Economic development spending questioned

Louisiana lost more than five times the revenue to corporate breaks than it spends on pensions for its state government workers, according to a study conducted by a Washington, D.C., group that studies economic development in the states.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said the study’s results show Louisiana legislators need to consider more carefully the impacts of any suggestions for revamping retirement benefits for state government employees.

“The state has made some poor decisions on how we spend the money we do have,” said Edwards, who heads the House Democratic Caucus and is running for governor in 2015.

“When there’s not enough money to do the things that everybody thinks we should do, we immediately blame our public sector employees and talk about their pension benefits,’ he said. “That’s clearly wrong.”

Edwards said the state retirees receive an average of $19,000 a year and cannot use Social Security.

Good Jobs First found that Louisiana spent $348.5 million annually on pension costs, but allowed $1.8 billion worth of corporate subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes. The group made similar comparisons in nine other states, in which governors and legislators have moved to change the retirement benefits for state government workers.

“My colleagues and I have been concerned about the crusade against public employee pension benefits that seems to be taking place in so many states. Governors and legislators often give the impression that retirement costs are out of control and that drastic measures are necessary,” said Philip Mattera, Research Director of Good Jobs First. “If anything is out of control fiscally in many states, it’s the extravagant subsidy and tax break demands that many companies are making as a condition of investing and creating jobs.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal dismissed Good Jobs First as liberal.

“It’s a false choice between funding pensions and fostering an environment where businesses want to grow. We did both,” Jindal said in a prepared statement.

Stephen Moret, the secretary for the state Department of Economic Development, said report’s analysis and conclusions “are flawed.”

“Good Jobs First arbitrarily selected only a subset of tax exemption programs in each state to evaluate, meaning there is no way to fairly compare the 10 states they included in their analysis,” Moret wrote in an email.