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Politics must take back seat to deal with budget reform

Eyebrows of political watchers rose when they caught on to the link that had popped up a week earlier on the front page of Louisiana’s Division of Administration web site, which broadly addressed budgetary concerns but also threw cold water on some of Treasurer John Kennedy’s suggestions for cutting the state’s budget.

For months, Kennedy has been stumping for this set of ideas which he says would save over $2 billion annually compared to the present for the state within three years, gestated from his service on the Commission on Streamlining Government. Some are good, such as establishing larger spans of control where possible in state government, or change state law to nonemergency emergency room visits by those on Medicaid.

But others, some of which already were noted long before the state’s executive branch addressed them, are already being implemented, will do far less than Kennedy advertises, or fail to accurately address the actual situation. For example, the idea to placing greater emphasis on enforcing true necessity for Medicaid hospitalization already is racking up savings, the recommended LaHIPP program implementation cannot possibly reach the savings levels Kennedy asserts, and the tactic to eliminate 5,000 positions as they come open each year, given the distribution of where vacancies occur, would cause some critical shortages in some areas and would tend to impact disproportionately lower-level jobs that would end up working at cross-purposes with the genuine need to reduce span of control.

Kennedy seemed nonplussed at the emergence of this document and disinclined to defend thoughtfully the policy recipes of the ones critiqued by the DOA. He is going to meet with Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater this week to discuss his list. Rainwater’s comments showed a slight annoyance at the publicity Kennedy’s plan has received, in no small part because Kennedy actively has plumped for the plan all across the state through interviews and speaking engagements, with Rainwater claiming he never bothered to coordinate with DOA on the ideas.

No doubt politics explains some of the pique for both parties. On some of the good ideas from the list, the DOA and its boss Gov. Bobby Jindal have been slow to act or to make the wider public aware they have been implemented while Kennedy grabs credit for them. For his part, Kennedy appears to have overstated the value of his package, possibly to score political points as he runs neck-and-neck with Sec. of State Jay Dardenne (and maybe Jindal) as the most progressively ambitious politician in the state; regardless of the merits of the ideas, one gets the sense that Kennedy is as interested in raising his political profile for a future bid for higher office as he is in trying to save the state some money.

That a summit needs calling at all illustrates the perils of multiple, independent executives in a state. In trying to deal with budget difficulties in the short run and to bring about more efficient government in the long run, getting both Jindal and Kennedy on the same page will provide for more energy in accomplishing these objectives with less wasted on trying to claim political credit.

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