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20.8.09

Jindal budgeting plan may lack will to overcome politics

It’s old wine in new bottles. It’s been tried elsewhere with little results. But that doesn’t mean that Louisiana shouldn’t take a shot with it, as long as it maintains realistic expectations about what it can and cannot do.

Gov. Bobby Jindal apparently has turned to an old pal to help the state winnow away projected massive projected budget deficits over the next three years, using an old strategy. Rolfe McCollister, a backer of Jindal’s for years and publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report, has been enlisted to raise money to support an effort to improve the state budgeting process. McCollister leads Believe In Louisiana, an interest group that typically has backed the Jindal public policy agenda.

The strategy to be employed they call “outcome-based budgeting,” although it goes by many other names. Its idea is to create an overall budgetary benchmark. This establishes a pot of money for distribution to government. Then, all functions of government are broken down into discrete units and the activities related to them calculated with their cost figures. Each function then is rank ordered from most to least important. Finally, activities are funded starting at the top and moving down the list until the available money is exhausted, after which those activities are not funded and thereby not pursued by government. Another variant would set for different service levels using different amounts of money. Still another determines what will be considered the priorities, and then finds the money to fulfill as many as possible.

To facilitate this, the state has spent a (relatively) small amount of money to hire David Osborne, a leading proponent of the technique who gained fame for his “reinventing government” rubric in the 1990s, borrowing from ideas that had been around for a quarter-century previously. These plans are all well and good, but the reality of the situation is this is a very hard row to hoe with the threat of overinflated expectations.

The single biggest mistake made in these kinds of campaigns is failure to understand that, at a fundamental level, you cannot “reinvent” government. This idea is that procedures in government’s operation can be implemented to increase its efficiency and to save substantially. In a word, that is unattainable because of the very nature of government. It is attuned to achieving not greater “efficiency,” or increasing output with the same or reduced input, but with “effectiveness,” or completing judged satisfactorily a task regardless of the amount of resources used. Efficiency can be achieved at the margins, but never in great quantity because, by definition without a profit motive to provide incentives needed for efficient behavior, government inherently is wasteful.

Additionally, the budgeting strategy requires a strong will on the part of implementers to put aside politics in decision-making. Right now in Louisiana there are many programs that either deliver little to the state and/or because of the mix of payers and beneficiaries needlessly cost much more than they should. (Perhaps the most expensive example is the case mix methodology for reimbursements to nursing homes regarding Medicaid payments that forces into them many people who don’t need such an intense level of care that could be done much more cheaply in home or community settings, and allows the industry to charge the taxpayers $20 million a year for empty beds.) Political decisions where certain interests have legislative allies who funnel them the money with little regard to efficiency or priority prop up this wasteful spending. It won’t be enough for Jindal to have a steely resolve to deal with these kinds of situations; also, a number of legislators will have to join him to tamp down political influences that would interfere with the use of this strategy.

Given the state’s history, one should be leery that the political will exists here to see this strategy through to its end. Louisiana is not alone in this regard: many states have talked about this, but few have gone so far as to try it and actually in the form in which it was intended (usually succeeding precisely because extreme budgetary difficulties were at hand). Still, given the magnitude of the impending crisis, it’s worth taking a shot. And if Jindal actually could pull it off in a meaningful way, given the obstacles it would rank as one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, policy achievement of any governor in the state’s history.

19.8.09

LA media outlet abrogates duty on health deabte coverage

Pres. Barack Obama’s fading radical shift to universal, government provided health care coverage hit the beachhead of Louisiana in an effort to revive its flagging fortunes, courtesy of an eager front group and a lazy newspaper.

The Times-Picayune published a story of a study released by a group known as Families USA. The study argued that in Louisiana for almost a decade health care premiums rose more quickly than family incomes, and said how to change that was by more emphasis on preventative care, better management of chronic conditions, increased coordination, not enough regulation of health insurance, reversal of too little competition in the insurance market requiring more regulation and through creation of a publicly-funded insurance option, and reduced cost shifting from the uninsured to the insured by forcibly increasing coverage.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it mimics the socialist agenda of Obama on health care. This should be no surprise, because Families USA since its founding has been an outspoken advocate for the liberal public policy agenda when it comes to health care – something not noted by the newspaper. It receives the vast majority of its funding from the labor movement, has relentlessly criticized market-based solutions to improvement of coverage, and it’s no accident that when then-Sen. Obama famously proclaimed America would see (presumably by his hand) universal coverage by 2012, it was at this organization’s conference.

