Search This Blog

Loading...

29.5.08

Jindal should include officials' pay raise bills in veto threat

Gov. Bobby Jindal surfaced long enough to inform legislators that he will veto any statutory dedications of state revenues that find their way to his desk. He can improve on this by issuing another couple of similar veto threats on state spending.

Because of the penchant of lawmakers to tie funds from a particular source to a particular project, over two-thirds of state revenues presently are spoken for in the budgeting process. This reduces flexibility and tends to place any necessary reductions disproportionately on health care and, to a smaller degree, higher education. Already Jindal has complained about his budget being trimmed, largely in these two areas because of the presence of dedications.

This sentiment long has needed to be exercised as over the decades more and more state-generated revenues got locked away. Jindal, however, seemed to leave room for exceptions when discussing a piece of legislation signed into law in the second special session earlier this year, which dedicated any funds directly derived from transportation activities should go to roads, port, and airport construction. The guiding principle here is that something directly bearing on an activity could have its revenues collected come back to it in expenditures, which often is not the case with current laws and proposed legislation.

Jindal used the opportunity to criticize the budget slicing of the Legislature of his programs, and suggested instead they lop off earmarks they inserted into it to restore some of his requests. While restoration of the spending would conflict with the desire Jindal has stated in the reduction of “one-time” money going to fund recurring commitments which legislative leaders have stated us the reason behind excising that spending, Jindal should go further on the matter of the earmarks: he should tell legislators they all were subject to his line-item veto pen.

Perhaps that was the veiled threat he was implying and, if so, he needs to go even beyond that on a couple of pieces of bad legislation. HB 939 by state Rep. Jeff Arnold would increase the pay of part-time public servants that comprise the Public Service Commission from $45,000 to $75,000, while SB 672 by state Sen. Ann Duplessis would increase legislative salaries in most cases by about $35,000 a year for jobs that are designed and intended to be even more part-time in nature than those of the PSC.

For the necessary work of the state (as opposed to what these elected officials choose to do and then demand payment for it whether it really serves well the people) their present pay is more than adequate, yet these bills are alive and HB 939 advancing almost to the doorstep of the governor. Together they would cost the state over $6 million more a year which, as Jindal pointed out, could be used to fund his reduced health care and education requests.

Jindal needs immediately to convey that these two bills should they get to him face unquestioned vetoes. Becasue they are so inherently abhorrent, he need not use his assent of them as a bargaining chip for other items. Thus, the Legislature can drop any idea of having these items in the budget and allocate it elsewhere – the same strategy used when he declared a pox on dedications. Hopefully, he’ll pop into media view again soon to do precisely this.

28.5.08

Economic reality catches up to Shreveport Symphony

I participated in symphonic orchestras all the way through graduate school, but I will admit that I’ve rarely supported Shreveport Symphony productions, although not for lack of desire. Apparently it could have used my attendance, for the Symphony looks as if it will have to become comprised permanently of part-timers with its latest decision to only pay musicians per event. Even as all of the current full-time musicians, management, and patrons may bemoan this decision, the only surprise about it is why it took so long to come to it.

In comparative perspective, the Symphony has been fighting above its weight in the face of unfavorable demographic changes. While there are hundreds of symphonies across the country, most do not have a core of full-time musicians and, predictably, of those that do typically they are in larger metropolitan areas than Shreveport’s. This reflects the steady decline of full-time musicians forming the core of a symphony everywhere, coming largely from changes in technology and tastes, and specifically in Shreveport additionally through economic changes.

When it was founded not long after World War II, the Symphony faced much less in the way of competition. Within classical music itself, recordings were not widespread, nor relatively inexpensive, nor of relatively good quality. Within musical forms itself, classical still had a healthy market as it competed with newer forms largely based upon the same kinds of instruments. Within the entertainment market as a whole, live performance ruled the day.

Six decades later, the field of competition is vastly stronger. For about a buck now almost any classical composition from a world-class orchestra you like can be bought through a computer and within minutes be ready to play and/or put permanently on a disc that sounds light years better than past recordings. Classical’s share of the music market has shrunk dramatically as newer forms, many made by instruments that did not exist those decades ago, have supplanted it. As well, live performance from a value perspective for many has dropped considerably, when very inexpensive audio and video of performances so easily can be consumed through media like television.

Meanwhile, the cost of live performance only has increased since its largest expenditures are personnel-related. While this has created a diminished ability to offer cost-effective performance everywhere, this particularly acutely has been felt in Shreveport. Not surprisingly, paying patrons disproportionately come from wealthier and usually better-educated individuals. And, typically, subscriptions pay for, often substantially, less than half of revenues needed to run a symphony with much of the balance made up from local philanthropy and sponsorships usually from local corporations.

Therefore, as an area’s economy stagnates and its local enterprises wither and/or become parts or larger organizations based outside of the area, not only does the market become relatively smaller as higher-status individuals comprise a declining share of the populations, philanthropy may decline and sponsors become fewer as well. This is what has happened to Shreveport over the past quarter century – and it’s bad fortune in this regard is compounded by the fact that its one true growth industry over this time span is a direct competitor of the Symphony.

