” the newspaper said. “Eight of the state’s nine metro areas show growth, with Alexandria projected to be flat.”

Scott was in Lake Charles Sept. 25 and said a new round of largescale industrial projects could bring roughly 7,000 new jobs to the Lake Charles metro area over the next two years. He said employment growth is anticipated at 2.5 percent in 2020 and 3.1 percent in 2021.

“Usually, the U.S. growth rate for employment is about 1.3 (percent),” Scott said. “You’re talking about double, triple those growth rates.”

The completion of major projects in Southwest Louisiana has created a temporary lull in employment, but other announced projects total $61.6 billion.

Abraham and Rispone have been harping on the Edwards administration causing Louisiana to be the only state to lose jobs, but the losses are minuscule when compared to the number of jobs coming over the next two years.

Scott also explained why the state has lost jobs. He said the new jobs expected are “a good sign after nearly four years of no growth caused by falling oil prices.” Some improvement is expected for the oil industry, he said, and oil companies have reserves in the Gulf of Mexico “they would like to harvest.”.

George Swift, president/CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said the booming economy here that began in 2014 remains strong. Calcasieu and Cameron parishes make up the Lake Charles Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which he called the fastest growing MSA in the country.

Size it up any way you want, but the Louisiana economy remains strong despite some of the wild accusations made by Abraham, Rispone and other GOP critics. They are trying desperately to change the reality that the state is in much better economic shape than they want you to believe.

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