18.8.09

Adley urging may cause more waste of taxpayer funds

State Sen. Robert Adley has gone on another fishing expedition, and if history is any guide it will end up being a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Adley became perturbed a couple of months ago over the content of a blog associated with the governor’s Division of Administration that he claimed broke state law by having content favoring issues supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal being financed by state money. The office has presented a detailed defense showing how the relevant statute is not being violated, but Adley has persisted and appears to have gotten the matter to be taken up by the state’s Ethics Board at its next meeting nest week.

The problem is, Adley has a history of making spurious ethics violations charges. In 2007, in a bizarre incident Shreveport demographer and for-hire political consultant Elliot Stonecipher twice on radio said a former state representative, that official’s daughter, a former state senate candidate, and another area political consultant violated ethics laws. Stonecipher had only hearsay evidence. Despite this flimsiness, Adley said he would bring a complaint against the former state Rep. Mike Powell to the Board. And nothing happened, nor has Adley ever issued an apology for publicizing his unfounded suspicions of Powell.

The tactic of lodging ethics complaints seems to be a common one for Adley concerning his political adversaries. Certainly Jindal falls into that category after ensuring Adley’s influence in the Senate has waned dramatically and torpedoing some lackluster bills of his that has driven Adley to the edge of goofiness uncommon even among Louisiana legislators. His tactical wont is all the more humorous/disturbing because Adley himself has a morally questionable relationship as the owner of a gas management company that in the last contract renegotiations won a no-bid contract with an association of state local governments over which he as a senator has power. While the arrangement is not illegal, it seems unlikely were Adley a private citizen such a cozy arrangement ever would have been made.

The Board will determine whether there is any merit to Adley’s latest claim. But the past suggests it’s not so much the merit of his assertions as it is political aims that drives these kinds of actions by him, thus leading to a waste of taxpayer resources utilized by the Board in its having to separate the wheat from the chaff.

17.8.09

Melancon's hot air worse than emissions from his junket

As if he’s not gotten a number of his constituents riled over his tacit, if not actual, support for the liberal Democrat agenda, now Rep. Charlie Melancon has found he had to explain why he participated in a Congressional junket – records of which were buried by his majority party – that cost the taxpayers in the neighborhood of $500,000. And in doing so he managed to sound silly and hypocritical simultaneously.

Because of the designed obscurity of the information, the Wall Street Journal got the story out about the semi-working vacation around the beginning of 2008 only in early August of this year. Melancon and several other Members made a grand tour of the South Pacific and Antarctica, which included opportunities to surf, snorkel, scuba, and frolic with penguins, among other things. The ostensible purpose of the trip, which included spouses (Melancon’s being one of them) and staffers, was to gain a better understanding of global warming and to review use of federal dollars, such as by peering through a $271 million telescope at the South Pole.

Melancon apparently hoped the story would blow over but found last week that he had to make some sort of defense of this profligacy on other people’s money. On the incident he spoke, “Louisiana is losing a football field of land every half-hour due to coastal erosion and rising sea levels. Our very survival depends on reversing this trend.”

Given that Melancon made a Louisiana reference in his excuse, one must wonder just how thick is his skull. After all, it would have been a whole lot cheaper to him to drive, maybe even take a helicopter, to any of innumerable places where he could have sat for a half hour to watch a 100x40 yard patch of his district disappear due to global warming. He didn’t have to stick working people with tens of thousands of dollars in costs to travel halfway around the world just to get that point through his head.

And if he truly was concerned about global warming, then with this trip why did he allegedly stimulate more of it? After all, the greenhouse gas emissions spewed as a result of this jaunt that he believes cause the very global warming he claimed he was worried about and wanted to study about would have been far fewer if he had just confined himself to a drive to the coast.

The information revolution is a wonderful thing and perhaps Melancon should take advantage of it to reduce his production of those gases. Instead of having to see the telescope at the bottom of the Earth, for example, he might have chosen to read a report about it or, if he wanted to get really fancy, maybe some video conferencing with the scientists there. And if he had such a hankering to get postmarks from the station, he could have asked the scientists to mail him the information from there.

Still, the greenhouse gases Melancon’s trip emitted pale in comparison to the hot air coming out of his mouth about it. In reality, Melancon took it because he could, his constituents would pay for it, and thought it wouldn’t cost him politically. (It should be noted many in Congress from both parties exhibit Melancon’s arrogance on this matter.) This sojourn was not cost effective for taxpayers in any imaginable sense, and his opposing claim of that further demonstrates just how out of touch Melancon is with the citizenry of his district.

