BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Tired of Louisiana under-achieving, Gov. Mike Foster pushed an ambitious economic development plan in 1999 meant to vault Louisiana into the top ten on most quality of life indicator rankings by 2020.
“We have to have a team effort that is not satisfied with mediocrity anymore and has a goal of excellence for this great state," he told lawmakers as he opened the 1999 regular legislative session. “If other states in the union can do it, why can’t we?”
Two days later, Foster’s department of economic development released its list of goals in the Louisiana: Vision 2020 report. It took more than 60 meetings over two years to compile the statistics, recommended solutions, and desired outcomes contained in the document.
“I am ashamed of being at the bottom of the scale, and I hope you are too," Foster told the legislature.
But 2020 is here and the scale has yet to tip. Louisiana still ranks near-last in most significant quality of life measurements. Most of the goals set in 1999 remain unmet.
“We’re still saying the same things today, almost 20 years later,” Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in these areas, but we haven’t raised the bar or gotten ourselves to the area we need to be.”
The specific goals were ambitious: diversify the economy by investing in technology, eliminate functional illiteracy and most poverty, ensure 95% of Louisianans have a high school degree, rank in the top 20 for teacher pay, and replace crumbling roads and bridges.
“But then we had Katrina, and really after that the plan kind of fell apart,” Erwin said.
Lawmakers had to focus on rebuilding the state instead of making new investments.
But Erwin calls the following decade “lost.” Republicans and Democrats spend ten years mired in budget battles, often forced to choose which departments should be cut to close midyear deficits.
A new, similar economic development plan has not been adopted.
“Our state is lacking a big vision, a big plan that says, ‘Hey, this is where we are and this is where we want to be. These are the things we need to do to get there,'" Erwin said.