The past few months have been bittersweet for business interests in Louisiana, especially in politics.
Practically every corner of business and industry has been impacted by the economic downturn of late, which followed on the heels of a global pandemic. That turn of bad fortune also collided with notable public policy successes and shrewd political maneuvers.
Barely a year goes by in Baton Rouge where groups like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry don’t put a dent in the state’s political process. But 2020 feels a little different.
After putting considerable resources into last cycle’s legislative elections, LABI seized an enhanced position at the policymaking table this year on issues ranging from tort reform to taxes. There’s simply no doubting LABI’s influence now over the Louisiana Legislature. It even helped draft the agenda for the first special session of the year.
Thing is, this year, much like this term of state government, isn’t quite over. LABI and its allies have much more in store, according to the association’s president, Stephen Waguespack.
Rather than speculate on what those next moves might look like, I asked Waguespack to help us get a better look at that organizational road map, starting with politics.
1.) What are the key fall races LABI will be targeting?
“Given the number of judicial races on the ballot this fall, we’ll have ample opportunities to get involved at all levels of the judiciary,” Waguespack said. “Obviously, the big races are for the open Supreme Court seats in northeast Louisiana and New Orleans, but we’ll also be looking at courts of appeal and district courts. Plus, we’ll be looking at the Public Service Commission races as well.
2.) What are your thoughts on the possibility of a fall special session?
“Well, I think it is highly likely we will have one to tackle challenges with the budget, economy or both,” Waguespack said. “COVID-19 has been a public health emergency, challenge for government revenue estimates and an unprecedented economic crisis. The oil crash, while not as thoroughly discussed, has been just as much of an economic punch to the gut. If you go to any community anywhere in the state, you’ll look around and see that Louisiana workers and employers of all shapes and sizes are suffering. The Federal assistance many of them received through programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program is about to run out. Louisiana’s GDP is down 20 percent, unemployment claims are still high and a potential second wave of layoffs is possible if we don’t get the economy cranking again soon.”
3.) Some associations and government relations teams will steer clear of redistricting next year, when election lines are redrawn to match the latest U.S. census data. Does LABI care much about that process and will it be involved?
“You bet,” LABI’s chief responded. “We’re looking at some maps already and we’ll be keeping an eye out as the Legislature works through this process. We’re hoping our members get involved in redistricting and we want to serve as a resource and information hub for them.”
4.) What do you think will be on tap for the regular session of 2021?
“That’s really going to depend on what our economy looks like next year, but my guess is the focus will be on tax reform that eases compliance, encourages growth and reduces rates for everyone,” said Waguespack. “I also think infrastructure will be a hot issue next year as well that must be addressed. Those two issues, along with the need to continue improving our legal climate and increasing our ability to train educated, qualified workers, will be critical steps to meet the needs of our people. Louisiana’s economy is not built like New York or California. Rather, we are a service-based economy focused on industries like energy, hospitality, construction, agriculture, manufacturing and retail. These industries are the types hit hardest by the pandemic and oil crash. Considering the fact most economists expect a slow recovery well into 2021, the focus in the Capitol next year needs to be laser-focused on economic solutions that work, save our way of life and prioritize people over politics.”
As the Legislature and the rest of state government moves closer to these benchmarks—a second special session in 2020 and neat year’s regular session—Waguespack says he knows lawmakers will need a mix of new ideas and better handles on the “same obstacles to growth and investment we have debated for decades.”
To be certain, LABI’s team will be there to let lawmakers know what business and industry wants out of such an approach, even as it continues battling Gov. John Bel Edwards and Democrats along the way. The real question is whether a majority of lawmakers will continue to listen and hang on every word.