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What hurricanes? Blanco budget promises business as usual

Let me get this straight, six months ago the sky was falling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with Rita soon on her way to add insult to injury (relatively speaking). But instead, if you are to take Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s 2006-07 budget at its word, not only is the sky not falling, it’s raining money onto the fair state of Louisiana.

Sure, a good 350,000-plus still are displaced, probably most never to return, thousands of revenue-producing businesses with them, and damage estimates topping (when counting insurance claims and government assistance) over $100 billion, but Blanco decided on the back of better-than-expected revenues to propose the largest budget, by far, in the history of the state.

Optimists like myself, in the aftermath of the disasters, comforted ourselves by thinking a streamlining and prioritizing of government would serve as the silver lining to the dark cloud. As if a business undergoing tough economic times, state government would reorganize itself to become more efficient and to shed itself of functions which provided little real benefits compared to great costs. Money, I figured, would go to where it was really needed.

Silly me. Personally, I might like a raise, but let’s see how some other things first work out (which probably do not include raises for secondary school teachers because they continue to get overpaid for what they produce – although with Orleans Parish and its union-driven high-pay, low-performance system largely defeated, maybe in the rest of the state results have caught up to compensation). There is still a multitude of spending time bombs which should have first priority over any restored cuts or new spending, such as the $12 billion unfunded accrued liability of state retirement systems.

Note that the $20.3 billion price tag on this produces an annual increase of 8.56 percent, more than doubling the current rate of inflation. And this is after factoring out state job and spending cuts that resulted from the disasters. Plus, who knows how high it would have gone without this being an odd-numbered year session, when taxes can’t be raised ordinarily, blunting Blanco’s proclivity to hike them.

Details of the budget are forthcoming soon, but with the broad numbers coming out as they are it seems unlikely any real push towards efficiency and priorities will appear in it. So (even as the federal government watches and ponders whether to give more recovery money to a state with a spendthrift reputation), Louisiana looks to rip even the silver lining off the cloud and waste it like it has done so often in the past?

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