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22.5.08

McCain invite of Jindal won't lead to VP offer

Elsewhere I have shown why, from a political standpoint, Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal would be unwise to accept nomination as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential running mate. Now it’s time to explain why Jindal’s invitation to hang out with McCain this Memorial Day weekend is unlikely to draw such an offer from McCain.

With his opponent increasingly looking like Sen. Barack Obama, McCain needs four things from a running mate. First, McCain will be the oldest previously unelected president if he wins so while he doesn’t necessarily need a whippersnapper half his age, he does need somebody considerably younger or, at the very least, someone who projects a strong, youthful image who is younger by at least a decade.

Second, suspicion of McCain by conservatives for his considerably moderate, even liberal, views on the environment and government spending requires a reliably conservative partner. Third, that person should be popular in a state that looks to be a toss-up in the Electoral College. Finally, this individual must compensate for Obama’s perceived strengths and not duplicate Obama’s perceived weaknesses.

21.5.08

Public, liberty best served by concealed carry on campus

Unfortunately in politics there’s no meter that filters out emotional advocacy from critical, rational thinking in debate about issues, and the issue most muddied in this session of the Louisiana Legislature by that tendency has been the idea of permitting concealed handguns on college or vocational-technical campuses courtesy of state Rep. Ernest Wooten’s HB 199.

Some oppose the bill because they do not understand the research behind the issue nor the common sense. The title of John Lott’s seminal work on the issue basically says it all: More Guns, Less Crime. In his follow-up The Bias Against Guns and in other scholarly articles by himself and others, he makes the case airtight and demonstrates the flaws in critiques of that view. Simply, when handguns are permitted to be carried concealed by qualified, licensed owners crime decreases because prospective criminals are less likely to believe they can bring overwhelming force against potential victims.

Yet, from the testimony given by college police official and administrators, they appear not to grasp this basic truism about human psychology. Campus police generally oppose the measure because the focus of their concern is inappropriate: they are concerned about having a monopoly of force in any situation and this measure legally reduces that if the possessor of a handgun decides to use it illegally (regardless of whether they have possession of it legally, which this law does not address). A better set of priorities places public safety above police safety, which allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons, as research and common sense shows, accomplishes.

20.5.08

Some LA education spending likely to merit retention

As noted yesterday, Louisiana House budget-trimming excised $52 million in state spending (matched with $131 million of federal matching reductions) in health care which can be handled if done properly. The remainder of the $70 million reduction mainly lies in the area of education, and those expenditures perhaps should stay.

The Senate Finance Committee began to lay the groundwork for this chamber’s dealing with HB 1, the bill that directs state operational spending in most areas, taking testimony from Commissioner of Administration Angèle Davis who asked that most of the cut money be restored. Almost simultaneously at different venues, other state officials and interest groups were tossing out their own views about the impact of these cuts.

Some was self-serving piffle. Nursing home interests, who complained about how their reimbursement rates might not increase as much as they would like that would remain among the lower in the nation, of course conveniently forgot to mention that per capita spending on Louisiana nursing homes is about the highest in the nation and the state has almost the most excess capacity. These inefficient drags on the Louisiana taxpayer (which hopefully will be rectified as the state moves away from its institutional bias in provision to one modeled on community-based care) were created as the industry for decades successfully lobbied for the vast bulk of state money to be spent on long-terms care (so that now 85 percent of its revenues come from that source) and it blithely expects that gravy train to continue to make up for its poor forecasting.

Other defenses were much more reasonable. Education officials pointed out how funds reductions would hamper strides to improve education quality in the state, from pre-kindergarten through graduate schools (although marred somewhat by some fantastically stupid remarks about gun control on campuses, but that’s another story). If done right, the payoff for these could merit the expense.

Most intriguingly, however, is that part of the cuts seems to put on the back burner Gov. Bobby Jindal’s most ambitious goal concerning universities – realigning funding on the basis of performance indicators. Not surprisingly, higher education wants to have funding continue at the present level – matching the “formula” computed from the average of its Southern peers – without having any mechanism for accountability which is the purpose of the indicators.

