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17.7.08

Abramson protests too much on information bill veto

There’s been lots of legislator carping about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s vetoes for this past regular session, given he cast 302 of them (278 line items), and a lot of it has come from lawmakers who, frankly, have a fundamentally misguided view about the purposes of government. They may be safely ignored. But one complaint merits further investigation since it comes from one of the apparently more level-headed House members.

Of all the Democrats in the Legislature, state Rep. Neil Abramson scored the most conservative/reform in voting. Thus, when he complains that a veto of one of his bills, HB 176 (actually, a second attempt since an earlier version in the first special session also got vetoed), casts doubt on the sincerity of the governor on the issue of transparency of the office, it should be reviewed seriously.

This bill intended that an elected official with appointive powers disclose whether appointees had made contributions to his campaign (or a gubernatorial transition). Jindal vetoed the bill citing concerns that the language was overbroad and would force reporting of any appointee’s contributions to any candidate. He also said his office had talked to Abramson about altering the bill to address that concern and that Abramson agreed, to which Abramson said he had not agreed and therefore did not change the bill.

But another reason Jindal easily could have used to justify vetoing the bill is it is a prime example of unnecessary regulation already adequately dealt with under current law. The point of the bill, to show which appointees gave to an appointer, already can be accomplished. All you have to do is go to the state’s Ethics Administration web site, enter an appointer, and there will be the list of donors. And if you need to know who the appointees are, there’s a list of boards and commissions with member names.

Yes, this is somewhat clumsy because in many cases, through this list or on agency web sites sometimes it’s not clear who exactly is whose appointee, and an appointer’s list of donors requires going through report after report, but the fact is the information is in the public domain. So when Abramson makes statement such as “It raises the question whether they're concerned about releasing that information or not,” it shows he is one or more of misinformed, ignorant, or stupid, because information going back a decade is accessible by anybody with Internet access. (The only thing new about the bill is the gubernatorial transition information – which Jindal voluntarily released – but Abramson didn’t make a point of that.)

If Abramson made public complaints about how it might be difficult to collate the information, or how his bill could streamline the process, he might come across as reasonable. Instead, he looks like a political opportunist, fabricating an issue by accusing the governor of doing the same, in attempt to score cheap political points. Thus this strained credibility calls into question whether Abramson can be believed that he did not agree that the bill was flawed. Methinks he doth protest too much.

16.7.08

Line item veto lessons unlikely learned by legislators

I have to ask a similar question as one posed in yesterday’s post: just how many Louisiana legislators are illiterate? More than a few, it would appear, from the rhetoric coming about the trimming Gov. Bobby Jindal inflicted on the state’s appropriations bills through the use of his line item veto power, and questions can be raised about their attention spans and abilities to do their jobs as well.

Some legislators complained that they didn’t have adequate “warning” about these cuts to their pet projects, which totaled 283 items worth over $25 million in direct costs. Well, if they could read, they did indeed have it, courtesy of an Apr. 30 memo Jindal sent outlining his four criteria for judging the merit of such projects slipped into the budget, they being the project must have a statewide or substantial regional impact; have been presented or openly discussed during the legislative session; be a state agency priority; and must have the proper disclosure form published online prior to consideration for funding.

It was that simple, and it’s clear that in reviewing projects in the cases of the vast majority of the vetoes that they unambiguously did not meet the criteria. Why is it that non-politicians can figure out the obvious, while the politicians can’t? Instead of blaming themselves, the ilk like state Sen. Joe McPherson (who already makes millions a year off the state) tried to blame Jindal, claiming he tried to score political points in a kind of set-up to have legislators forward projects so he could relish vetoing some.

Such a statement might be made not so much because of inattentiveness to what Jindal wrote, but because these politicians discounted it. Note that while many Republican-sponsored projects got slashed, almost all of the complaining is coming from Democrats concerning the Republican Jindal. This is because political motivations of Democrats and Republicans differ because of the differing political ideologies each tend to follow.

