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20.1.11

Jindal to have battle over bold higher education policy

After some tinkering at the margins, Gov. Bobby Jindal seems to be stepping up with ways to stabilize funding for higher education in Louisiana with announcements of technocratic and revolutionary policy initiatives.

On the surface, his support of a constitutional amendment that would reshape the Millennium Trust Fund would seem to be more a technical adjustment than anything else yet its implication resonate more broadly. Established in the aftermath of the famous mid-1990s extortion by state governments of money from tobacco companies, which allegedly was their contribution to pay for health problems of state residents for which the states were paying, some of that settlement, earnings from it, and subsequent deposits into the MTF actually goes to pay for health care by the state, but two-thirds goes to educational purposes, half of that to pay for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars.

Instead of money going into the fund or a third of investment earnings going to support TOPS, the MTF would be capped by this amendment at $1.38 billion and anything over that, by deposit (from the settlement, three-quarters of the annuity payment) or investment, would flow directly to TOPS instead of diversion into it and splitting it up there. Investment earnings presently pay for $15 million of the $134 million current cost of the program; with more money directed to TOPS, that would rise to $58 million upon enactment and by 2018 would increase further up to $128 million by 2030 (and then the amount would be changed in unknown ways as the securitized portion of the settlement, three-fifth, lapses under current arrangements).

19.1.11

Legislature can help court in preserving LA Constitution

That the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has accepted a case asking Louisiana to recognize a same-sex marriage for records purposes indicates the constitutionally correct solution may be on its way – to which state policy-makers should give an assist.

The case of Adar v. Smith was decided in late 2008 and then affirmed by a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit, to which the state appealed. It concerns two males who were married under New York law adopting a child born in Louisiana and their desire to have both names placed on the child’s birth certificate as “parents.” But Louisiana law only allows adoptions to occur by a married couple, defined in the state Constitution as between one man and one woman, or a single individual, while the law regarding certificate issuance states that the adoptive parent or parents can have their name placed upon it (in this instance the actual birth parents, if known, are kept under seal). Because Louisiana states that by request the parents’ names be placed upon the document but that law does not prohibit two or more same-sex parents from being listed, despite the other statute and Constitution, the lower court ruled deference must be given to the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution to have both names put on it.

Wisely, Louisiana appealed because to allow this interpretation to stand attacks the state’s Constitution and erodes the concept of state general police powers (i.e., to regulate the health, safety and morals of the public) in the U.S. Constitution. That the Fifth Circuit is willing to examine it demonstrates a number of its judges question the lower court ruling. That ruling relied heavily on a prior precedent from the Tenth Circuit, but which the previous court admitted did not exactly fit the facts of this case. In essence, the ruling as it exists makes one state’s law take precedence over another state’s constitution, even if each state is supposed to be able to exercise its own police powers. 

18.1.11

Resistance to LA Medicaid reform to test Jindal resolve

By initial reactions, Louisiana will have to fight tooth-and-nail to bring efficiency to its bloated indigent children’s health care system – in the process demonstrating the utility of state reforms being pushed by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration.

As previously noted, in order to continue a program dealing with coordinating pediatric care under Medicaid the state has gone from a flat $3/patient/month fee to one ranging from $1.50 to $3.75, depending upon how well the providers meet four performance benchmarks designed to ensure efficiency in the system, including how good of a job doctors are doing with their patients. This is a big deal, as the vast majority of Medicaid service recipients are children.

Under the previous system, if they wanted to, pediatric groups had to make next to no effort for efficiency sake in order to collect the funds. Even regardless of how much effort they put into care, there was no link between their efforts and outcomes. It was not much better than the previous system where clients showed up at a doctor’s office, emergency room, or charity hospital and were treated, with reimbursements to providers paid with few or no questions asked.

17.1.11

Taxpayers, Jindal win with prison privatization, sales

Taxpayer resources and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political fortunes both receive a boost if Louisiana would just follow its own people’s advice regarding correctional policy.

