Let’s be honest: Louisiana has an abysmal record when it comes to planning for the state’s future.
You only have to look at our $14-billion backlog for construction and repairs of roads and bridges to find one example.
It’s an amount our legislators have seen swell – due far less to inflation than to neglect. Yet as the roads that annually carry these officials to the state Capitol crumble beneath them, our duly-elected representatives have duly refused to vote for increasing the fuel tax that provides the traditional funding for transportation infrastructure. The per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel has not changed since 1989 – 31 years ago.
Perhaps the reluctance to realistically consider Louisiana’s long-term needs is an unintended effect of a law passed 25 years ago, when voters approved term limits on state legislators. Once legislative seats were no longer sinecures, instead prescribing finite time in office, lawmakers began focusing more on their next election, rather than looking to the extended future of their constituents and of the state as a whole.
There have been attempts to move Louisiana into the 21st century. Yet nearly every time one of our lawmakers proposes a progressive policy, the committee members considering the legislation’s life or death indicate they’re reluctant to advance it and the bill’s author asks to make it a “study resolution” instead. Since that only commits them to investigating the idea rather than actually doing anything about it, it’s one way to put the proposal on life-support. But as the thousands of trees sacrificed for paper to print the stacks of reports now collecting dust in state Capitol storerooms bear witness, there’s little chance the policy in the original legislation will ever be embraced and implemented.
For example, how many study groups, how many reports, how many white papers have said the state should revise its tax base? And yet the bills that would enact those best practices fail to get to the finish line, session after session after session.
There are a few exceptions to what seems to be an overall paucity of planning, in areas that don’t depend on the legislature for their future envisioning and design.
No Rogaine for Regrowing the Coast
The long and determined efforts of Louisiana’s congressional delegation started bringing federal funds into the state to pay for coastal wetlands restoration projects in 1990, and now the GO-MESA federal profit sharing, initially authorized starting in 2006, is bringing more than $90-million into the restoration projects annually, as well. In addition, there’s hundreds of millions of dollars more coming via the BP oil spill settlement. With these substantial monetary resources available – expected to be $958-million in 2021 alone – it’s no surprise that a regular effort is conducted to develop and update Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan. Revised and updated in 2012, and again in 2017, Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan will be officially upgraded again in 2023. Public hearings and discussions are already being conducted toward the drafting of that next iteration.
Focused heavily on a wide scope of projects designed to reverse the state’s coastal land loss, the plans thus far have basically paid mere lip service to the one thing that’s exacerbating all the other things contributing to our vanishing coastline. The 2012 plan, which was 190 pages in length, only mentioned “climate change” four times. The 2017 plan referenced “climate change” twice as much, but that’s still a mere eight times in 93 pages. The 2017 plan seems to view climate change more as just another factor to consider in trying to restore segments of the coast, rather than a catalytic fact now accelerating the death of coastal marshes and erosion of Louisiana’s land. The theme in this plan seems to be: “Substantial uncertainties remain, especially in regard to climate change.”
With no magic potion – no Rogaine – for restoring coastal land loss, let us hope extensive climate change analysis and modeling will inform the 2023 Coastal Master Plan, and actively require our oil, gas, and chemical industries in becoming part of the solution. As major contributors to global warming – not to mention their contributions to shoreline subsidence and carving storm surge sluiceways through Louisiana’s coastal marshes – they must vigorously involve themselves in repairing the damage rather than simply standing back and vigorously denying any culpability.
“It is estimated that 85% of jobs that will be available in 2030 have not yet been created or even imagined.” – Louisiana Master Plan for Higher Education
The state’s Higher Education Master Plan, adopted by the Board of Regents on August 28, 2019, has as its major goal “60% of working age adults achieving a post-secondary credential by 2030.”
It’s a laudable idea, especially since, as the Master Plan also states, “presently only 44.2% of the working age population, those aged 25-64, has a degree or certificate.” It’s also going to be quite a challenge, since it will mean more than doubling the number of residents annually earning a degree or certificate, based on the present rate of educational attainment in Louisiana. (And, of course, factoring in the retirement rate of all the Boomer generation.)
“To double the numbers by 2030 requires that we expand our thinking about talent and the tools by which talent is developed,” the plan says. “It will demand that Louisiana postsecondary education and its partners try new approaches, disrupt the status quo, implement new strategies for all potential student populations, enable all students to participate, and emphasize re-engagement of working-age adults.”
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education endorsed the Regents’ plan in December 2019, and added a goal of their own, that “every student leave high school with either a college credit or an industry-based credential by 2029.”
Do you see what they did there? “A college credit” – one – or an “industry-based” credential.
Not very aspirational, BESE. It seems we’re aiming to have a primarily blue-collar state workforce.
Oh, wait. My bad.
Remember, these are the folks who branded our state Department of Education website “LouisianaBELIEVES.com” – rather than “Louisiana KNOWS” or even “Louisiana LEARNS.” That’s right, we believe – despite all data and evidence to the contrary – that our children will get a good education.
This is the same Board that’s made JAG, the weirdly (mis)named “Jobs for America’s Graduates,” a cornerstone of state efforts for “dropout prevention and recovery serving youth 12-21 years of age.” The majority of the job placements are with Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonalds, and similar fast food service establishments.
We’re proudly grooming more minimum-wage workers to ask, “Do you want fries with that?”
This shouldn’t be overly surprising, considering that for the past eight years the majority of BESE seats were bought and paid for primarily by Lane Grigsby, and to a lesser extent, Eddie Rispone. The goal of every student leaving high school (notice: that is leave, not graduate) with “an industry-based credential” is in keeping with the Erector Set’s outsized influence on educational policy in the state.
For example, there’s the JAG-LA pathway is known as “JumpStart”, placing students in training programs offered by Associated Builders and Contractors. Lane Grigsby was one of the founders of the ABC Pelican Chapter, and Eddie Rispone has been involved with ABC on the local, state, and national level for over 30 years, serving as national chair of the organization in 2003.
Yet while the Erector Set has made sure state policy favors feeding into the construction and industrial worker pipeline through the next decade, these captains of the construction industry know full well that they’ll be needing far fewer bodies for building in the future.
In the Dec. 6, 2019 article cross-published in the Times-Picayune, The Advocate, and at ProPublica.org, reporter Sara Sneath pulled back the curtain on the entire “It’s all about jobs” mantra chanted at us for decades by business and industry. The article, which specifically looks at the state’s ITEP tax breaks for job creation, reveals that many components of the industrial plants receiving the multi-year abeyance of property taxes are constructed modularly, in other countries, and are shipped into Louisiana for assembly. That means fewer construction workers, like those from Grigsby’s Cajun Industries, are needed here, and for less total time.
Current president and CEO of the Pelican Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, David Helveston, tried to spin this as being “good for workers, too.”
“They typically build components indoors, where weather doesn’t delay construction,” Helveston said. “And they work on the ground rather than being 60 feet in the air welding two pipes, making it a lot safer.”
The article, which came out more than three weeks after the governor’s race had been decided, never named Eddie Rispone specifically, though it obliquely emphasized one of the Bayou Brief’s criticisms of the Republican candidate’s campaign rhetoric: his insistence that he is a “job-creator” when he is actually a job eliminator. Sneath’s article points out that increasing automation, which is essentially what Rispone’s ISC Constructors designs and installs, has resulted in a 5% loss of chemical manufacturing jobs statewide, even as the number of large chemical industrial plants in the state increased 17% over the past three decades.
Is this the best envisioning of our future we can do?
What might happen if we – collectively – dream big, instead? In the next installment, we’ll look at some auspicious, even decidedly extreme, scenarios.