La. must address education, infrastructure and taxation issues to avoid ‘brain drain’

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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 had a wonderful Mardi Gras. On a beautiful day, Rex queen Elinor White happily waved to the crowd.

What wasn’t obvious was that this Louisiana native, whose family has been here for generations, was also saying goodbye to him.

Despite her deep local roots, the University of Texas graduate plans to move to Austin.

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

As we watch states do well and talk to economic development experts, the solution is obvious. For years, Louisiana has underinvested in education, failed to meet infrastructure needs, and tolerated an overly complex tax system that makes us look uncompetitive.

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

Louisiana’s infrastructure problems are visible every day, from flooded streets and traffic jams to broken bridges and potholes.

Finally, the state tax system is a mess. We seem expensive, but after all the deductions and exemptions are taken into account, we are about in the middle of the 50 states in terms of income received per capita. The problem is that we’re competing with three very fast-growing states—Texas, Florida, and Tennessee—that don’t have income taxes. Businesses looking to relocate understand “zero”. No income tax should be our goal. We made progress in the last session, but there is still a lot to do.

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 bid farewell from Mardi Gras floats.

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