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12.3.11

Jindal budget cleverly forces choice to erode populism


Despite the griping, coming largely from the usual suspects of the past three years, guess what, the fiscal year 2011-12 budget laid down by Gov. Bobby Jindal largely will be the one that comes forth as Act 11 of the 2011 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature at session’s end and may hasten the demise of the populist persuasion that has held back the state.

A few minor alterations may crop up. Perhaps most likely not to make it into the final version of this year’s HB 1 is sales of prisons, hoping to generate about $86 million, even as that move makes economic sense. Problematically, too many legislators see prisons more as job providers for which they can take credit for reelection purposes than as correctional facilities, demonstrated by comments made by state Sen. Eric LaFleur to a rally against privatization (ironically, some attendees of which were not state employees but already are employed by private concerns to run state prisons) where he expressed concern that the number of jobs would decrease as a result of the sales – while questions of increased effectiveness and efficiency and greater savings merited none of his attention.

Also of some concern was dependence on a proposed constitutional amendment to provide $92 million more to fund the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars.

10.3.11

Begin discussing ending LA subsidy to public broadcasting

If not zero it out entirely, the budget Gov. Bobby Jindal will present tomorrow should initiate a debate on reducing the state’s appropriation to the Louisiana Educational Television Authority.

In light of the too-candid admission of a former National Public Radio executive that its part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting did not need public funding, calls have intensified to remove taxpayer dollars from supporting NPR and the CPB’s television arm the Public Broadcasting Service. Nationally as of 2009, state governments provided 14.2 percent of revenues to radio and 22.5 percent to television (including in-kind support from universities).

In Louisiana, finding comparable figures are difficult.

9.3.11

Paper makes errors to knock LA spending cut emphasis

While journalists and their editors might be good writers and have some skills at tracking down information, typically they lack the time and/or ability and/or willingness to put into context properly the things on which they report. Due to this tendency, the Baton Rouge Advocate shows how even a routine, even mundane, story can become an uninformed, gratuitous swipe at targeted political interests, in this case supporters of streamlined government.

One of its beat reporters took on the assignment of detailing a perceived rise in the number of forest fires, leading with “The number of forest fires more than doubled in Louisiana during the first two months of the year because of dry, windy weather, forestry officials said.” He already got into trouble right off the bat because it reads like in the past two months the number of fire doubled from some level of unspecified period in the past, which we later discover is actually a year-over-year comparison of the first two months of 2011 with 2010.

Regardless, the narrative appears to be weather largely is to blame for the number of fires handled by the state’s Forestry Office in the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which are only those that occur on timber company land, are inaccessible to local firefighters, or are too large for local firefighters to handle. But when the state’s forester, Charles Dubea, mentioned, or was prompted to do so, that he felt response efforts were getting hindered by reduction of state resources for the department’s firefighters, the story veered in a different direction:

8.3.11

Loyalist sacrifices spot to preserve Jindal reforms


As noted previously, when Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to win a public policy battle, he won’t let public perception get in the way of achieving that objective. Yesterday, one of his soldiers fell on his sword in an awkward way to increase his chances of winning a big one.

Roland Toups, longest serving member of the Louisiana Board of Regents and a Jindal appointee since 2009, resigned at Jindal’s request. The Regents soon will consider study results, prompted by Jindal, to merge Southern University New Orleans and the University of New Orleans and transfer both into (for now) the University of Louisiana System, a contemplated decision guaranteed to rile every higher education elite in the state except those backing UNO and the ULS.

Distracting from the sensible choice to proceed has been a suit filed by the politically-reemerging Cleo Fields, who creatively suggested the lack of any minority representation and disproportionately low female representation on the Board was unconstitutional. While bad jurisprudence, it’s good publicity for merger opponents and, unfortunately, other events got Toups put into a position that made his continued service untenable.

7.3.11

Roemer likely to find last hurrah hoisted on own petard


As previously noted, by making semi-populist, contra-big money, anti-Washington themes central to his nascent presidential campaign, these detract from the legitimacy of former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s extraordinarily long shot attempt to win in 2012. Roemer is a political insider born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he still believes somehow he can capture the Republican nomination as a spokesman for the significant segment of the population attracted to the kind of platform he espouses, because, to a lesser degree, he did the same to become governor. Here’s why this time it won’t work.

Roemer thinks he might catch on because in his successful gubernatorial campaign he spoke about cleaning up cronyism in Baton Rouge and reducing the size of government – a populism growing in strength in America then but at odds with Louisiana’s political history, where “populism” was seen as the use of more intrusive government to divvy up wealth and power purportedly on behalf of the citizenry. But such were the excesses in spending by and perception of corruption concerning the third former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ administration that the message resonated.

The Democrat Roemer was working on his fourth term in Congress, with a reputation for bucking liberal party leaders in ideology, when he set his sights on the leading the state. He didn’t consciously try to win the support of traditional Democrat powerbrokers but became viewed as an outsider dependent upon smaller donations and grassroots support. Perhaps most helpful to his cause was a televised debate where, alone among the Democrats, he stumped for his different approach and absolutely forswore a place for Edwards in his administration. Media figures warmed to that and almost every newspaper in the state endorsed him afterwards. That seemed to catch enough people’s attention to get him into the general election runoff with Edwards, who subsequently withdrew.

But 2012 will be a quarter century past that campaign, and the world and Roemer’s record is very different now.

6.3.11

Hike in state employee retirement contribution justified

At its board’s next meeting within two weeks, Louisiana’s State Employees Retirement System will discuss whether to raise the percentage contribution of salary for some, presumably defined benefit program members of the state government workforce, as announced by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, from 8 percent to 11 percent. It’s an action way overdue.

Despite a constitutional imperative that the state must rid itself of its unfunded accrued liability in its retirement accounts by 2029, the state has moved slowly on securing funds to do so. For this fiscal year, agencies had to budget $690 million to stay on schedule to make this deadline, and this soon will rise to $1 billion a year. Depending on the system, extra amounts set aside to handle the problem – a result of overgenerous promises relative to revenues being collected to fund them – for each system equals to triples money required just to pay for current obligations, an added expense anywhere from over 17 to nearly 30 percent, depending on the system, of base salary costs.

To reduce this sapping of funds that otherwise could go to pressing priorities such as health care or higher education, both facing significant cuts for next fiscal year, only two things can happen: either or both the rate of return on invested money has to increase, which to make up the UAL ($18 billion or so) by the deadline would be beyond any reason, and/or the minimum amount employees (in the defined benefit plan; none of this applies to the defined contribution plan) kick in must rise (the state’s portion, which can be as much as roughly matching currently the employee’s contribution if not much higher, if rising would add nothing since it already is paying the difference). The Administration’s choice will draw flak because it essentially means a reduction in take-home pay for those employees.

But we have to recognize the privileged position Louisiana state employees relative to those employees in the private sector.