Scan the list of sponsors for it and note the one glaring admission: employers in one industry that supply jobs to thousands in the area, many high-paying – casinos. Since together they put on at least one headliner music act a week, it’s understandable, even if simultaneously unfortunate, why they don’t support what they see as potential competition.

In this environment, it’s a wonder the Symphony hung on so long with a full-time core (although in reality few have a Symphony spot as their sole employment – like the present contractual part-timer performers, they typically have other means of employment to supplement the low full-time Symphony salary of $12,683). And if you review symphonies’ financial statistics of other like-sized cities in metropolitan areas in nearby states, all of whom have better business climates than Shreveport (and no casinos) such as Little Rock, Jackson, Corpus Christi, and Huntsville, Shreveport’s actually has a larger budget.

Having a full-time core enhances a symphony, but economic realities are just that. Maybe if political and economic elites had not been (and continue to be, on both sides of the Red River) so myopic and instead of gearing their efforts to making themselves bigger fishes in a shrinking pond rather trying to make the pond bigger, the base to support a full-time Symphony core would still exist. But as long as management can act in an enlightened fashion and the musicians maintains the correct spirit of achievement, the Shreveport Symphony still should be able to provide a quality musical experience.

27.5.08

New Orleans site argument makes academia look suspect

I was wondering if the Louisiana media were going to pick up on this, an intramural argument within the largest professional organization of political scientists in the world that illustrates so perfectly why the general public is likely to ignore, if not actually disdain, the knowledge of the political world and policy advice that we in academia have to offer.

The American Political Science Association, of which I’m a member, plans to hold its annual meeting, which is always Labor Day weekend, in New Orleans in 2012. This decision has to be made years in advance because of other negotiations and the sheer logistics involved – in fact, it was made in 2003, and next year the state’s people by an overwhelming margin amended the Constitution not to recognize same-sex “marriages.”

This has led some APSA members to call for a change in APSA procedures for site selection. One version would have the organization inform cities wishing to host the meeting that it might be a problem if their states did not recognize same-sex marriages (at present, only Massachusetts and California do; the seriously-flawed judicial fiat that permitted the latter only days ago must have brought a sigh of relief from some APSA members since San Francisco has been a popular meeting venue). The other would disregard such cities completely (and other options may be reviewed as well).

26.5.08

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 26 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

25.5.08

LA officials should call bluffs by passing good bills

In the past week, a couple of potential public policy losers have intimated they would sue the state of Louisiana if certain laws pass. In no way should lawmakers let this deter them from doing the right thing.

Explicit threats came from the Police Jury Association of Louisiana and the Louisiana Municipal Association as SB 807 by Sen. Ann Duplessis advanced. The bill, among other things, would grant a statewide rather than local franchising power for cable television providers. This makes it harder for local government to discriminate against potential providers, a power they use to create monopoly situations wherein they use contracts with providers to squeeze money out of ratepayers and to transfer it to the local governments themselves.

On what legal grounds this might occur remain a mystery, but it is shameful that these special interest groups would rather fight for empowering government than for citizen-consumers. But this attack on the citizenry at least is clear, transparent, and doesn’t bring questions about government’s motivation.

Oddly, an implicit threat came not from any affected party, but from the executive branch itself in the matter of health spending outlined in the state’s operating budget bill HB 1. Secretary of Health and Hospitals Alan Levine, in testimony in front of the Senate Finance Committee, gave details on cuts of increased spending he proposed to make if House reductions from the original administration budget bill stood. They totaled $134.5 million (although only about $40 million involved state money the rest being federal matching dollars) and only partially followed my suggestion of a few days ago.

Levine also announced that the $38.6 million to be sliced from a $60 million increase in nursing home reimbursements (which are among the nation’s highest per capita paid with the lowest occupancy rates and draw around 85 percent of their funding from the state) might cause those institutions to sue the state. It’s strange that he would plan reductions in such a way if he really believed that, however, so this probably is the time-honored scare tactic of trying to organize cuts to produce the most serious potential consequences in order to scare legislators away from making them. In other words, Levine lacks credibility on this matter.

(Another indicator of this lack of credibility is he also said he planned to cut $19.8 million from community-based care waiver slots without also adding this might trigger, and more realistically, a suit. In its Barthelemy settlement the state promised to rapidly expand community-based programs, and a court might not believe the state has made a good faith effort in this regard when there are tens of thousands of people, some for a decade, on waiting lists to receive these services and with plans to reduce the increase in availability of those services the cuts would entail.)

It’s puzzling why Levine, and implicitly his boss Gov. Bobby Jindal, are not using this thriftiness of the Legislature to do what has been needed to be done for decades in the state to deliver health care more efficiently and effectively: shift money away from the fat and happy nursing home industry to community-based solutions. If part of that needs to be the repeal of odious Act 848 of the 2006 Regular Session which wrote nursing homes’ privileged position into law, attaching that as a rider to HB 1 can’t be all that difficult.

It bears repeating: taking away the entire projected increase for nursing homes would resolve the wished of the House and then some, would be the wisest use of taxpayer dollars, and would create a better health care system. Consumers would benefit with lower costs and more choice by passing SB 808. Lawmakers and administrators should go in these directions and call these legal bluffs by those who know their arguments cannot win the day so therefore as a last resort rely on threats against Louisianans.