Conservatism, to which most Republicans adhere in more or less purer forms, wins in the marketplaces of ideas and policy outputs over liberalism, as logic and history demonstrate. Therefore, when Republican politicians tell what their policies will be and when based upon conservatism, they usually mean what they say. Democrats, on the other hand, at least the ones who want to get elected where there isn’t a large liberal majority in the electorate, knowing they lose on ideology, will try to obscure that aspect and regularly make policy pronouncements in vague, ambiguous ways, or speak outright contradictorily, saying one thing to get elected (witness Sen. Barack Obama) because it’s what they have to do to win, and then doing another once they have power.

Because they think that way, they believe all politicians act accordingly, including Republicans like Jindal. Perhaps now Jindal has somewhat disabused them of the notion that, legislators' pay raises aside, that he doesn’t say what he means.

And another question to ask legislators, from some whining they emitted, is whether they know how to do their jobs. For example, state Sen. Edwin Murray, who lost financing for a community center that has been in operation since 1976, bleated, “I don't understand why it was cut. It serves the only hot meal some people get every day.”

If the program was so valuable Murray, who’s been in the Legislature many years, long ago should have sponsored a bill to have the state fund and run the program or, at the very least, set up a bid process to contract out that function. Instead, this has operated in the shadows for over three decades without sufficient accountability or any real debate over the value of the program relative to other state needs. Murray, and others who think like this, are derelict in their jobs if now all they can do is gripe about this situation when they could have taken care of it long ago. (And despite being unable to do their jobs satisfactorily, many of them still wanted the Jindal-vetoed pay raise.)

A Republican, state Sen. Mike Michot, actually summed up best this angst on the part of mainly Democrat legislators: “Many of them who serve (in the Legislature), they serve for this very reason. They serve to be able to bring money back to their districts.” Which only goes to show such politicians have absolutely no clue as to the purpose of government and no business representing the people of Louisiana.

Government is there only to do what individuals and non-profits in their collective efforts cannot. It helps most by staying out of the way of people, the opposite of the constipated view of those described legislators who see government as a redistribution mechanism to suck the people’s resources from them in the hopes of redistributing funds to meet the twin goals of creating a world of the politician’s own choosing and to enhance their own political power.

Maybe Jindal’s vetoes will shake the redistributionist numbskulls to their senses. But somehow I doubt it.

15.7.08

Jindal veto vigor necessary, endangers legislative careers

Just how dumb or illiterate are some Louisiana state legislators? Gov. Bobby Jindal certainly gave them an opportunity to wise up with his raft of line item vetoes to the state’s appropriations bill HB 1

On Apr. 30, Jindal issued a letter outlining clearly and succinctly criteria he would use in making these decisions, they being the project must have a statewide or substantial regional impact; have been presented or openly discussed during the legislative session; be a state agency priority; and must have the proper disclosure form published online prior to consideration for funding. Scrolling through the list of requests, matching them to the actual line items, one could see a train wreck approaching.

As with the supplemental bill which Jindal also trimmed, in some cases, the item was missing on the list. In a few others, the list information mismatched with the item. But a significant number unambiguously were local in nature.

So what do we make then of state Sen. John Alario’s complaint that Jindal went too far when he, for example, vetoes local government requests for playground equipment, prompting Alario in high dudgeon to declare, “I think they've gone farther than what the ground rules were. If you're playing a game, you ought to play by the rules.” I guess we make that Alario is an idiot: what definition of “local” does he see as a synonym of “statewide” or “substantial regional?”

We can understand part of Alario’s thinking by his very comment likening the process to a “game.” To legislators of Alario’s ilk, they see the entire scenario as a game, played by legislators where the object is to squeeze out as much state money as possible into the hands of local interests. Do enough of that, and you “win” the game by getting reelected. This idea stands as a principal tenet of their entire governing ideology.

