At a Campaign for Vermont forum in Bradford last week organizer and moderator Bruce Lisman gave out cookies to those attending and made his pitch. The press release said the “ideas campaign” panel of experts concluded that greater prosperity in Bradford and the rest of Vermont will require better access to health care, food, workforce development, and education. That is all true, but so basic one wonders why they didn’t add that good is better than evil.
But in addition to baking cookies Lisman has tried his hand at sleuthing out “good ideas” on the workforce development issue. He looked south and found that Louisiana has a state development/jobs program that he almost demands Vermont emulate.
“I think it can happen in Vermont,” Lisman said. Warning of Vermont’s declining national reputation for workforce quality, he said, “It has to. It’s a question of people saying, ‘we’re not going to take it anymore.’”
It is unclear what evidence he bases Vermont’s “declining national reputation” on or the anger he predicts may fuel it.
The programs that Lisman says have transformed Louisiana, once renowned for incompetence in workforce development
from worst to first in the nation in part because of a private sector initiative in which corporate executives contributed funds to an independent, statewide workforce development program, and received training themselves on cutting-edge development techniques.
The problem may be Louisiana has been given a D+ rating for its program.
Louisiana Governor Jindal calls the programs his state’s most powerful tools for business development and Lisman would certainly agree. But the program gets a D+ rating from the non-partisan research center Good Jobs First. They studied five programs in Louisiana that cost taxpayers $1.1 billion annually and found that
the costliest tax credits, exemptions, and cash rebates don’t include the kind of strict performance standards needed to ensure that quality jobs are being created for the money that taxpayers spend. Louisiana Economic Development is the state agency responsible for overseeing and administering economic development subsidies.
• Three of five programs do not prohibit job-shifting. States receive zero economic benefit from subsidizing companies that create jobs by simply moving from one part of the state to another.
• Four of five programs lack wage requirements. Simply creating jobs will not lead to a stronger economy. Those jobs must pay enough to support a decent standard of living, and create economic ripple effects. Without wage requirements, the subsidies can result in jobs that pay workers so little that they must rely on social safety-net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, or the Earned Income Tax Credit.
• Four of five programs have no health-care requirement. Although most people get health insurance from their employer, that percentage is declining. Subsidized workers unable to afford their own health insurance may fall onto the rolls of Medicaid, thus negating any positive economic benefits.
The report goes on to give part of the Louisiana effort good grades for job creation and says that could be a model to base needed reforms on. However, fewer than half of the programs require job creation at subsidized companies and the programs’ standards are quite low. Subsidized jobs with benefits and wages so low that workers need Medicaid and food stamps should not be classified as economic development they say.
Hope the cookies Lisman gave away at forum were good because his “good idea” from Louisiana is only half-baked.