As the House and Senate Budget Stabilization Fund controversy continues, rather extensive and large silver linings become more apparent, almost leading one to wonder about the convenience of it all.
As noted, the chambers’ leaders are locked in a constitutional dispute about use of these funds of nearly $200 million which has lead to none of it being used for budgeting by the House Appropriations Committee. Thereby it appears the House has called the Senate’s bluff (at least in the version of its budget which other officials say incorrectly calculates federal money insertions that they say are fewer) and will completely refuse the use of these funds.
But at least four ramifications that well may produce policy congruent with the agendas of reformers and more fiscally conservative policy-makers may come about if the House leadership sticks to its guns and refuses to authorize releasing of the funds reflected in this budget. The most obvious and largely sought after by leaders of both chambers and Gov. Bobby Jindal is an unwise change to the Fund’s rules that would guarantee it could be used in fiscal year 2011-12 when money problems get even worse.
Additionally, some long-desired changes by many in Louisiana government could happen as a result of more enforced austerity. Originally designed to have no instructional costs cut, the House version now will whack another $50 million potentially out higher education. This move could spur changes dealing with what many have come to realize about the system: it is heavy in top administration with too much functional dispersion. This reduction may provide a bigger push for the reduction of governing boards and (obvious) merging of campuses which many policy-makers want but who at present cannot find the legislative supermajorities to pull them off.
Also, already started in process but especially with passage of federal legislation that will encourage lower quality health care at higher costs to consumers and taxpayers, the charity hospital model in Louisiana becomes increasingly untenable. As part of $68 million in contemplated cuts to health and hospitals, officials said this might cause (more accurately, hasten) the closure of an unnamed four of these hospitals. Although this might disrupt initially the care continuum, in the affected areas the medical community should have the capacity to absorb the formerly state-treated patients, especially as this will accelerate behavioral changes as a result of their inability to use emergency care as primary care to place greater emphasis on preventive care.
Finally, counterproductive corporate welfare may get eliminated as $55 million remaining in the Mega-Projects Fund will disappear. While the mandarins in charge of giving away taxpayer dollars to private concerns will yawp about how this means large employers are less likely to be lured into the state, it would put an end to the inefficient bribery scheme they employ that is empirically unproven to bring more benefits than costs (and its specific failures) and instead focus the task on economic development on the sounder principles of lower taxes, reduced regulation, and streamlined procedures.
Given the potential benefits of these outcomes, one wonders whether there’s more to the constitutional dispute than fidelity to principle. While House Speaker Jim Tucker has spoken against changing the procedures of using the Fund, by word and legislative deed he has shown sympathy for these other outcomes, and some other members of the House in particular have demonstrated much greater public enthusiasm for them. Constitutional questions to them may be a fortunate reason to create conditions that make these policy changes more necessary to sell over wider objections in the Senate and to other balky House members. It would be a happy if uncommon circumstance if adhering to the Constitution on the basis of principle simultaneously produces better politics through superior policy.