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17.2.07

Welcome hospital plan defeat reveals interesting dynamics

The state got a good, unexpected Carnival throw last week from the Louisiana House of Representatives when it failed to muster a majority to allow funding for any aspect of a new Louisiana State University hospital in New Orleans.

Constructing a replacement for the ravaged existing facility got caught in the crossfire of three issues. First, the mail balloting of this ensued when the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget overrode a Louisiana Recovery Authority decision to send forward only $74 million to plan and buy land for it, instead approving $300 million that could have started the building of it. Second, given the surplus of hospital beds in the metropolitan New Orleans area, there is great questioning whether such a facility on the scale it has been conceptualized is needed. Third, supporting the grandiose version was seen as validating the present indigent care system while refusing to redesign health care in any meaningful way in the state, holding onto the inferior money-given-to-the-institution rather than money-follows-the-person concept.

The 50-37 defeat provides an interesting window on the political scene because it was unexpected. First, it shows the GOP really is getting organized, as most of the votes against the plan came from near-unanimity on its members’ parts, rebelling against the committee comprised almost totally of Democrats (indeed, of the few Republicans on it of over 20 members, only state Rep. Steve Scalise can be considered taxpayer-friendly).

Second, it lays bare the politicized nature of higher education governance in the state, since those shocked at the failure of it to pass including Gov. Kathleen Blanco blamed the Louisiana State University system, represented by its Board of Supervisors, for not “lobbying enough” for the measure to pass. A very unfortunate fact of life in Louisiana is academic institutions, because of a political culture that overemphasizes special interests and underemphasizes merit, are unusually influenced by political decisions, in this case because the indigent care system in the state largely was put into the hands of the LSU system.

Third, it demonstrates the weakened nature of Blanco and the politics of post-hurricane recovery. She easily could have tried to cajole some people to vote in support – in fact, it was really no-shows that prevented passage who with a simple gubernatorial reminder well might have had the motion carry. However, the LRA largely is her tool, so she had disincentive to lobby for a decision that countered its. But also, during this election year with the stakes so high and her political capital running so low, she will want to save her efforts for matters that have a wider and/or more visible impact on a large portion of the Louisiana population.

However it happened, it constitutes an entirely welcome development and buys more time for sharper thinkers and public concern to build to engineer true health care redesign.

15.2.07

Melancon plays game with complaints that ring hollow

You don’t win a couple of terms in Congress without being a good politician, and Rep. Charlie Melancon is proving he is by his recent “attacks” on U.S. House leadership.

Democrat Melancon has expressed irritation at his party’s majority leadership, saying that it has not followed through on promises to do “more” for the state in wake on the 2005 hurricane disasters, It’s hard to know what more could be done with about $60 billion thrown at the state in the past 18 months by the federal government, but that’s Melancon’s argument as he says there needs to be additional loan forgiveness and brokering of disputes concerning distribution of federal money.

Even so, Democrat leaders say they will try to address such concerns. But, being realistic, nothing is going to happen here. Simply, Democrat representatives from the rest of the country are not going to give away money to Louisiana unless, liberals as they are, they see a political payoff. They survey the situation in the state, where a Democrat governor stands little chance of winning reelection and will drag the party’s statewide fortunes down with her, and see there is not much to be gained from trying to boost Democrat fortunes in the state. They might tinker at the margins, but because there is no national political payoff from transferring money from American taxpayers (money they can use for their own purposes) to Louisiana, they won’t do it.

Melancon realizes this, and thus must make it appear that he is “fighting” for state interests, hence the source of his complaints. It’s a game where symbolism trumps substance and one that he knows and the Washington Democrats know must be played to try to build an image that he does not, as is the actual case, have beliefs that run counter to the majority in his district, so they play it. He must in order to continue to fool Third District voters in what might be a very challenging 2008 election cycle.

