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Hiring freeze tactics align to larger strategic goals

Gov. Bobby Jindal has bent, slightly, in his order to freeze hiring of essentially all unfilled positions in state government. The move to allow a blanket waiver for all health care positions in direct contact with patients, after at first saying there would be no blanket waivers, represents only a small tactical shift in a larger strategy.

Some wondered when as one of his first official acts Jindal implemented the freeze by executive order. After all, promises of budget surpluses rung, on top of recent surpluses, so why was it that Jindal seemed so concerned about saving $25 million? There are three reasons why.

First, it was campaign promise of sorts. Jindal had long and loudly complained about an expanding government. Even if most of the recent increase came as a result of recovery monies from outside the state, there still was some government spending growth at a time the state actually had fewer people to service. On top of that, Jindal had expressed annoyance that the state not only continued to keep hundreds of jobs unfilled for years running, but that these open slots got pay raises in 2007. The freeze was a way to make good on this campaign issue.

Second, one of the great con jobs of last year by the Kathleen Blanco Administration and Democrat legislative leadership was the creation of programs and redistribution into them of monies coming from temporary sources (even if technically these funds were classified as eligible for spending on recurring items), as well as their ignoring of the false economy created by recovery spending which resulted in increased but in part temporary revenues. The Jindal Administration recognizes this fully as a ticking time bomb and one way to deal with it is cutting back basically unneeded personnel spending.

Third, the freeze helps Jindal in his quest to reform certain areas of government. For example, the current indigent care system rewards state institutions to be less efficient by dropping a sum of money in their laps rather than tying their rewards to performances on indicators – which is how the non-government sector must work compelled by market forces. Even if only a few million dollars can be pulled from the existing charity system, it reduces its size and frees the money to be used to implement a money-follows-the-person regime that eventually will force the charity system to perform more efficiently.

Jindal was correct that blanket exemptions as a whole would detract from the basic goal of his administration – hinging on another campaign promise – that is tied into the reform idea: it’s not the savings of money that is as important, but that agencies use the opportunity to justify its use as the first step towards a more performance-based attitude reigning in agency budgeting and operation. Jindal and Republicans like House Speaker Jim Tucker have insisted that fat still remains in the state’s spending habits: this exercise can initiate the process of agencies to get thinking in those terms as well.

Nonetheless, the Jindal Administration realized that on the direct provider issue that the nature of the service and the turnover in it made the exemption sensible; otherwise, Commissioner of Administration Angèle Davis would be spending far too much time reviewing exemption requests while agency heads would spend too much time writing them. It does not mean, for those reasons cited, that the Administration’s strategy will change anytime soon.

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