16.8.09

Will calling out Democrat lap dog produce GOP win?

When a sports team runs a play that succeeds again and again, it’s up to the opposition to find something that counters it. With some help from Democrats, Republicans in Acadiana are showing they can do it and may provide lessons for campaigning in the next couple of years.

For years, the Democrat playbook has been to present an image to conservative constituencies that comprise a majority of a district that their candidates are conservative enough to win their votes, yet to do everything possible to obscure the fact they are more than willing to vote for liberal policies demanded by their party leaders. Perhaps the most accomplished practitioner of this strategy in Louisiana is the area’s own Rep. Charlie Melancon, who in 2008 managed to run unopposed for a third term in a district that gave only about 35 percent of its vote to his co-partisan Pres. Barack Obama.

The rise of national Democrats to heights not seen in three decades, largely dependent upon lap dogs such as (his tactics earning him the nickname) Con Man Melancon, at the same time sow their own seeds of destruction of that success and of politicians of Melancon’s ilk. Because they have a comfortable majority, the very liberal White House and congressional Democrat leadership pursue policies that are simply too publicly too liberal for these lap dogs to be able to disassociate themselves from their masters. However, Republicans can benefit only if they take advantage of this opening.

At least one seems to be. Republican former Lafourche Parish Councilman Brent Callais has sent a campaign ad highlighting opponent Democrat lobbyist Norby Chabert’s congruence with Obama – and by implication his agenda – in the special election for state Senate District 23 to be contested Aug. 29. Chabert has responded with the standard lap dog playbook recommendation – claim this “distorts” his views while simultaneously attacking Callais for making true statements.

Chabert’s weaseling on the situation which turns it into a pot-calling-the-kettle-black episode raises questions about his ability to govern. Chabert himself actually began the distortion days earlier when he accused, on the basis of Callais expressing a desire to “moderately support” privatizing Houma charity hospital Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center (named after his late father, a long-standing local political boss who once held this seat), that this equated to Callais wanting to close the facility.

Chabert certainly cannot think critically very well if he cannot understand that if a need is there, privatization of the facility will not close it and this should provide more efficient use of state resources. And if the demand is not there, then why waste taxpayers’ dollars on something not needed? Privatization does not mean automatic closing, and to think so shows Chabert either wants to use the issue to score political points, or lacks the intellect to be an effective state senator.

Another demonstration of this weakness comes in his response to Callais’ ad that reminds the public that Chabert voted for Obama. Chabert claims too much is being made of the vote which he said, in part, came from Obama’s opponent Sen. John McCain’s vote against a water resources project that Chabert asserts was unwise. This means one of two things. One, Chabert is akin to a single-issue voter that cannot look beyond that to make judgments about what is best as a whole for the people, if we are to believe his implication that he’s really kind of against Obama (despite sharing party labels) but he was more against McCain because of that one issue. The other is that he simply needs an excuse because he agrees more than disagrees with Obama’s agenda. So either his district would get a senator unable to see the bigger picture, or one who is mendacious.

Thus, when Callais also asserts that Chabert “cannot be trusted,” there is real evidence to back this up, in terms of the former’s trying to explain away his affinity for Obama and willingness to distort Callais’ statements. Yet Chabert pouts that this mailing is a “negative” attack that he said Callais said the latter would not do. This also is a common Democrat lap dog tactic, that when their inconsistencies are pointed out, they accuse opponents of being distorting and negative. But the flier only points out that “Norby Chabert supports Barack Obama. Brent Callais opposes Barack Obama and his government-run health care,” both simple statements of fact neither disputable. Yet Chabert wants to delegitimize the veracity of Callais’ notification by trying to stigmatize it as “negative” and somehow untrue – again, leading one to wonder whether somebody who thinks like this is qualified to serve in public office.

Therefore, the election Saturday after next could demonstrate a Republican strategy with sharp reverberations for future state contests. A Callais win using these tactics, in a district historically represented by Democrats and whose electorate gave the majority of their vote to Democrats in the primary, will show that a relentless exposure of the inconsistent words-to-behavior aspect of Democrats in conservative districts is the key to winning. If subsequently followed by others, it could mean the death knell for Melancon’s political career in 2010, and other Democrat state legislators in 2011.