By contrast, Jindal sees this exercise not as a necessary, much less a desirable, feature of modern governance. He sees it as an affront to taxpayers whose hard-earned money should go to statewide priorities instead of ending up subsidizing local concerns. As Jindal rightly pointed out, these vetoes don’t mean the projects themselves necessarily aren’t desirable, it’s just that there is no moral reason state government should pay for these when legally it is not compelled to do so; these are matters outside the proper reach of government or are properly handled by local government.

If supporters of these feel differently, they are free to pass laws mandating such state spending, in the process inviting the establishment of procedures to prioritize and to direct the spending with appropriate auditing. But that’s not what the Alarios of the world want, nor the likes of state Rep. Patricia Smith who called the criteria “unrealistic,” who was the queen of these items with 13 requests totaling $3.3 million out of the roughly $53 million requested, and who suffered 10 vetoes for $705,000 (requests often were parceled into multiple items). Their entire worldview about how government works is that it is there primarily to redistribute money from certain constituencies that they think have too much to those they think deserve more (naturally, theirs). They base their electability on this stunted, improper understanding of the purpose of government: they get votes by promising to bring home the bacon.

Understand then the upset of these characters stems not so much from their disagreement with Jindal’s informed philosophy of the purpose of government, but from the fact that it threatens their reelections. They now cannot with certainty go to certain groups and promise rewards for their elections. More than ever they will have to stand on their ideas to get elected and constituents will be more inclined to elect legislators on the basis of their ideas. That may not favor Alario, for example, whose ideology if compared to voting behavior by his constituents for other offices would indicate he is out of touch with them.

That Jindal did precisely what he said he would do, with plenty of clear warning, shows he is very serious about changing the “government as fatted calf” culture – making it imperative to abscond more and more of the people’s money to feed it – that all too many legislators perpetuate. To move the state forward and out of its dregs requires just such a change, no matter how many legislators get offended and whose political careers are endangered by this concept.

14.7.08

Jindal lives up to expectations, promises on line item vetoes

Gov. Bobby Jindal had a Clintonian moment by showing up to his news conference announcing his disposition of HB 1 11 minutes late. The rest of his presentation was anything but.

Jindal meant what he said (contrary to former Pres. Bill Clinton who often said one thing then did another) that he would line item veto those projects that did not at least have a regional impact of some importance and/or were not documented properly and publicly. He thusly axed 258 items to the tune of $16 million (and said indirect savings were $27 million more), over ten times what he excised from the supplemental bill and about double the number from the last 12 budget bills combined. This in and of itself perhaps tells us there hasn’t been a lot of good prioritizing in past budgets.

Perhaps the most controversial was the indirect item veto that would have allowed chiropractic services to be claimed on Medicaid (and at a higher reimbursement rate than other medical professionals were allowed to claim). The Jindal Administration had opposed the item during the regular legislative session. Some items were multiple requests for the same organizations.

He also mentioned many other items were kept despite having a tenuous connection with the criteria, particularly the “statewide/regional” impact criterion. He said he did so because they were important and they already were contracted to do government services – but that the process should be changed so that these line items weren’t necessary. For example, he brought upon Councils on Aging and said an update of the formula that computed the contracting dollars should occur to obviate the necessity of line items. In other words, Jindal will look more dimly on such future requests and that the state should get going on making these kinds of revisions.

He said the priorities were economic development and transportation and shied away from purely local projects. Even so, many items that advertised themselves as for economic development still were vetoed. He also correctly noted that local government purchase of such items produced greater accountability and transparency, as the rationale for these would be better documented and local elected officials could be held better accountable through elections. However, most items were of nongovernmental organizations that did not appear to be at least regional in his estimation, with the usual amounts being around $25,000, give or take $15,000. As with the supplemental bill, for some the amount(s) requested appeared to be the organizations’ entire budgets.