As the state stares down an upcoming year of severe budget difficulty, among other things Jindal has suggested the sale of prisons, with his administration specifically citing the Allen and Winn Correctional Centers, in order to raise money, $64 million it predicts in these two cases. Consequently, two separate but related criticisms have emerged of the idea. One, among others voiced by Treasurer John Kennedy, is that an asset sale does not provide a long-term solution to budgetary pressures, with the implication that the state would have to find access to a similar kind of asset in the future. The other, articulated by state Sen. John Alario among others, is that without ownership of the asset the state may have insufficient control over its use to implement state policy without potentially higher costs than if owned.
These concerns reflect some truth. If Louisiana sold the prisons and found real need to house prisoners, in order to bid for services to do so it might end up paying more in contract costs than it does now through the alternative strategies of owning and operating its own or finding a lower-cost operator of sufficient quality (both Allen and Winn are owned by the state but have operations contracted out). Yet combining the privatization strategy with more innovative correctional techniques can moot these concerns.

16.1.11

Obama panel performs snow job on Jones Act fallout

Although the many ideologically-driven flaws of the final report of Pres. Barack Obama’s National Oil Spill Commission have been thoroughly covered, another attempt in the report to wipe egg off the Administration’s face concerns the role the Merchant Marine (Jones) Act of 1920 has received less attention, even as it confirms the political nature of the report.

The Jones Act prevents foreign vessels, such as skimmers that during the time the well remained uncapped were desperately needed, from operating out of U.S. ports (instead of in transshipment with a foreign port as a destination), in order to placate U.S. maritime unions. Foreign skimmers could find a way around the law by coming and going from the same U.S. port and skimming more than three miles offshore, but some skimming needed to be done where oil was hitting shore within three miles of the shoreline. At the time, the Obama Administration denied any requests had been made for the only other way around it, a waiver, even though one company had publicly revealed it had made such a request. Others foreign governments at the time reported offers of help that due to the Act were rebuffed, and one even engaged in subterfuge to get around the Act.

As now reported that wasn’t the only dishonesty coming from the Administration. It turns out that in fact, despite denials at the time, a number of waivers appear to have been ended up getting granted, perhaps then not admitted to save embarrassment from the implications of the Act. The word “appear” above is not accident; that’s exactly the verb used on pp. 142-43 on the report. The entirety of the report’s discussion deserves display, as it is so brief:

Foreign companies and countries also offered assistance in the form of response equipment and vessels. The Coast Guard and National Incident Command accepted some of these offers and rejected others.98 News reports and politicians alleged that the federal government turned away foreign offers of assistance because of the Jones Act, a law preventing foreign vessels from participating in trade between U.S. ports.99 While decisionmakers did decline to purchase some foreign equipment for operational reasons—for example, Dutch vessels that would have taken weeks to outfit and sail to the region, and a Taiwanese super-skimmer that was expensive and highly inefficient in the Gulf—they did not reject foreign ships because of Jones Act restrictions.100 These restrictions did not even come into play for the vast majority of vessels operating at the wellhead, because the Act does not block foreign vessels from loading and then unloading oil more than three miles off the coast.101 When the Act did apply, the National Incident Commander appears to have granted waivers and exemptions when requested.102

The footnotes above all cite as sources the National Incident Commander, Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard, other subordinates of his, media releases from the Departments of State and Homeland Security and the White House, or media stories hewing to this viewpoint – in other words, featuring no real independent sources with inside knowledge of the events, and certainly no testimony or documents from foreign governments who publicly announced they had tried to offer assistance. The final footnote attached to where “appears” appears in the text relies upon “Non-public Coast Guard documents, June 29, 2010, June 30, 2010, and July 9, 2010.”

In other words, the Commission seemed satisfied with taking the word of just one side of the argument – the side that had created the Commission and selected its members – despite this wealth of information suggesting a plausible, if not absolutely convincing, alternative history. As such, that the report included what it did only confirms the general overall untrustworthiness of it and as a snow job outrivals recently blizzards that have struck the country.