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20.1.07

LRA must challenge Legislature on hospital funding

Politics and principle collided when a Louisiana Legislature committee decided to change the funding decision of the Louisiana Recovery Authority in reference to building a new Louisiana State University hospital in New Orleans. Ostensibly, in tandem with an adjoining U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, it would replace “Big Charity.”

The political part comes in that the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget decided to release $300 million rather than the $74 million recommended by the LRA. The lower amount would only have provided enough for planning the facility while the full amount can start in its building. There is some concern that the Legislature may wish to commit these funds to a hospital based upon its use as an indigent care facility, as its damaged predecessor structure has been in the past, as opposed to primarily a medical education facility.

The importance in distinction lies in that, with much federal government encouragement on the positive side, the state is deciding whether to scrap its outdated charity model, which herds uninsured people into a few locations run by the state, instead of the more efficient money-follows-the-person indigent health care model followed by the rest of the nation which allows for non-public sector providers primarily to provide care, giving clients more choice and producing better outcomes.

The more money the more quickly the state gets, the more likely the state will build the larger facility to keep it wedded to the old, inferior model because the releasing of the other $226 million was dependent upon production of a plan by LSU (who would run it) on how it would operate in the post-disaster environment. Presumably, the LRA would release the funds if the plan gravitated in the direction of the new paradigm, as some members of it indicate they favor. Or not, but LSU has shown a distinct aversion to a smaller facility, no doubt as larger means more power and money.

However, even if it will not impact the quality of health care in Louisiana, the principle part may be the more interesting issue here. The statute creating the LRA gives the panel only the ability to “review and approve” (after the governor does the same, and before the rest of the Legislature if the expense is over $10 million) decisions made by the LRA – in other words, the legal interpretation indicates that the governor, committee, and Legislature has only a veto power, not a power to amend, LRA decisions.

While some members of the body argue that is not what they thought the law they passed to set it all up meant, that is the way it reads. Among its options, the LRA could sue, and this should be done regardless of how the polling for the measure among the entire Legislature goes (legally it must conduct a mail ballot when not in session). If the Legislature truly meant it could adjust LRA plans as it pleases, during the next session it needs to amend the law to state this explicitly and not just take matters extralegally into its own hands as it has in this case.

18.1.07

Past decisions catching up to Bossier City traffic problem

Questions about access to and over the Jimmie Davis Bridge remind Bossier City residents about the questionable past choices made by Bossier City’s current elected officials.

It seems that a push is being made for the state to pay for, at the very least, ramps onto the bridge on the Bossier Parish side to accompany the existing ones on the Caddo side, to cut down on traffic tie-ups caused by the lighted intersection of CenturyTel Center Boulevard and Jimmie Davis Highway. Of course, two more additional lanes courtesy of another span would be better.

But this is not going to happen any time soon, perhaps ever. With four four-lane spans already over the Red River (note that Baton Rouge only has two four-lane-plus spans over the Mississippi) and a fifth set coming with I-69’s building south of the Jimmie Davis Bridge in about a decade, and a price tag of $40 million almost a decade ago to add a second span, and the incredible backlog of highway projects funded by the state, it’s just not going to happen. However, the ramps, which would cost less than a million bucks, remain a possibility.

Yet Bossier City seems to be putting all its eggs into the legislative basket, publicly giving no regard to alternative means of getting this project started, and soon. This, unfortunately, reflects the odd myopia city officials consistently have shown that afflicts their vision regarding roads that stray too far south of I-20.

Typically, despite the abundance of money pouring into the city’s coffers as a result of its excises on gambling (the 2006 budget anticipated over $33 million), the city would rather go out and soak residents, one way or the other. Last year, it was jacking up fees which were unnecessary had the city been much wiser in the use of that money. This year, it was cooperating with Bossier Parish politicians to try to foist a road tax (payable to the parish, but the city aided the cause by allowing supportive electioneering signs to be placed on its property) on the public which would have paid for an extension of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway and relieved some bridge-area congestion.

Instead of looking to offload the costs onto the citizenry, the city just needs to cut a check and get the ramps built. It could do so off the interest alone on unencumbered funds from the gambling revenue. Let’s see, to get a million dollars in a year, you’d need to invest about $21 million … oops, Bossier City’s spendthrift politicians already gave that away to a private developer who would have built and paid for it regardless, no questions asked, so I guess it won’t come from that.

(Speaking of the parking garage gift to the Louisiana Boardwalk, the public has been treated with more lame defenses of the giveaway. One angle is to point out tax revenue figures – neglecting, of course, to include increased costs such as increased police presence or cannibalization of existing businesses which have been dealt with thoroughly in this space previously. Regardless, that misses the point – these revenues could have been achieved without the city giving $21 million away. More humorously, the donated structure as an investment has been compared with city parks as an “investment” by the city, seeming to forget it was given to private developers on private land and is not serving as public property for recreation. Or, as my wife said, shaking her head when she heard that argument, “What are we supposed to do, have a picnic in the parking garage?” And, I would be surprised if Bossier City has spent $21 million total ever in creating its entire public park system, another indication of its recent priorities.)