Making things even more interesting is that subtle planned budget changes may run the state afoul of the provision that caps state spending increases at the same rate personal individual income growth rises, strengthening the original case of the House that it wanted to reduce spending to curb reliance on “one-time” funds sources for recurring expenditures. Jindal’s budget was well under that figure but contemplated moves could change that, such as plans to appropriate $307.1 million into a “megafund” to attract large employers but shifting up to $100 million out if that remains on Oct. 1 for other purposes could bump up against the cap. In light of this, Davis admitted some budget cutting may have to stay.

House desires and spending cap realities argue that the Senate won’t do a whole lot of restoration to the budget. Where it does happen, probably it will happen mostly in the area of education, and towards the more basic levels. Regardless, dealing with the budget to date also is notable for something else: it’s ahead of the typical schedule by a couple of weeks. One can dream therefore that its debate will be deliberative – especially on the conference committee end where often decisions about what to keep, throw out, and even add have been made in less than a day – meaning some extra rationality may be injected into a process that typically largely, if not totally, lacks it.

19.5.08

Easy choice for health spending reductions: nursing homes

Assuming the House’s budget-trimming zeal on the state’s operating budget HB 1 survives, choices must be made in cutting requests for health care spending. While the reduction as a whole (which is still an increase over last year’s amount by almost 4 percent, of which the state’s increase in operating appropriations is increased about 20 percent) may seem difficult for Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine, the choice where the majority of redacted spending should come from is easy.

Four areas could face reductions, all dealing with payments to providers of medical services: doctors, hospitals, community care agencies, and nursing homes. The first two mainly would involve reimbursement for Medicaid in the treating of the indigent. This would not be wise as the state looks to move away from its institution-based system of care that has created an inefficient, underperforming charity hospital network. Already reimbursement costs are among then lowest in the nation, so to encourage less state government involvement and more private sector and nonprofit involvement in indigent care, reimbursement rates if anything would need to go higher.

Community care agencies form the bedrock of community-based health care, the antithesis of institutional-based care. In this model, health care provision is farmed out to individuals whether they meet outside of the home to receive services, while they still remain able to live at home rather than in an institution. In most cases, this turns out to be a far less expensive alternative that usually provides superior care. This is accomplished through waivers granted by the federal government for programs designed to accomplish this purpose by the state.

18.5.08

Ensure LA state ethics enforcement has enough funds

Just because some have made a mountain out of a molehill regarding recent ethics standards changes in Louisiana does not mean some alteration is out of order.

While some have argued the change, which changes the standard for guilt in ethics matters from “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing” which is higher, makes these matters “unenforceable,” this neither is objective nor rational. Many states employ the higher standard (some even a more stringent one) and that well may be appropriate given that some violations could lead to criminal charges.

A legitimate question, however, is whether resources planned for the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program will be sufficient to meet the higher standard. Its adjudicatory duties have been shifted to professional administrative law judges which will save money and the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration is budgeting more than double what the agency now receives. Still, its duties also have increased in terms of the number and length of forms to sift through.

Although Jindal did not seem to know of and/or understand the ramification of the wording change (nor for that matter, almost anybody in the Legislature which made no comments on it during debate), after the bill was passed the Ethics Board made him aware of the change and, somewhat questionably, gave unsolicited advice that he veto it. So since he signed it, Jindal now bears responsibility if ethics enforcement is hampered by the new requirement creating too much demand on resources.

The Legislature also bears responsibility now that it knows and it has amended a specific instrument to deal with the matter. HB 906 was changed to revert back to the previous standard. Thus, if the Legislature does not want to increase the workload and thereby passes it, and then if Jindal doesn’t want to either and thus signs it, the matter will be settled.

But if the reversion does not become law, then it will be incumbent on the Legislature and governor to provide adequate funding. Whether the present amount in HB 1 is adequate is debatable. To be on the safe side, some increase may be in order. So one or the other should be done: cancel the language change, or increase funding to support the new language.