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11.8.05

Agency's embarrassing admission holds key to saner state spending

Hopefully, the snafu that led to Louisiana’s Department of Labor discovering it was $10 million “short” in funding can teach policy-makers some valuable lessons. They are:

  • Stop with the budget gimmickry. Governments at all levels everywhere engage in a host of tricks either to find more money to spend in a given budget cycle or to manipulate the numbers to allow circumvention of a certain spending or revenue ceiling. (Remember the Louisiana Recovery District, used to get around the state’s limit on deficit spending for continuing operations in 1988?). Apparently, use of these tactics got DOL into trouble.
  • Review meaningfully the nature and purpose of each funded government program. The need to reduce spending has caused one DOL program to be terminated because DOL finds the function of that one substantially is being done elsewhere in government. Why wasn’t this duplication of services discovered before? Didn’t we just have a whole Legislature and the governor review a record-sized budget and this never was brought out? And how long has this been going on?
  • 10.8.05

    Walford's votes sinking his continued electoral career

    Appropriate to my musings earlier this week about 2006 Shreveport mayoral politics, now comes the City Council tie vote which defeated Councilman Thomas Carmody’s motion to take advantage of the new state law allowing municipalities to use a 300-foot direct measurement, rather then the existing measurement by official paths of conveyance, to determine distance of potential licensed alcohol sellers from schools and churches.

    It’s a vote that, along with several others, could well shape this election and those for City Council. On these votes, mainly dealing with lifestyle or social issues and the building of a publicly-owned convention center hotel, Carmody and his Republican colleague Mike Gibson have found themselves on the opposite side to Monty Walford, a (white) Democrat. The Republicans generally have voted for measures which would please social and economic conservatives, while Walford typically has done the opposite.

    At present, Walford almost is the only white Democrat elected in Caddo Parish for local office, besides Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower, and as such sentiments have arisen for him to try to repeat Hightower’s fusionist electoral victories – some whites and blacks siphoned from Republican or black candidates, enough to win. Certainly, historical data extrapolated to the present indicates that if a white Democrat makes it out of the mayoral primary he stands an excellent chance of winning the general election.

    But Walford’s problem is he may well not make it out of a primary if his opponents are of the caliber of these other city councilmen and the likes of state Rep. Cedric Glover. With his voting behavior of the past two-and-a-half years indicating positions likely to turn off conservatives and having a substantial black candidate out there, too few votes exist to get him into the top two finishers in the primary. His only hope is for a field to be flooded by as many three substantial Republicans – his council colleagues plus state Sen. Max Malone – and at least two substantial black Democrats – Glover plus television station manager Ed Bradley – that actually may fragment black and conservative votes enough to allow him to squeak through.

    However, it is likely that some consolidation of support will occur around a Republcian and black candidate, so Walford essentially would have no chance in that scenario and thus ought not to pursue the office. Which means perhaps he should run for re-election to the council – but neither is that a very good deal. His District, B, contained a bare majority of registered whites in 2002 when he eked out narrow wins to get into the general election and then the general election itself against a black Democrat. The latest figures show that has slid to 47.2 percent, 200 fewer whites than blacks, and by 2006 this figure trends to just 46 percent, a full 3.7 percent difference. Adjusting for turnout differential and crossover voting, Walford is projected to find himself on the short end of the stick against a black candidate.

    That’s assuming Walford can even make it to the general election. He barely edged out a Republican last time, but then there were slightly more white Democrats than Republicans registered in the district. As of now, white Republicans outnumber white Democrats by 250, and some conservative registered Democrats aren’t going to like Walford’s record to vote for him as opposed to a Republican.

    So Walford may feel he has nothing to lose in a run for mayor which could complicate matters for Republicans, but at this time, chances are that for whatever he runs he will lose regardless.

    9.8.05

    More reform, not spending, produces Louisiana education gains

    Gov. Kathleen Blanco led a cheering session at the Louisiana Head Start Association meeting, at which

    Blanco noted that she successfully pushed for a $20 million addition to the state's classes for 4-year-olds -- LA4 -- amid countless studies that show learning gains for students from poor families who take part. “That is why I am such a strong proponent of LA4 and Head Start,” she said. The state spends $55 million per year for public school classes for 4-year-olds. The classes are in 41 of Louisiana's 68 school districts. Head Start services, which were part of the "Great Society" programs launched in the mid-1960s, operate in every parish.

    The only problem is, of course, that the evidence contradicts the assertion that Head Start produces any return on investment for most children. As detailed in their No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom demonstrate that any beneficial effect that Head Start has on student learning almost always evaporates in two years. In other words, the state gets little for its $55 million investment.

    Instead, Blanco needs to concentrate on the educational accountability reforms begun under Gov. Mike Foster, which, to her credit, she had left unaltered. But, if anything, she needs to loosen requirements of state control which hamper reform efforts. The Center for Education Reform gives Louisiana a grade of “C” when it comes to the necessary reforms to improve education. This judgment reflects the test scores released last week that show far too many schools fail to meet criteria of acceptability in education.

