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31.5.07

LA demographic shifts demand changing current budget

The Census Bureau estimates that the population of Louisiana relatively is aging, as over the past few years the state actually increased in number older people coming into the state while the number of younger continue to decline. The policy consequences of this need addressing now, but it is questionable whether Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Louisiana Legislature will do so properly.

The appropriations bill for operating expenses, HB 1, is shaping up to take flights of fancy from this reality. Blanco, for example, wants to add roughly 1,000 new bureaucratic jobs in state government, even though the state has lost population and these demographics suggest more losses on the way. Simultaneously, she wants to enact little in the way of meaningful tax reduction, precisely the solution to entice younger, productive workers to come to the state or remain living in it.

Without that happening, a disproportionate share of Louisiana’s population will comprise of older citizens, and the biggest impact as a result of that trend historically has been greater demand on health care services, the state’s largest expenditure after education. This strengthens the argument for moving away from health care policy based upon institutional solutions to that stressing more individual choice involving home- and community-based solutions, because these are cheaper and better tailored to individual needs as opposed to the one-size-fits-all institutional approach.

Yet Louisiana has shown a striking reluctance to make this commonsensical shift. This legislative session, progress already has been made on SB 1, a bill that actually continues the state’s emphasis on money going to institutions rather than following people in regards to indigent health care. At the same time, no movement has occurred on bills like SB 98 which would create many more opportunities to shift spending to home- and community-based care.

It’s that time during the session where these kinds of matters start getting resolved. Today HB 1 is being debated in the House, and a Senate Committee is scheduled to take up SB 98. Altering the former to remove spending counterintuitive to census forecasts to enable more tax relief, while approving the latter will show that Blanco and the Legislature take seriously this demographic warning. If they don’t, massive fiscal pain lies ahead for Louisiana because as each year passes, population shifts will make costs continue to escalate while revenues will grow more slowly, if at all.

30.5.07

Hijinks call for abolishing Commission, Citizens revamp

It’s interesting and perhaps more than coincidental that as the Louisiana Legislature considers abolishing the Louisiana Insurance Rating Commission where some of its members complain about insurance rate increases and as the state-owned property insurer Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is discovered to have accounting irregularities, that the two are connected.

Three vocal critics of ridding the state of the Commission, the only one in the nation and on which its political appointees have the power to approve of rate increases of more than 10 percent, also who have been reluctant to grant large post-disaster rate increases to private companies, Steven “Rock” Ruiz, Jabari Ragas, and Joe Godchaux apparently benefited from hunting and fishing trips whose legality have been questioned by state auditors. In addition, Ruiz serves as a board member for the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana which also received almost $200,000 dollars of questionable funds from Citizens. Also getting perks was the chairman of LIRC, Chad Brown.

Even so, in December, 2006, LIRC rejected whopping increase requests for Citizens. The stated reason was the recently-revealed accounting mess at Citizens which prevented knowledge of financial records for the previous two years. But a month later, their tune had changed. The three commissioners then let the increases through, excusing their vote by saying that state law apparently does not allow LIRC to regulate Citizens’ rate increases. (Not included in the largesse were another commissioner who has provided vocal support, Barry Busada, and its only commissioner calling for LIRC’s elimination, Prof. Christine Berry.)

In other words, commissioners who received benefits from lobbyists working on behalf of Citizens at first denied a rate increase, then claimed they couldn’t stop it. If there was anything more convincing that could happen to validate charges that LIRC was too political of a body, it’s hard to think of one.

At least legislation to accomplish that, SB 185 and HB 860, seem well on course. But, despite the financial records problem and dubious spending, HB 962 which would allow Citizens to compete more effectively with potential competition continues to advance, surviving a narrow committee win along party lines – Republican state Rep. Tom McVea crucially defecting to allow the one-vote win – despite Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon’s opposition.

The bill languishes on the House calendar as support for passage remains uncertain even with a Democrat majority. As long as the financial and ethical mess at Citizens continues unresolved, legislators would be foolish to grant it greater competitive ability that could allow it potentially to cheat, intentionally or otherwise, more taxpayers and policy-holders.

29.5.07

Name game tells more about Democrats than Jindal

When Louisiana Democrats in their communiqués call Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Bobby Jindal by his given name Piyush even when he prefers his nickname, it tells us a whole lot more about them than it does Jindal.

Democrats say this do this because they wish to highlight the “façade” Jindal represents to the world. What that is, nobody knows, because there’s no substance to the claim. Who Jindal is his voting record in Congress makes clear, one very enabling for the people of Louisiana.

And, at a logical level, the tactic fails utterly. Let’s see, Jindal adopted hsi nickname when he was 4, so I guess at that tender age he already was striving to hone his public image as he eyed a future brilliant career in politics. If you believe that, you’ll also believe Democrats actually have a sensible, helpful agenda for Louisiana, too.

