ALBANY -- Efforts to create a larger pool of skilled workers should top the priority list for 2019, a Livingston Parish lawmaker said.
Teacher pay raise and lower taxes would be a good start, said state Rep. Sherman Q. Mack, R-Albany. The two-term representative believes the state sales tax plays a major role in the exodus.
“When you raise taxes, it doesn’t affect the poor or the wealthy – it’s the middle class,” Mack said. “That’s the working class people in Livingston Parish and around the state, and that’s why Louisiana continues to lose population, and it’s why we’re in the top 10 in the United States in terms of declining population.”
Employees from other states – Texas, most notably – hold many of the well-paying jobs in the industrial and petrochemical industry. Many of those out-of-state employees commute to their home base on weekends, he said.
“There are skilled labor jobs here, but the fact is that if you’re from Texas you can make that wage here, take it back there and bring it back to your family.”
The taxation issue needs attention from lawmakers if the state wants to reverse that trend and the exodus of Louisiana-born graduates who migrate to other states.
“We need to be able to tell the middle class and skilled labor that they’ll be able to work in Louisiana, make the same money as in Texas and bring home more of that money,” Mack said.
The move to increase the number of skilled workers will also require teacher salaries that boost Louisiana from the bottom tier on pay.
Mack said he plans to work with Gov. Edwards on legislation that would hike pay for teachers, but he wants to implement it in a fiscally responsible manner.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Mack said. “We need to make sure we have the funds to carry it out.”
As part of the funding issue, the state needs to ensure industries – particularly oil and petrochemical – that they can do business in Louisiana without fear of being overburdened with taxation, he said.
“When all is said and done, petrochemical and oil is the nucleus of our economy,” he said. “We have to recognize that and cater to that industry, and if we don’t, we’ll be in trouble.
"I’ll gladly work with Gov. Edwards to make sure we can deliver pay raises, but I don’t want to give them raises while negatively affecting someone else,” Mack said.