MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
A number of Republican governors object to parts of the $787 billion stimulus package. One of those is Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. He'll give the Republican speech responding to President Obama tonight.
Jindal says his state will reject $100 million from the stimulus package for unemployment assistance. He says it would force a permanent change in the state's unemployment laws. But $100 million is a lot of money, especially in a recession and in a state still rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Joining me now is Jim Richardson. He's a professor of economics, and he's also the director of the Public Administration Institute at Louisiana State University. He joins us from Baton Rouge.
Welcome to the program, Mr. Richardson.
JIM RICHARDSON: Thank you very much.
NORRIS: So, is Louisiana's economy strong enough to turn down all that cash, $100 million?
RICHARDSON: Well, remember, we are a state that, in 2008, we did not lose any jobs. In fact, we had a net increase in jobs. So from the point of view of high unemployment numbers, we don't have them. In terms of what might happen a year from now, that's a different issue, where you have to look ahead. But as of this moment, we don't have the same unemployment problems that you have in other states, such as the Midwest and perhaps the two coastlines.
NORRIS: What's the unemployment rate in Louisiana right now?
RICHARDSON: The unemployment would be probably close to - in the 5 percent range.
NORRIS: And if the governor is rejecting this money in part because he doesn't feel that he needs the money for unemployment assistance, what about the overall health of the economy - because that determines how many people in the state will eventually have to tap into those funds. Is the state of the economy strong right now despite the economy?
RICHARDSON: Well, right now, I think Louisiana, if you look around, you don't see the signs of a recession. We don't have a large durable goods industry, such as, say, well, Ohio or Michigan or Indiana. So from that perspective, we don't have that collapse of a market. But we do produce things that go into the durable goods, such as plastics. And eventually, if you aren't making any cars, you don't need any plastics.
The same thing is, we have a lot of chemicals that we ship overseas. Well, if the markets in China or other countries become relatively meager, then that will show up back home here in Louisiana.
So we're not immune from this recession by any stretch of the imagination. It has not been as powerful for us right to this point, as it has been in some other states.
NORRIS: Now, Jindal says that he's planning on rejecting money in the stimulus package that would be used for unemployment assistance. But what about money in the stimulus package that would go for infrastructure projects, rebuilding roads or even levies?
RICHARDSON: Oh, I think that money will be definitely accepted.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RICHARDSON: I don't think there's any issue. And to the best of my knowledge, he's never said he would not accept that money. They're already talking. In fact, his Department of Transportation was before the legislature on Friday talking about how to spend certain parts of it.
NORRIS: Is there a bit of irony here that the state is perhaps better positioned economically because of all the money it received from the federal government following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, that it might be better able to ride out this economic storm because of the money it received after those storms years ago?
RICHARDSON: There's no doubt that we've had an influx of money that has contributed to a rebuilding program here. That is now plateauing or leveling off, for sure, and there's no doubt that major catastrophes also cause - or lead to major recoveries.
We are also, remember, an energy state. And we have profited from the higher oil prices. So now, the price, of course, has come down. So we've had those two things happening that I think it's helped us a great deal, besides the fact that just the nature of our economy is, we don't have certain industries that are extremely vulnerable to the recession, such as the car industry.
NORRIS: Professor Richardson, thank you very much for your time.
RICHARDSON: Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Jim Richardson is a professor of economics, and he's also the director of the Public Administration Institute at Louisiana State University
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