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Vulnerable Edwards seeking reform compromise

What may appear as negligence and ineptitude to some in fact shows a politically realistic strategy for Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his endangered reelection chances.

Well past the halfway point of his term, Edwards has little to show for his time in office. He said he would put the state on firm financial footing, but all he did was raise taxes and spend more while failing to stop chronic budget shortfalls. He made more people eligible for free government-run health care, but even a report that overestimates its benefits and underestimates its costs can’t hide the fact Edwards raised taxes to support an expensive new entitlement, the benefits of which won’t exceed the costs, for a number of people who could pay for their own insurance anyway.

His most significant, potentially positive achievement therefore comes from criminal justice reforms, comprised of a series of shortening sentences, increasing use of parole and probation, and instituting administrative changes that had the effect of reducing the jailed population size. As long as those changes don’t permit more criminal activity while reducing costs, he can claim policy victory and hang his hat on that for reelection purposes.


Flood underwriting changes increase affordability

A new study concerning flood insurance policy, with any changes disproportionately affecting Louisiana, creeps closer to more appropriate pricing but still falls short of the optimal option.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration, using Census data, compared income data and current pricing to investigate whether to revise rates on affordability criteria. The National Flood Insurance Program chronically has run in the red, prompting changes over the past several years but remains in flux as Congress can’t decide how to alter matters to put it in balance.

The report noted nationally that policyholders earned about half again what non-policyholders made. This suggests an affordability issue, confirmed in that in flood-prone areas twice as many low-income households don’t have insurance than do, with a smaller gap in other areas, while the ratio roughly is reversed for those of higher incomes.


Incomplete Medicaid expansion report misleads

Present one-sided information to the public and you’re likely to shape public opinion in that direction, a result recently captured by some academic researchers found echoing from the works of others.

Revealed publicly piece by piece, the latest installment of the 2018 Louisiana Survey conducted by Louisiana State University’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs focused on public attitudes about Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reforms. This came on the heels of a study released by the Department of Health that purported to show a positive fiscal impact from expansion.

The survey said 69 percent of Louisianans approved of expansion, and the report claimed state revenues over costs from expansion climbed $55 million while local governments received an extra influx of $75 million. It also asserted health care gains would accrue from expansion.


Unify command to improve jail performance

Plenty of reasons abound to end the experiment known as the Union Parish Detention Center Commission.

Prior to commencing its operations, the state passed a law removing it from the authority of the parish sheriff. Uniquely among Louisiana jails, it does not have a constitutionally-specified entity controlling it, but a committee comprised of the sheriff, the (3rd Judicial) District Attorney, police chief of the city hosting it Farmerville, a member of the Union Parish Police Jury elected by its members, and the president of the Police Jury. It contracts with the sheriff to operate the facility and legally is considered a component of parish government run by the Police Jury as that body funds it.

And it’s weathered a lot of bad public relations, right from the start. Initially, the Commission contracted to a private operator, whose efforts proved so slack that most work-release inmates found access to consume illegal drugs. This led to yanking that program that returned in 2015, as well as eventual takeover by the sheriff.


Political conflict necessary for LA to advance

At the very end of a recent piece by my Advocate colleague Mark Ballard comes an interesting quote, summing up exactly why Louisiana over several decades dug itself such a deep policy hole.

Said by former House of Representatives Speaker, Commissioner of Administration, and chairman of the 1973 constitutional convention Democrat Bubba Henry, in reference to the late former Republican state Rep. and state Sen. Tom Casey’s passing and his role in bringing about institutional reform: “But then, we were interested in the subject matter. They [today’s legislators] seem to be more interested in ideology.” Here, he made reference to battles in the past two years over general appropriations and capital outlay budgets, and tax policy related to that.

This echoed his remarks last year at a CC 73 reunion. When asked about having a new convention, he said, “If legislators can’t agree on the legislation to eradicate the debt [i.e. budget deficit] that we have, I don’t know what they could do in the constitutional convention that would be helpful to the state.”


Concrete rules best to mitigate order's effect

Even if Baton Rouge or every other local government now permitted to rule on property tax exemptions always gave maximal breaks, the damage has been done for at least the next 21 months.

Within a year of assuming office, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order regarding the Industrial Tax Exemption Program. The law it addressed allows the governor to cancel local property taxes entirely for up to 10 years.

Edwards changed that, saying he would allow only five years’ worth at 100 percent and three more at 80 percent. Further, he would allow local government input that could make those numbers even less advantageous.