While by this tactic Melancon tries to craft an image that his is a not a liberal Democrat, by no objective means isn’t he. In his first year, he managed to score a 61 on the American Conservative Union scale, slightly conservative, but on others’ scorecards, those of the Americans for Tax Reform, the Citizens Against Government Waste, and the National Taxpayers’ Union, he got a 17, 27, and 29. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action confirms, where the scale is reversed; they gave him an 80 in 2005. In that year alone, among other things, Melancon voted against cutting taxes and reducing the size of the budget, reform of the United Nations, tort reform, increasing U.S. energy independence, reducing the deficit, and more stringent border control.

But Melancon will play the game to boost his reelection chances, trying to unlink himself to the very liberal leadership of the House which he supported in its establishment only last month and whose measures in other areas he continues to support. It’s the only way he can try to obscure his liberal voting record, but it won’t fool an informed citizenry.

14.2.07

Jindal insurance bill needs additional strengthening

A luxury opinion columnists have but politicians don’t is, not to be flippant, they do not have to adopt ideas contradictory to their basic ideological principles to get elected. We can advance our ideas in the purity of intellectual contemplation, without worrying how well they go down with voters. By contrast, electoral appeal may cause politicians to promote things with more of an eye to getting elected rather than to the principle of the idea.

That may be the situation that Rep. Bobby Jindal finds himself with his proposed Multiple Peril Insurance Act which would expand coverage of the National Flood Insurance Program. The bill would add wind coverage to existing coverage, add payment of living expenses due to displacement, and raise coverage limits.

Unfortunately, the concept of the NFIP has been problematic from the start. Essentially, it encourages building in high-risk areas and discourages the private sector from entering this business. But until the hurricane disasters of 2005, it had not been a problem to the U.S. taxpayer because premiums going into the program had paid for claims.

13.2.07

Realities to create long Saints goodbye

It’s debatable the odds of which occurring are worse: Gov. Kathleen Blanco getting herself reelected or the New Orleans Saints sticking around after the team’s subsidy from the state runs out after 2010. Blanco apparently is willing to bite the bullet, despite meaning the state will fork over nearly $90 million to the team, even after she has criticized the deal, and not exercise the state’s option to get out of paying all but $20 million of that after the upcoming season.

Until Hurricane Katrina blew through area and out some levees, the big sticking point in negotiations was infrastructure. Owner Tom Benson has argued facilities disallowed realization of a greater revenue stream for the team, but the state was reluctant to meet his main demand, a new stadium which he argued would allow for more revenue-generating amenities like luxury boxes.

But after the disaster, the dynamic has changed from infrastructure to whether the market has enough capacity to make the team profitable enough not to relocate to greener pastures, or even to be profitable. The cold, hard facts are when the 2006 census estimates come out, the New Orleans-Metairie MSA’s population will fall to about a million, below that of Buffalo’s and Jacksonville’s to make it the second-smallest National Football League market, ahead only of Green Bay – and practically it will be the smallest, since the Packers already play some home games in Milwaukee.

With over a dozen MSAs with larger populations without a team, it’s hard to argue that New Orleans presents the best deal for the Saints – especially without subsidies that pay for Drew Brees’ contract. With all the most updated facilities around, there simply may be no way to keep the time in a market that, if anything, will shrink and is disproportionately poorer in terms of business entertainment dollars than even its size would indicate.

After the team’s magnificent run to the National Football Conference championship game this year, the pressure will intensify for the state to offer incentives for the team to stay. This must be resisted because in the post-disaster environment, both natural and man-made by the ravages of liberal populism, every dollar will count and the state must spend wisely. Enjoy Saints football the next few seasons because, barring radical economic changes (or NFL insistence on their staying put), it’s not likely Louisianans will enjoy their presence much longer.

12.2.07

Overpaying Bossier, Caddo Parishes need to watch expenses

It seems that Caddo Parish recently hired Susie Morgan to be the first lobbyist at the federal level for the parish, following the lead of Bossier Parish which did so three years ago. According to her employer the Bossier Police Jury, they seem pleased at her performance. Whether this translated into a wise use of taxpayer dollars is a wholly different story.