Such a huge total leads to wondering withso many legislators hit by the slashing they might do something unprecedented in state history – call an override session. That seems unlikely, even as the pain seemed spread fairly evenly although urban constituencies cuts tended to be more frequent and for higher dollar amounts. Since a two-thirds vote is required to do override on top of the majority vote to get the session called and some legislators suffered no vetoes or very few for small items, there’s probably not enough passion practically speaking to overturn any even if a significant number of lawmakers viewed the vetoes taken as a whole in the framework of logrolling.

Provided this doesn’t happen, expect in the future of Jindal’s governorship that these requests will taper off dramatically. Legislators no longer can make what they have assumed to be promises to these groups and so either will find some regular channel in state government (which no doubt would require greater justification and audit potential than present) to try to procure these funds, or simply not to make promises at all in order to avoid disappointments. Either way, taxpayers’ dollars are put to better use and accountability increases.

Jindal meant what he said without ambiguity, and that’s a good thing on this issue.

13.7.08

Coming Cazayoux defeat illustrates Democrats' dillemma

Hopefully, Rep. Don Cazayoux took out some short-term leases on housing, furniture etc. in Washington upon his arrival courtesy of winning a special election in May, because when qualifying closed for November’s federal elections, his future prospects to retain his office became very dim.

Although he did not draw a Democrat opponent in the primary election to be contested on Sep. 6, that turned out to be a problem. Not only did a tough general election opponent go unopposed in the Republican primary, state Sen. Bill Cassidy, but a potential strong candidate for the Democrat nomination, state Rep. Michael Jackson who he held off with difficulty for the nomination for the special election, skipped it in order to run as an independent against Cazayoux and Cassidy in the general election.

State Democrats may cry foul but Jackson was acting in a way to maximize his chances for election and in a sense the state party only has itself to blame. When looking at only Democrat registrations, given current trends by September with a small black majority among Democrats in the district but slightly higher turnout and cross-racial voting habits of white over blacks, a Cazayoux-Jackson race would have been a close.

But Democrats allow independents to vote in their party primaries and, with whites largely voting for whites and blacks overwhelmingly for blacks in a one black, one white candidate setup, the fact that a healthy majority of independents are white probably would tip the nomination in Cazayoux’s favor. By contrast, if Jackson could split the white vote in a three-way contest including Cassidy, he might get the win – and would be more likely to do so than in a contest solely against Cassidy given blacks as a whole in the district comprise less than 30 percent.

However, Jackson’s chance is not great because of Cassidy. Being one of the most conservative members of the Louisiana Senate, most conservative voters will abandon Cazayoux, who tries to use a few conservative votes here and there to mask his general liberal record, for the genuine article in Cassidy, while most black voters will desert Cazayoux for an unapologetic and black liberal in Jackson. Had a less-conservative and/or more controversial candidate (an example of the latter being the erstwhile special election GOP nominee Louis “Woody” Jenkins) gotten the Republican nomination, Cazayoux might have had a chance to hang onto to more of these conservative votes and had a slim chance to prevail. However, Cassidy’s quality makes it not only virtually impossible that Cazayoux can win, but that it will take significasnt luck for him to win – Cassidy will just draw too many Republican and/or conservative votes.

So Democrats must blame themselves for being unable to consolidate their hold on the office in part because of the decision to allow in independents. This can be seen in the black community as an attempt to keep out black nominees which it suspects the party wants to do because party (mostly white) leaders sees white nominees as more electable. So this spawns independent black candidates with considerable black support because white Democrats don’t understand their goal is not so much to elect Democrats who may not sympathize much with black leaders’ agendas, but to elect blacks to office.

It is the modern dilemma of the Democrats, a party built around coalitions of varying unelectable ideologies united only by the desire to win power: only if the acquisition of power seems possible do they hang together. The likely Cassidy win forthcoming illustrates the appropriate roadmap for Republicans to follow in the majority of the country: nominate solid conservatives as conservatism beats liberalism in the marketplace of ideas, and thereby negate Democrat strategies to compensate for their own internal contradictions.