The whole naming reveals precisely that Louisiana Democrats have no realistic agenda for the state’s governance. Deep down, they know the vast majority in the state will reject their ideology, built on the accumulation of power and prestige for the chosen few (themselves), using the people to get there rather than helping enabling them to lead better lives (the ultimate goal of proper government). So, liberal Democrats resort to tactics such as naming people that distract from that terrible reality.

It also provides deeper insight into the liberalism that drives Democrat leaders. Liberal politicians’ dark secret they try to keep out of sight is that they use ethnic minorities for political purposes, rather than do anything to help them, as the incredible laundry list of failed liberal programs demonstrates. This is why they insist on seeing Jindal as a kind of “opportunist” because that is how they themselves see the place of minorities in America: race as an object to be used, as a defining characteristic that overwhelms the individuality of any person. To them it must be highlighted, either as a vote-getter or vote-detractor.

The “opportunity” which they fear is that Jindal’s election this fall will expose their secret, to show the lie that is their mantra that ethnic minorities in America cannot succeed without their Democrat and/or liberal overseers being the engine of this achievement, that non-whites cannot succeed by themselves contrary to what Jindal and conservatives argue. It is why the naming issue is the least of the negative onslaught of imagined crimes that the party will throw at Jindal in the coming months.

28.5.07

The meaning of Memorial Day

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

With Monday, May 28 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

27.5.07

Blanco Road Home trick may blow up to Jindal's favor

As revelations of the events in establishing Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s Road Home Program continue to surface, the strategy employed by Blanco regarding it has become clear: make huge promises her administration knew could not be fulfilled, then blame somebody else for the problems.

For months, Blanco has blamed the program’s contractor, ICF International, for implementation problems; while how much is that company’s fault or Blanco’s is in dispute, the fact is Blanco’s people were the ones who hired the firm and thus she and they bear the ultimate responsibility for shortcomings. However, this week a new tactic was launched, using the old excuse of complaining problems are those of the federal government as well as new ones which, when examined thoroughly, tell us much about the policy-making problems inherent to the liberalism of the Blanco Administration.

This concerns the underfunded nature of the program. That the program potentially could fall as many as $3 billion short was known months ago by Blanco, but only until Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal publicized the matter did the Blanco Administration grudgingly acknowledge the situation. It now claims that the $7.6 billion it asked for will be insufficient because of a combination of homeowner stupidity, insurance company greed, higher construction costs, and a federal government vendetta against Louisiana.

First, the state blames homeowners because they didn’t have enough insurance, or even any. Second, it blames insurance companies because it says they tried to avoid payouts as much as possible. Such views confirm that populist liberals such Blanco either misunderstand human nature or were going to use the liberal/populist ethos in the state to their own political advantage by laying blame on other forces and getting potential voters to buy it.

Liberals cannot seem to get it through their heads that when people are led to expect government is to run their lives rather than individuals taking responsibilities for their own lives, that demand for whatever it is that government subsidizes will increase beyond what planners predict. Blanco and her crew act shocked that, as soon as people heard from her that government was going to backstop some, even all, of their losses, that people would become less vigilant in pursuing their claims with insurance companies (who cannot be blamed for not trying to push money on people or to give it out without absolute proof of loss), and that more people than expected would try to squeeze as much as they could out of government.

Third (which also partially addresses the second as some argue private insurers also were negligent on this issue), the Blanco Administration hints that the federal government intended to fund claims for wind as well as water claims. But documents from both the federal and state governments showed the federal government fairly unambiguously said it did not intend the original money to be used to pay for uninsured wind damage, that the state had itself intended not to cover it when the details of the program were being formulated, and only unilaterally later decided the Road Home would cover such damage.

This and statements you hear coming from the state about how it’s not going to “abandon” some storm victims reveals the mindset of Blanco and her appointees on the issue. Recognize the train of events: the state and federal government negotiated the $7.6 billion with the understanding that wind damage was not included, then the state turned around and decided it would pay out for that far enough along in the process where the federal government could not stop it legally, and now has come crying, even using verbal blackmail, to try to get the federal to cough up additional billions.

While it’s possible that the Blanco Administration is just clueless, more likely was this was a part of the plot to get her reelected. They knew the federal government wouldn’t give the additional money, so they tried to trick it and then use it as a campaign issue, the “Saintly Blanco vs. Cruel, Partisan Federal Government” ploy she had to run with when her incompetence became so apparent. As a theme, it wasn’t very convincing obviously as Blanco fund herself pushed out of a chance to continue her reign of error.

But that won’t stop them from trying to execute the plan to continue to try to save face. Having had to put up with such shenanigans for approaching two years now, the federal government has indicated its lack of sympathy for the Blanco’s self-created plight for the state.

Except that it is an election year. Expect sometime this summer for Jindal to announce he has worked out a deal with the federal government to provide some relief, redounding to his political credit as he continues cruising to victory to succeed Blanco. Her likely plan blowing up in her face will prove the final, greatest indignity to Blanco on this issue.