State politicians, having long been corrupted and deluded, have put Louisiana’s future in peril by creating an economy unsustainably codependent on the petrochemical industry.

At the heart of the issue, however, is not self-serving politicians or oil companies. The issue is that Louisianans have accepted a foregone conclusion toward perpetual decline, choosing instead to play fiddle while Rome burns. It doesn’t matter that while state politicians tout the billions oil companies invest — the roads still erode.

Politicians don’t even have to feign accountability because they can cut checks from the oil and gas industry so long as they secure federal funding for flood control and prevention projects. Louisianans have more pride in the “black and gold” than they do in the welfare of their state.

But, I understand the defeatism. Even former governor and state senator Huey Long, who had spent his career railing against Standard Oil’s political influence, succumbed to the allure of oil money.

Decades have passed, and much remains the same in Louisiana politics, aside from Standard Oil rebranding into ExxonMobil and Chevron.
Following the BP oil spill in 2010, former senator, current lobbyist and professor at the Manship School of Mass Communication John Breaux explained to the Washington Post that much like the auto industry supported politicians in Michigan, so too did the oil and gas industry support politicians Louisiana.

How supportive? Well, in 2009 alone, Breaux’s lobbying firm received over $1 million between Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Plains Exploration and Production, an independent oil company.

While Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves hasn’t cashed in as a lobbyist just yet, he’s certainly been loyal to the oil and gas industry to the tune of $194,850 in campaign contributions last year — the most of any industry.

State politicians like Graves highlight the capital investment large petrochemical companies make, which fosters economic growth and job creation. However, these companies in turn receive ample tax exemptions siphoning off billions in state funding for public works, such as the severely underfunded public education system.
To put the corporate tax exemptions into perspective: Louisiana’s largest private sector employer, ExxonMobil, pays less than a third of its total taxable property on its Baton Rouge refinery. That’s a 67 percent property tax exemption, or $1.45 billion in lost tax revenue. State politicians argue that if those companies hadn’t received those tax exemptions then they would have left all together or not invested in the first place.

That would be a valid argument, except that at a comparable ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont, Texas, only 9 percent of the total taxable property is exempt. The glaring difference is ExxonMobil’s influence over state government in Louisiana.

The oil and gas industry has exploited Louisiana and left it to waste. This state has so little to show for having an abundance of the most profitable resource in human history. BP’s recent discovery of over a billion barrels of offshore oil furthers the delusion of prosperity where only the few prosper and the rest fight over the crumbs from the corporate table.

These tax exemptions partially explain how a state, which has enough natural resources to almost assuredly make it one of the wealthiest states in the country, can be dubbed the “worst state in the country” based upon an analysis of state health care, education, infrastructure, crime and other quality-of-life measures. At the time of the report, Louisiana ranked 47th in health care, 49th in education, 44th in economy, 50th in opportunity, 44th in infrastructure, 48th in crime and corrections, 48th in fiscal stability and 42th in quality of life.

While these rankings have improved since current Gov. John Bel Edwards took office — specifically in terms of healthcare and education — Louisiana still lags embarrassingly behind the rest of the country. 

With the second-worst public school system in the nation, where Louisiana students rank 51st in math test scores, 48th in reading test scores and 46th in dropout rates, it’s no wonder industries aside from the petrochemical won’t invest here. This only solidifies its monopoly in this state and pushes over half of LSU graduates to move elsewhere for work.  The self-perpetuating petrochemical monopoly will soon roil this state more so than it has already.
Patrick Gagen is a 21-year-old mass communication and finance senior from Suwanee, Georgia.

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