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17.3.07

Stuck on stupid XXIII: Focus on reelection instead of reality

Carnival ended over a month ago, but the message didn’t get through to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, whose 2007-08 budget showers the state with all sorts of additional spending with an eye towards trying to secure reelection – and thus threatens to throw the state into future fiscal crisis.

Economic observers long ago reached a consensus that unexpectedly high state revenues now experienced by Louisiana came as a result of a burgeoning false economy, fueled by federal reconstruction dollars that would halt by the end of the decade. Prudent voices called for returning a surplus now streaking past $3 billion to the people, to allow for greater individual investment that would boost economic development so that when the extra money stopping coming into the state, an improved private sector capacity could keep revenues higher.

But prudence or wisdom never have been the hallmarks of Democrat Blanco and the Democrat Legislature’s fiscal policies since they see government spending as a tool to buy votes to keep themselves in power. Blanco’s budget contains relatively little tax savings and instead commits the vast bulk of the expected surplus that can be spent on recurring items on such expenses, making commitments that the state unlikely can keep in future years without creating fiscal turmoil.

Not only does Blanco ignore reality in this budget, she demonstrates once again she would rather empower government than people. Her plans call for hiring another thousand people into a state bureaucracy already bloated. She also commits more money to the inefficient, ineffective institution-based indigent care system focusing on state-owned charity hospitals rather than redesigning the system in favor of a money-follows-the-person regime that will save money in the long run.

Unfortunately, Blanco has the votes to push through this incumbent-protection budget in the Legislature, but with a catch – the state spending cap which thwarted another free-spending attempt of hers last December. Here, Republicans if they stick together can stop at least some of this, since they have more than a third of the House membership and a two-thirds vote is required to bust the cap. Yet, this issue also may be one where Blanco will muscle through a triumph of politics over principle.

Because the state’s economic growth has been so poor, the cap grows slowly. But, as it turns out, in order to create more room for spending, actually the administration uses a less reliable computation to inflate the total. Depending how this number comes out, that could allow Blanco much more leeway to spend all outdoors despite GOP recalcitrance to allow this.

Blanco’s budget provides yet another example of how she and the rest of the politics-as-usual crowd that have made Louisiana last among all the states on so many quality-of-life indicators remain stuck on stupid.

15.3.07

Why is Landrieu invested in America's defeat in Iraq?

The U.S. Senate defeated a measure that would have mandated withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of August, 2008. Aside from the questionable constitutionality of this measure, voting on the measure tells us what various members of the Senate believe.

Note that Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu voted in favor of this. By doing so, Landrieu signals to Louisiana voters that she believes in the following:

  • That the overwhelming economic power, superior training and abilities, and will of the American military backed by its people and politicians cannot defeat irregular forces haphazardly reinforced and supplied by America’s enemies
  • That democracy is not worth saving in Iraq, where the establishment of a stable democracy will present a model for the Arab world that they do not have to live under despots ranging from benevolent to virulent, the establishment of which will encourage the mutation of regimes varying from cautious cooperative to outright inimical to U.S. interests to those with common cause with America
  • That she is willing to tolerate, by increasing the chances that the current Iraqi government will not survive by a withdrawal of U.S. military forces its dismantling and radicalization into a regime hostile to the U.S. and Western values of democracy, moderation, tolerance, freedom and equality that will prove as great a threat, and probably greater, to America than under its previous authoritarian system

    Landrieu either does not understand or has no desire to comprehend that setting a timetable for withdrawal signals to the opposition that the U.S. lacks the will to carry out a vital act of increasing its own security and self-preservation. Anything short of withdrawal only when U.S. interests are secure – and only the ignorant or disingenuous do not admit America fully has the means to insure this if it wants to – concedes defeat and leaves the U.S. in a worse position than it was years ago.

    What Landrieu’s opponents in 2008 must ask her during her reelection campaign is whether she is just stupid, or why does she want America to lose the war and make Louisianans less secure? If the latter, why does she invest herself in defeat of America? What is it about America, and Louisiana, that she finds so appalling that she wants to see her own country harmed? These questions deserve a response from her.
  • 14.3.07

    Previously against, now Landrieu favors majority rule

    Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu’s career to date has been an exercise in trying to get enough voters to think of her something that she is not – concerned with empowering people, instead of giving the people short shrift in favor of assisting special interests through big government. Usefully, she occasionally reminds us of this as with remarks she made about hurricane disaster-related legislation recently passed in the Senate.

    Landrieu was disappointed because the bill does not waive in total the 10 percent match (reduced by Pres. George W. Bush from the legally-required 25 percent) the state must pay on receiving a small portion, less than seven percent, of the total funds sent to the state for disaster relief (the remainder has no matching requirement). This complaint does ignore the fact that federal monies have already boosted state tax receipts by several times that non-waived amount, helping the state to a surplus now believed to be $3.2 billion.

    Her remarks on the subject rather address that several senators (apparently Republicans) put “holds” on the parts of the bill that would have waived the matching requirement entirely. She decried “some senators blocking so much as an up-or-down vote on these measures” and said that “Such tactics are shameful, and are not what the American people elected us to come here to do.”

    This being her view on the matter, it appears Landrieu has called out herself. A couple of years ago, she was a senator who was not permitting “up-or-down” votes on some of Bush’s nominees to the federal courts, instead hiding behind procedural votes with most other Democrats. (Her refusal in one case was a direct repudiation of a campaign promise.) Eventually, she joined a movement to subvert the idea of up-or-down votes on several nominees, along with 13 other senators, that had the effect of scuttling Bush nominees without ever getting such a vote.