    Or, to put it another way, if one equates improving education with raising teachers’ salaries (a dubious proposition at best unless accountability measures for teachers are instituted as well), with this amount of money classroom teachers would have enjoyed a $1,000 raise. Instead, we labor on with this fiction that more money, rather than more commitment, expectations, and hard work from both teachers and students, will produce better secondary education in Louisiana.

    8.8.05

    Dynamics of 2006 Shreveport mayor's race prove interesting

    With qualifying a bit over a year away, the Shreveport Times decided to run a couple of articles about the 2006 mayor’s race. Fair enough; let’s see where in general things stand even though, as always, very much will change in the ensuing year.

    Two things make for some special dynamics in this contest. First, it will be an open seat given the two-term limitation on present Mayor Keith Hightower. Second, the city is on the cusp of electorally becoming a majority-black city. Its population currently has a black plurality, but because black voter registration lags that of whites, a white plurality still exists – but now below 50 percent for the first time in recorded history.

    Even more fascinating, doing a statistical study of trends in registration shows that, at current rates, the number of registered blacks in Caddo will exceed that of whites at the end of June, 2006 – about three months before the election. To make matters still more interesting, we can predict the same turnout gap will persist as we saw in the 2002 city races, 2.4 percent more whites than blacks. This translates into predicted excess of whites rather than blacks voting at about 1,288.

    And to make matters downright compelling, a 1994 study I did of the mayor’s race runoff showed about 7 percent of blacks voted for the white Republican candidate while about 14 percent of whites voted for the black Democrat. Translated into 2006 projections, this means that in this kind of runoff the black Democrat starts with a 1,766 vote advantage, or 4.4 percent. (Analysis also shows that the least-mobilized group, “other race,” breaks slightly to a black Democrat as well.)

    So the first rule of the contest is this: any black Democrat who can get through the blanket primary up against a white Republican stands a pretty good chance of winning, given this spread. Thus, the second rule becomes, if you are a white Republican, your chances are best by having another white Republican in a runoff. (Chances are a white Democrat would capture more white voters who might have voted for a white Republican than they would lose in terms of black voters switching to the Republican or discouraged and not voting without a black candidate, so that won’t work for this hypothetical Republican, but I need to look at this more closely.)

    Is this latter scenario possible? It could happen only if black Democrats flooded the field and divvied up potential black votes in the primary. But, at this point, this looks unlikely, with just two names that could be considered big, state Rep. Cedric Glover and television station manager Ed Bradley, having indicated there is a good chance they will run. This means, among interested Republican candidates with any realistic chance of winning, only term-limited current officeholders would have great incentive to take a stab – state Sen. Max Malone and Shreveport City Councilman Thomas Carmody.

    But it also leaves a strong Republican candidate such as Councilman Mike Gibson in a quandary. The numbers demographically only will get worse for white Republicans, yet to give up what seems to be a safe council seat for a very uncertain foray to capture the mayor’s office entails quite a risk. And there are other dynamics as well (the effects of minor candidates and white Democrats) which can be explored in a future posting.

    7.8.05

    Nursing home pot calls industry critics black

    Like a stuck pig, every time a well-placed jab comes from well-informed critics of Louisiana’s nursing home industry, if it has anything to do with Shreveport media, you can count on local nursing home owner and industry official Denny “Kit” Gamble to squeal using facts and logic that only the uninformed are likely to buy.

    In response to a critical letter about the industry to the Shreveport Times, Gamble again goes into his routine of trying to justify the unjustifiable, starting by writing that Louisiana has the lowest Medicaid (of which Louisiana nursing homes get about 85 percent of their business, topping the nation) reimbursement rate. Of course, he fails to report this figure is influenced downwards by the fact that Louisiana, almost alone among states, pays for empty beds and whose other averages of financial support of nursing homes together are at the top of all the states.

    He then whines about how some nursing homes are going out of business even as their average profit is above 15 percent. Never mind this is a result of overexpansion because too many poor businessmen, thinking they could live off escalating revenues from taxpayers forever, now find health care economics going against them.

    But these complaints about finances aim towards the larger point, the defense of the poor record that Louisiana nursing homes have in quality of care. Gamble has the chutzpah to hint that, despite all the facts showing the privileged financial position that nursing homes enjoy in the state, that it is lack of funding that causes these problems! And then he accuses the letter writer to which he responds of a hidden agenda in publicizing nursing home records of violations.

    In fact, Gamble’s own company has had major problems in keeping up quality standards. While its Shreveport Guest House showed just one major violation in its last annual report conducted by the state, its Shreveport Spring Lake facility’s report showed seven violations with “potential for more than minimal harm,” and its Shreveport Manor Guest Care Center had 10 of these with two additional “immediate jeopardy” citations. In Ruston, things get worse with its Alpine facility where all five results are “potential for more than minimal harm” a year after a finding of “actual harm.” Worst of all is its Bastrop Cherry Ridge facility, with its latest annual report containing seven “potential for more than minimal harm” and three “actual harm” citations.

    If Gamble is going to suggest that reports of care problems among Louisiana nursing homes are exaggerated and driven by bad faith agendas, he needs to put his own house in order before he has any moral authority to criticize others’ reporting on his problems.