Lt. Gov.: Despite economy, news is not all bad

Sharon Boudreaux Robinson
March 3, 2009
March 5
March 5, 2009
Sharon Boudreaux Robinson
March 3, 2009
March 5
March 5, 2009

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu repeated the oft-cited view that Louisiana’s economy is running countercyclical to the troubles in the rest of the country, but he said the state’s economy is showing a few cracks during tour stops in Thibodaux and Houma Monday.

Housing sales are down, Dow Chemical in Plaquemine, La., laid off 160 employees and the state’s 5 percent unemployment rate is showing indications it could rise.

The state ran a $2 billion budget surplus two years ago; now, Louisiana is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall.

Partly because of those trends, Landrieu disagrees with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s possible refusal to accept some of the economic stimulus package money being offered by the federal government.

The state will know how much it will receive from the stimulus package in one or two years, Landrieu said.

“If you’re alright with 99 percent (of the stimulus funds) and not with 1 percent, don’t reject the 1 percent. …If we give them the impression that we don’t need the money, it will go elsewhere,” Landrieu said.

Money that is rejected could go to other states like California and Arkansas.

“Louisiana has a tremendous number of needs,” he said, indicating the rebuilding of La. Hwy. 1 and extending Interstate 49.

Sixty percent of the state’s budget is dedicated, leaving health services and higher education to face the scalpel. Landrieu predicted the extent of the budget cuts will be shocking to some people.

Jindal is concerned particularly that federal stimulus money directed at the state’s unemployment insurance system will dry up in three years or so, forcing businesses in the state to support expanded benefits.

But Landrieu said the state’s $1.3 billion unemployment compensation trust fund is the third highest in the nation.

“You want the system to work when needed, but you don’t want to discourage work,” he said. “When you get above 10 percent unemployment, you start looking at your neighbors.”

Still, Landrieu said, “Louisiana is not suffering as dramatically in the short term.”

Possible bright spots for Louisiana’s economy in the future include developing alternative energy sources, like ethanol derived from sugarcane, and supplying fresh water to places in the U.S. lacking that resource.

Not to mention Louisiana’s healthy culture and tourism industry. As lieutenant governor, Landrieu heads the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Around 144,000 jobs in the state are related to culture, he said, with 129,000 of those tied to tourism.

“Our strength in Louisiana is culture,” Landrieu said.

“Arts and culture is a huge economic engine generator,” he said. “Culture separates Louisiana from the rest of the country.”

Landrieu advocates treating culture in Louisiana like a business, offering incentives to produce in the state as is done with the oil and gas industry.

“Like any business,” he said, “if they can make it more cheaply here, they will come back.”

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Fremin’s Restaurant’s corporate chef Randy Barrios chat moments prior to Monday’s announcement that Thibodaux Main Street Designation had been finalized. * Photo by KYLE CARRIER