The city may have frittered away the garage money, but with plenty on its way, there’s no reason by the summer this ramp project should not start. With a huge state surplus projected, the city should give its local legislators a shot with the 2006-07 capital outlay budget to get the money, but, if they come up short (and if can’t get this funding, with the bonanza of money state officials insist is coming in for the next several years, they never will), then it needs to fund the project itself.

If it’s looking for money, sell the CenturyTel Center (at a loss, naturally; the private sector would not built it because it wasn’t economically feasible but if the city shaved about $20 million off the building costs as its price, that probably would make it cost-effective for a buyer and relieve the city of a chronic money-loser) and use the interest from that to fund this and many other capital projects.

The sooner the ramps get built the better for the public as well for Bossier City elected officials, because the festering issue only reminds the public of these politicians’ strange priorities and desires to squeeze money out of the citizenry first to pay for them.

17.1.07

Less government will produce better building code policy

As is typical in Louisiana, public policy problems remain unsolved not because government has not addressed them, but because too much government has gone into addressing them.

Such is the case with building codes enacted statewide in the wake of the 2005 hurricane disasters. The laws will increase the ability of new structures to withstand disasters, which should lead to lower insurance costs and less damage if such unfortunate events occur. But complaints have arisen over the increased cost to consumers in all parts of the state, including those where such disasters practically have no chance of affecting structures, and regarding the increased costs of enforcement by governments, particularly from some with jurisdictions over few people with low resources upon which to draw.

Both are legitimate complaints, although in the case of the increased building costs passed onto the buyer some of that would be offset by lower insurance costs. But note that both are caused by increased government regulation that tackles the problem in an inefficient fashion. A far more efficient solution costing less in resources for all concerned would be to let the marketplace organize behavior, rather than doing it by government mandate.

In those parts of the state deemed less in need of protection under the new law, it could be amended to make compliance voluntary, so builders could choose whether to offer structures at the higher standard. If they did, they would have to pay for an inspection by someone licensed by the state to do so, and if the structure passed this would become part of the legal record of the property, allowing insurers to have confidence in offering lower rates on that structure. Then a stable of inspectors could be hired at the state level, to spot check on the private inspectors, and any deficiencies noted could lead to revoking of licenses.

Note how this would take small, resource-poor local governments out of having to hire their own inspectors, and would require fewer private inspections than full implementation of the law now would dictate since some portion of new structures would be built below the new standards (which might satisfy some buyers but also they would face higher insurance rates). Throw in a small state regulatory body and costs should be much lower to government with less government and more freedom afforded to builders and buyers of structures.

If any reform is to be done concerning these codes in the next legislative session, this is the direction it should take.

16.1.07

Picture for Democrat gubernatorial retention still dim

Speculation continues to swirl around the governor’s contest later this year. Let me provide an update on my previous prognosis which provides no more additional hope for Democrats despite hypotheses advancing new hopefuls.

The central fact is that, as long as Gov. Kathleen Blanco stays in the race, a Democrat cannot win short of a miracle. The problem is compounded by the near-certain entrance of Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell into the contest. In an electoral environment already challenging by the numbers for a Democrat, both of these in the race will take few voters from any projected GOP candidate but would grab a significant portion from any other Democrat that is electable.

This becomes most dangerous if there are two strong Republicans in the race, such as U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal who is as certain to run as is Campbell and Blanco, and state Sen. Walter Boasso who has given it some thought. In this scenario, the most likely outcome with an additional Democrat in would be a general election runoff between the two Republicans. No politically-smart Democrat would run in this environment because those dynamics make the odds long even for a quality Democrat – what few the party has to offer statewide at this time.

Even without Blanco, a lot of things would have to happen right for a Democrat to win given that Jindal and/or Boasso will be in the field. Perhaps the strongest Democrat of names circulated, U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, has expressed as much disinterest in the job as Blanco has expressed interest. Treasurer John Kennedy is more likely to switch parties to face Sen. Mary Landrieu in her 2008 reelection bid. Former Democrat state chairman Jim Bernhard may have a lot of money, but his past association with Blanco and the impression he used his connections in state government to land lucrative contracts for his business interests in the wake of Hurricane Katrina make him not a viable candidate. Campbell, of course, appeals to a populist slice in the state that, thankfully, now is too small on its own to elect a candidate statewide if up against quality opponents like Jindal or Boasso.

This leaves at best somebody of the stature of former U.S. House member Chris John to enter if Blanco defers – a solid candidate but one who was trounced statewide in the 2004 Senate contest and who has been out of the spotlight for three years. Simply, both Jindal and Boasso in the past couple of years have built impressive records that have removed their political rookie status and shored up confidence in voters. Combined with the fact that some of the racist Democrats who disproportionately voted against Jindal in 2003 apparently have left the state, either can beat heads up any Democrat out there.

With the colossi of Jindal and Boasso on the GOP side, there is no apparent savior at this time for Democrats to keep this office.

