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18.6.09

Possible titanic struggle in offing favors Jindal, House

During the 2009 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature, the political hijinks just don’t stop and are unlikely to until the clock strikes 6 PM on Jun. 25.

Yesterday, three separate bills were amended specifically to impose the will of one chamber on the other. But the lower chamber has the upper hand on the upper because its ace in the hole is the veto pen of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The most far-reaching changes were to HB 802. The bill started out as one that shifts money around to pay for certain appropriations to avoid some projected cuts to government in the operating budget, HB 1 which already has gone to Jindal largely undisturbed from Jindal’s original plan, thwarting the Senate’s desire to force it into a compromise committee as Jindal can pare its desired spending from it. Thus, from the perspective of the House and Jindal, HB 802 is a bill that must pass, and the Senate knew that.

17.6.09

Transfer bill defeated by desire for pork, love of big govt

The defeat of HB 783 represents everything that is wrong with the state of Louisiana – continued infatuation with big government, putting government employees ahead of the taxpayer, and good-old-boy politics of spreading out goodies for reelection – with a dash of ideological extremism thrown in for good measure.

This bill by state Rep. Rick Nowlin would allow the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals to sell and to get out of the nursing home operating business through the John Hainkel facility in uptown New Orleans. Not only does the state have to pay for running the facility, it ends up paying for its Medicaid patients an extra $72 a day over the New Orleans reimbursement rate. However, because of the mix of patients (veterans paid by the federal government, and private pay) typically it has been making an annual “profit” although it cannot keep those funds and must return them to the state.

The facility, among nursing homes, performs at the highest rating level. Note, however, that this is very relative. In the past inspection periods it had a significant number of violations and does poorly on a number of patient outcome measures. Nevertheless, because the majority of nursing homes do even more poorly, its relative ranking appears high.

16.6.09

Misleading tobacco tax arguments don't fool majority

HB 889, a bill to raise taxes on smoking and tobacco use, went up in flames on the House floor, a fraud to the end.

Its author Rep. Karen Peterson pulled out all the stops, joined in by several supporters, who perpetuated myths if not misleading information. These have been discussed elsewhere, but to summarize briefly:

  • It is about Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Peterson protested too much by saying it was not, despite making a crack at Jindal’s presumed future political aspirations during debate and, earlier in the day in committee on an unrelated bill, bitterly complaining to Jindal Administration officials about his opposition to this bill. It’s clear that while making Jindal look bad by trying to put him into a position to have to veto this probably was not the main motive of Peterson, who holds a party office for the Democrats, on the bill, it certainly was part of her calculation and strategy to pursue it and denials on her part are disingenuous.
  • That an increased tax would significantly reduce smoking. Several legislators who smoke or have smokers in their family talked about how the task of quitting was so difficult and disrupted family life because of the addiction of it. Incredibly, they missed the entire self-contradiction in their arguments: by claiming this was an addiction, this meant that voluntary actions by them, such as deciding whether to buy tobacco legally available, would not be affected by a tax. Only involuntary restraints, such as making it unavailable, can significantly affect this behavior if it is claimed to be truly “addictive.”
  • 15.6.09

    Fiscal pain by some emphasizes need for flexibility

    We’ll find out shortly whether the resolve of Gov. Bobby Jindal pays off with bills to restructure the state’s fiscal budgetary procedures.

    A criticism of the mechanisms placed into law and the Louisiana Constitution is that, in times such as these when forecasted budget deficits cause significant restructuring of state spending patterns, inflexibility leads to sub-optimal policy choices. Specifically in this cycle, disproportionate chunks must be taken out of health care and higher education due to these strictures.

    The recognition basically has sunk in. The Louisiana State University system finally reconciled itself to carry out such reductions, and health care providers continue to lament the need as well, which in its case end up being even more significant because there often is a matching federal dollar component to their expenditures.

    But all of this agony may have a larger political point. The Jindal Administration spawned a large number of bills addressing these kinds of matters, many of which will surface in front of the House Appropriations Committee today. They are designed to increase budgetary flexibility.

    Interestingly, there is non-trivial opposition to such measures. Some argue that certain functions are too important not to be protected, while others point out that the increased flexibility could allow government to transfer funds put into account directly from the non-government sector to benefit the donors. Several ardent opponents of these measures appear to be on the committee. However, the stark reality of the costs of the inflexible system are being loudly trumpeted by the most prominent victims of it, higher education and health care, putting pressure on the Legislature to pass these measure for Jindal’s signature.

    Unfortunately, one outstanding measure, HB 738 by state Rep. Joel Robideaux which would require review of funds every four years to see whether they should continue with special protections that reduce flexibility, is not being considered along with the other flexibility bills of Senate Pres. Joel Chaisson SB 1, SB 2, and SB 34. It would do considerable service if the committee would amend its provisions onto one of these other bills.

    Successful passage of these bills not significantly altered out of this committee probably assures they will be made into law. Hopefully that proper outcome will occur today.

    14.6.09

    Budget tactics likely to make LA's people winners

    Only one winner for sure will emerge when all is settled with Louisiana’s 2009-10 operating budget – the people of the state.

    Contention has thickened the air for weeks regarding the document due to fundamental disagreements between the House and the Senate over the size of government. A majority of the former has expressed a desire for next to no new taxes and fees, with any additional money at all coming from underutilized existing funding or a somewhat-uncertain amount from an income tax amnesty to dredge up additional funds. The Senate has refined its appetite for additional revenue by repealing an already-implemented tax break and wanting to dip into the Budget Stabilization Fund, a move which in essence would not allow any money to be drained from it next year when fiscal conditions are predicted to be even worse. It largely consents to the House strategies for finding other monies but questions whether the amounts usable in the operating budget can be realized.

    By the Constitution, the governor lays put priorities but the House has the first shot in its origination of fiscal matters. It sent a budget to the Senate reflecting its priorities above. There, the Senate tried to buck the House by rescinding the tax reduction (even as a majority of representatives pledged on paper not to go along with that), tapping the Fund, and adding back in money for areas disproportionately cut given the constitutional and legal structure of the state budgetary process, health care and higher education, made contingent on the bill and resolution passing that would allow these things. The point was to push the House into a conference committee where it could get some of these things – chiefly some kind of reneging on the tax cut, since House Speaker Jim Tucker had ruled the enabling legislation for it unconstitutional and, without any mobilization of House members to overrule him, thereby stopping it. This way, Senate Pres. Joel Chaisson could get the House to amend that bill into the conference report.