In 2004, Bossier Parish started off Morgan, then a lawyer with a Shreveport firm, at $40,000 a year. In 2006, it reports paying her $60,000 annually. Caddo Parish plans on giving her $4,000 a month up to $55,000 a year (including expenses).

(Although she is reported to live in Washington, her actual employer, as of July, 2005, is a New Orleans firm, Phelps Dunbar, and campaign contribution records give her residence as being in New Orleans. A past supporter of Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu’s, $3,500 of hers found its way into Landrieu’s campaign fund for New Orleans mayor; safe to say Morgan will not be representing the city of New Orleans any time soon after incumbent Ray Nagin was reelected.)

11.2.07

"Shortchange" complaint properly analyzed has little merit

A favorite sport of Louisiana politicians these days is complaining how the state has been allegedly “shortchanged” by the federal government in terms of disaster relief funds. A review of the facts makes this a tenuous argument at best, and any minor disparity can be explained by these and legitimate concerns about the state’s fitness to make wise spending decisions.

One point of contention has been in the majority of cases over the past couple of decades, the federal government has waived the 25 percent state match requirement on federal disaster monies going into a state. While Pres. George W. Bush waived 15 percent of that, the fact that 10 percent still is asked for has raised eyebrows particularly as it concerns the most expensive natural disaster ever.

But what observers forget is that because it is by far the state that ever has had the most federal money pumped into it for this cause (subtracting out federal insurance payouts, the figure is around $42 billion presently; contrast that with the second-most expensive, Hurricane Andrew and Florida in 1992, where subtracting out insurance proceeds the amount came to only $11 billion). At present (because only a small portion of this figure is subject to the state match) the state estimates the reduced requirement is costing the state $400 million.

Well, at present the state is sitting on a huge budget surplus – precisely because of all the federal money pouring into the state. In other words, so much money is coming in that the state is taking in more, probably much more, than $400 million in taxes and excises due to the economic activity of rebuilding the federal money has spurred (after all, Louisiana is balking about paying less than one percent of the total federal money it has received). Yet state politicians, receiving an incredible gift both in terms of rebuilding funds and in fattening state coffers, still moan.

Another grievance has developed around the fact that only 54 percent of community development block grant funds, a major portion of the total funds remitted for disaster response, has gone to Louisiana where by the number of structures damaged the state suffered three-quarters of the total. But there’s nothing that could be done about that because that is a legal requirement. (Sen. Mary Landrieu is authoring legislation to change that.)

Any other disparity in funding can be explained by an unfortunate fact of life, but one that Louisiana politicians refuse to mention precisely because it reflects poorly on them. Simply, of all the states affected by the 2005 hurricane disasters, by far Louisiana traditionally has shown itself to be the most irresponsible in fiscal matters. In the past decade, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas have elected conservative reformists who have done a far better job of making proper priorities and steering spending more towards their states’ peoples’ benefit and away from taking care of special interests first. Louisiana, by contrast, has remained stuck on stupid by electing majorities who prefer to grow big government and shower rewards on favored constituencies.

Certainly, liberal Democrats are not going to admit this about themselves, and even conservative Republican politicians for the most part shy away from pointing this out because of a desire for comity and in case they engage in some future big spending themselves which could get this turned against them (one of the few who does not hesitate is Rep. Tom Tancredo, now running for president). But anybody who has eyes, ears, and a brain can figure out the big government lovers who haunt Louisiana are going to do a poorer job of disaster relief (Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s Road Home, anyone?) than more responsible politicians in other states.

Which is why the federal response that Louisiana should spend the money it has first, such as the tremendous backlog sitting in the Road Home program, before asking for more is entirely appropriate. Like it or not, reality is the inferior liberal ideology pursued by Democrat Blanco and a Democrat-controlled legislature make them bad bets on which to loosen the reins in this situation. Until Louisiana demonstrates a more responsible attitude and competent ability towards use of the people’s money, common sense and prudence dictates close monitoring such as this is necessary.