15.1.07

Landrieu lies cannot cover up liberal voting record

Yes, the Sen. Mary Landrieu spin machine continues to work overtime to fool Louisiana into thinking she represents a majority of its citizens a majority of the time, and it’s even got some people who should know better thinking that.

The biggest lie perpetrated by she and her operatives is that she is a “moderate” or “conservative Democrat.” They know foisting this image onto the public is the only way they can con some gullible, inattentive voters into supporting her. But a quick check of voting records, whether from conservative or liberal organizations that keep track of these things, shows that she cannot be seriously considered anything other than liberal in her political orientation:
  • On the conservative American Conservative Union’s scorecard where 100 means perfect conservatism in votes, lifetime Landrieu scores a 20. In 2005, she scored a 44.
  • On the liberal Americans for Democratic Action’s scorecard where 100 means perfect liberalism in votes, lifetime Landrieu scores an 81. In 2005, she scored a 95.

    In no way can this be considered a “moderate” record of any kind, even as Landrieu perjures herself with the claim, “My opponents and eternal critics continue to use 'liberal' as my middle name, but my record doesn't reflect that.” Loyola’s Ed Renwick summed it up most accurately by noting Landrieu cherrypicks certain issues and votes to try to make her appear moderate, but, unlike Landrieu herself on this subject, her overall record does not lie.

    We can expect more mendacity from Landrieu as a challenging 2008 election approaches on her record, plus a few strategic votes here and there to try to provide bare substance to her “moderate” claim. But just as painting stripes on a horse does not make it a zebra, a sufficiently informed Louisiana voting public will see through this charade. The more clarity that can be provided in this matter, the more seriously jeopardized her reelection chances will be.
  • 14.1.07

    Remarks affirm good riddance to Breaux, Johnston

    Do we need any more reason to breathe a sigh of relief that former Sen. John Breaux is happily enjoying retirement than remarks he made in conjunction with Congressional ethics reform? And to do the same concerning the previous Louisiana Sen. J. Bennett Johnston?

    While most on the scene applaud these rules that ban meals, gifts and travel paid by lobbyists for members of Congress, Breaux complains. “When you restrict a member from interacting with the people he represents then you have a Congress that is isolated,” Breaux said. “If you’re only talking to yourself, you’re not going to get any ideas.”

    There is so much ignorance wrapped up in this remark that we’ll have to look at it piece by piece. First of all, how does the banning of the perks have anything to do with restricting interaction? Is Breaux saying that you have to buy him meals, take him on trips, or give him stuff in order or else he feels that restricts interaction with him? Or, because he as a senator was the one to decide who did and did not get access to him, in other words Breaux wouldn’t give you the time of day unless you gave him perks?

    And how does lobbyists not being able to give stuff to Members of Congress make Members any more isolated? Something Breaux could have done, and anybody can do now as a Member is to circulate among the people of his district or state, and just listen to concerned citizens and there’s no isolation. If there’s any isolation, it’s self-imposed by Members too willing to hang out with lobbyists and not willing enough to move among their constituents and to find out their real needs and concerns (and from his voting record, one can see how little attention Breaux paid to what was best for Louisiana.)

    Of course, who Breaux said he “represents” in those days likely was not the entirety of Louisiana. In his mind, he probably believes that the people he represented themselves were represented by lobbyists he favored (now his own profession). Again, a liberal voting record against the desires of a more conservative Louisiana (who also expressed in these instances, contrary to Breaux, in terms of the right thing to do, what was correct), as well as his current career choices, shows he places more faith in special interests than he did in the people of Louisiana.

    Finally, I guess Breaux never had much of an original thought in his head, nor any desire to learn things on his own, leading to his love of incessant chatter, food, and trips from lobbyists. He only had a staff of a few dozen, the entire Library of Congress, opportunities for hearings, communications from those pesky constituents, etc. to learn from. A denseness and stubbornness are the only things that could explain that, despite all of these opportunities to get ideas, he feels without lobbyists that as a policy-maker “you’re not going to get any ideas.”

    Another rocket scientist legislator-turned-lobbyist, Johnston, said one gets “weaker government” by not allowing the likes of his former colleagues to partake of hundreds of thousands of dollars of perks now banned. That’s because making lobbyists pay these things to get access to Members apparently robs newly-elected members of a “useful and pleasant way for new members to learn.” Heaven forbid that Members actually use the resources listed above to learn. But even if they don’t, why don’t they learn from lobbyists without having to have the latter pony up food, travel, and gifts? Is it so painful not to be an empty suit that you have to have these perks as palliatives so you can learn about policy?

    These insipid remarks shows how lucky Louisiana is to be rid of these good-old-boy, get-along-go-along dinosaurs, out of the way of progressive policy-making in this state desperately needs that they never provided. (That Breaux’s replacement Sen. David Vitter pushed wholeheartedly these reforms not only is stunningly refreshing but alone probably constitutes more good policymaking from Louisiana senators than these two brain surgeons ever managed in 42 years service.) And it reinforces the fact that in this year’s upcoming state elections that the citizenry must avoid electing lower-level clones of these clowns if that progressive policymaking is to come.