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28.4.05

Nursing homes start campaign to continue their special treatment

The counterattack has begun – nursing home interests looking to siphon money out of taxpayers against the public interest. Such was the gist of ads run in the press; the Louisiana Nursing Home Association ran a full-page advertisement in Tuesday's edition of The Advocate asking residents to tell Gov. Kathleen Blanco to put the brakes on the cuts to its member homes.

Never mind that Louisiana currently reimburses nursing homes at a rate far more generous than the typical state. Never mind that instituting standards promoting efficiency would save the state $97 million, according to the Legislative Auditor. Never mind that the current system prevents truly free choice for deciding the best care for those who need long term care and that it come perilously close, if it does not already to violating court orders regarding those in need of long term care.

The ad declares that “slashing $60 million from Louisiana's nursing homes will cut health-care jobs and jeopardize quality care for Louisiana's most frail, vulnerable citizens.” That’s a lie: Louisiana’s nursing homes are making a good profit, and the governor is asking to cut less than 10% from their current revenues, such as refusing to pay them for unoccupied beds as is the current practice, which would still leave these properties on average with a profitable situation.

The head of the interest group said the cut in reimbursement rates is equal to the loss of an average two nurses and eight nurses' aides per home. No -- state law dictates the number of employees per home which, according to the Legislative auditor, already is ridiculously low; they can’t cut jobs. In fact, refusing to pay these institutions for empty beds merely will eat into the profits of them which, yes, may drive some of them out of the nursing home business and into other uses, as the marketplace always dictates when poor business decisions create overcapacity.

The callousness of the industry, if not indicated by the poor quality of the care many of them give, certainly comes through when these operators continue to try to extract money out of the state taxpayers regardless of the best use of that money for taxpayers and for those who need long term care. The governor and legislature need to stand fast against these jackals and approve her budget regarding this issue.

27.4.05

Blanco aides plead not to have taken away from them what they took from us

The refrain came through loud and clear: “Please don’t make it worse” begged Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s chief of staff Andy Kopplin, to the state Senate’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Imagine the mentality it takes to consider giving a small portion of the people’s money back to them as “worse.”

This comment came in references to the myriad of tax cut measures introduced into the Senate, and House. Some look popular enough to pass, thus the Blanco effort to prevent giving the people a bit of their money back rather than doing what’s really necessary to cover necessary government activities more efficiently.

For example, restructure affairs concerning Medicaid as recommended by the Legislative Auditor and the approximately $125 million shortfall for the program almost disappears. Or, instead of trying to tie together two disparate things that have nothing to do with each other, the revenue stream of sin taxes and teacher raises, forget about the raises and attach those health matters to funding Medicaid – after all, likely a good chunk of Medicaid spending comes as a result of people smoking.

Instead, Kopplin tried to fake out the inattentive, apparently getting wind of some numbers coming out of the Census Bureau today, by trying to run the argument that Louisiana is “undertaxed” by being only “38th” among the states in state tax burden, so there’s no reason to cut taxes. This lame excuse fails on three accounts.

First, it is always disingenuous to argue an absolute point on relative terms. It doesn’t matter where Louisiana ranks, what matters is whether the burden is commensurate with the proper aims of government and its efficiency in pursuing them. Certainly Louisiana fails on the second account, which should invalidate any argument that a tax cut is unneeded (indeed, it might spur state government on to a proper level of efficiency). In other words, Kopplin’s argument is akin to somebody who commits manslaughter who argues he ought not make it right by saying, “At least I didn’t commit murder like other guys.”

Second, let’s go ahead and use the relativism paradigm anyways. In that case, Kopplin was slightly wrong because Louisiana actually ranks 34th. But it’s a minor point.

Third, however, is the major point that this cited statistic is only state taxation. If you include state and local taxation (remember, all local governments are fully controllable by their state governments), Louisiana actually ranks 16th in highest tax burden (and fees aren’t even included). It doesn’t matter which level of government taxes, it’s all the same thing – absconding with the people’s money hopefully for a worthy purpose. Just because one level of government does not tax that heavily does not give it the right to raise or to not lower taxes when another level of government it controls is allowed to tax heavily.

It’s as simple as this – concerning all taxes that ultimately, one way or the other, are controlled by the state, Louisiana’s 10.4 percent rate is above the national average. Louisianans definitely are not “undertaxed” even on a relative basis.

Blanco needs to recognize that the only taxes that should remotely be considered being raised would be her sin taxes if they are tied into the ills of the sins being taxed – health care and gambling addiction – and that other taxes should be cut. If raising sin taxes for teacher salary raises and no tax cuts are Plan A, then the sooner she understands it’s bad, the quicker we can get to implementing the better and badly needed Plan B in part described above.

26.4.05

EBR teachers play hooky in attempt to pick taxpayers' pockets

So many teachers from East Baton Rouge Parish attended a rally at the state capitol Monday that school had to be called off. At least it looks like the day missed will be made up, which I’m sure thrills the students.

Let’s hope it gets made up, because these schools need all of the help they can get – and part of it is the teachers’ fault. A look at district statistics tells us that (using the most recent 2003-04 data available).

Over a third of schools there are on academic warning or are unacceptable. Five-eights of them either are making no progress towards accountability goals or are in decline. Almost 30 percent of high schoolers either were suspended or expelled. Standardized test scores are bad. These statistics will become worse if the second-best performing high school, Central, gets removed as part of an effort to create a separate school district. And all happening in a parish with a much higher average income and much lower rate of unemployment than typical in the state.

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 -.

24.4.05

Will new Central touch off incorporation/secession fever?

It’s not an easy process, but if there’s a lot of will you can make a new local government in Louisiana. Just such has happened over the span of the last couple of months, culminating in Saturday’s election to create the new city of Central in East Baton Rouge Parish.

It may not yet be over because opponents, who already have tried to block the election, have 30 days to contest it. But give the five-to-three ratio for approval, any successful challenge seems unlikely. Even though opponents argued a good reason to vote against the incorporation was the new city government wouldn’t have enough resources to maintain the city in the manner in which its residents had come to expect, the real reason may be the parish government would take nearly a million dollar a year hit on its bottom line.

Proponents argued that the area, north of central city Baton Rouge and mainly residential and rural, had little in common with city itself. More specifically, some see it as a first step to creating a separate school district from East Baton Rouge, following the lead of the other two cities in the parish outside of Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary.