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25.4.05

Queen Bee gets a B-

Being a university professor I have the impulse to grade, and why not do so when it is a teacher-turned-politician you are grading. Gov. Kathleen Blanco delivered her State of the State Address Monday afternoon, with few surprises (perhaps the biggest being, when the images of state Rep. Francis Thompson and state Sen. Mike Smith flashed across the screen, I couldn’t see the strings attaching them to Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom’s hands).

Her overall tone seemed somewhat defensive. She took pains to point out economic development success stories (while neglecting to point out the numerous failures) and reeled off a litany of reports testifying that Louisiana was making progress in the areas of governance, economics, and education. She sounded at times almost like somebody trying to cognitively bolster her self-esteem representing the state.

On the positive side, everybody expected her support for strengthening ethics (singling out apparently HB 694 and HB 712), greater educational accountability (although she did not make negative remarks specifically about bills to weaken it, such as HB 575 and SB 283), promising $20 million to attract matching federal dollars to get I-49 construction going, and, most significantly, reiterating her pledge to improve the efficiency of Louisiana’s health care system especially in the areas of long term care and decentralization of primary care service provision.

But on the negative side, she remained fixated not only on the idea of teacher pay raises (to be more precise, anybody certified as a teacher which include many outside of the classroom), but by raising taxes to do so. Interestingly, the only bill she seemed to single out for criticism concerned this, Rep. Mike Powell’s HB 588 which seeks to draw any funds underpredicted by the Revenue Estimating Conference into teacher pay raises as long as their average salary remained below regional averages, saying any “excess" funds that came this way were going to be eaten up by tax credits to make movies! In other words, she’d rather continue corporate welfare to moviemakers that costs more than it brings in revenues and raise taxes than give teachers a raise without raising taxes.

(Of course, teachers in Louisiana right now are overpaid compared to their performances. And there are other workable ideas to give out these raises without raising taxes.)

Blanco also criticized those who would offer tax breaks (mainly a series of bills to allow more items deductible on federal income taxes to also be deductible of state income taxes, as they once had been), using a flawed family analogy. “Don’t take away our income,” or something like that, she begged lawmakers supporting these. Note her mentality here: she says the money you get taxed isn’t your money, it’s ours.

It got worse with her remarks about escalating health care costs. She drew the analogy that medical costs for the “family” were going up. While it’s true that the total number of dollars spent by the state on health care likely will go up this year, the reason why the state will have to spend more is really because of a shell game played with the federal government’s reimbursement of Medicaid that it finally caught on to and stopped, after years of warning. In short, it’s largely state government’s fault.

Nonetheless, there was more good than bad in the address. Not only does she pass, but she’ll get to keep her TOPS scholarship: B -.

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