    This is the Landrieu way. Consistently she has fought for greater control of government over people’s lives to aid her allies and special interests – on this past issue, preventing acceptance of some well-qualified nominees despite their support by a majority of senators elected by a majority of the people because of opposition by these special interests. But concerning the present issue she suddenly becomes a supporter of the up-or-down principle – because it’s one she think will curry favor for a reelection bid, trying again to fool Louisianans.

    Thus, seemingly inconsistent behavior on Landrieu’s part really isn’t, when one understands that Landrieu runs a constant con game on the Louisiana public, because for her it’s not about governing by principles to empower people, but about the acquisition of power and privilege to rule over them – and there’s the main principle around which she has organized her political career.

    13.3.07

    Vitter's unsual bedfellow strategy carries low risk, high gain

    To get as far as Sen. David Vitter has in the political world, one has to have good political instincts and be willing to take risks. In his decision to endorse former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination, Vitter relies on both qualities.

    With decidedly non-conservative views on social issue such as abortion, single-sex marriage, and on gun control, Giuliani would not appear to mesh well with Vitter who would oppose Giuliani on all three, as would the majority of Vitter’s Louisiana constituents. Nevertheless, Giuliani and Vitter do see eye-to-eye on most other parts of the conservative agenda.

    It’s clear a deal has been made, with Vitter’s nod being a source of comfort to conservatives uneasy with Giuliani’s strays from the ideological fold, while Vitter would gain great prominence under any Giuliani Administration for helping him at a crucial time. His appointment as a major campaign operative of Giuliani’s points to this. And, when analyzed, it’s not exactly a big risk for Vitter.

    If the frontrunner Giuliani doesn’t end up grabbing the nomination, in contrast to the last several Republican presidential derbies, Vitter may lose a little luster back home, but not nearly enough to invite a conservative challenge nor really to empower any liberal opponent. Absent major mistakes, Vitter seems set for a long run as one of the state’s senators, affording him the chance to get out in front of a candidacy most conservatives, even those primarily interested in social issues, would have to support. The two most likely Democrat nominees, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are among the most liberal in the body, especially on social issues. Few social conservatives could stand by and be complicit through non-participation in allowing such antithetical candidates the chance to get in the White House by deferring even lukewarm support for Giuliani.

    By 2010, when Vitter must run for reelection, either a misstep will be forgotten largely, or his enhanced stature will make him more powerful – and potentially more helpful for Louisiana’s interests – than ever. While this isn’t exactly a case of politics making for strange bedfellows, it’s at least an instance of unusual ones. But, politically, it is a low-risk move for Vitter that may pay off substantially in terms of both electability and power.

    12.3.07

    GOP brakes on Blanco paying off with better policy-making

    During last December’s special session, House Republicans offered the author of the session, Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a choice. Blanco wanted to spend huge sums of money on a number of projects including transportation projects as projected state surpluses began to increase. But the GOP lawmakers argues there was a hastiness in it all and they wanted time to get a better handle on economic conditions in the state and to derive plans for spending these alleged funds. Thus, any additional spending at this time they said should be offset by reductions in other areas. Blanco refused this entreaty, Republicans refused to raise the state’s spending cap, and the session fell apart.

    The wisdom of the GOP approach recently received confirmation over the issue of roads improvements. The state faces a tremendous backlog of such funding of $14 billion which has gotten to the point that current revenues dedicated to roads in just a couple of years will no longer be sufficient to fully match federal monies available, exacerbating the problem even more. A number of solutions involving some kind of tax or fee increase have been floated, such as indexing to inflation gasoline tax levels and raising fees on vehicle registrations.

    However, relying on these as a means of receiving the full match and to work preventing the backlog from growing, or even reducing it, rests on the tired old assumption that spending priorities don’t get met because not enough revenue is being squeezed from Louisiana taxpayers and roads users. Instead, it fails to comprehend that the priorities themselves are incorrectly ordered.

    Unfortunately, Louisiana has a patchwork system of revenue dedications that often make no sense. While there are crazier examples both real and contemplated (such as tobacco taxes to fund teacher salary increases), one such extant is that sales taxes collected on vehicle purchases get dumped into the general fund. Instead, Independent state Rep. Joel Robideaux and Republican state Sen. Mike Michot argue, why not dedicate these to going into the Parish Transportation Fund, the instrument by which money is doled out to spend on state highways/local roads? This would boost by $300 million a year spending on roads.

    Further, in legislation they are developing, Michot and Robideaux wish to reallocate funding in a manner that better addresses priority needs. At present, the state controls centrally the system. The proposal would give parishes more leeway in determining how to use the annual cut they get from the fund, governments which probably have a better grasp on where the true needs are.

    Best of all, it would cost citizens no additional money. The authors calculate that growth in state sales taxes would be about $300 million this year, meaning just some restraint in spending increases on peripheral matters at the state level would in essence transfer money from low items to this high-priority one without confiscating more from the citizenry.

    It’s not something that has seen the legislative light of day previously, and was not ready in December as details still are being worked out presently. It certainly is much better thought out than Blanco’s plan to just dump on a one-time basis hundreds of millions of dollars without little regard given to how it actually might be spent. This idea is a good example of how superior policy gets made when care and prioritizing are primary concern, rather than reducing policy-making to a race to spend recklessly the people’s resources.