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26.5.11

GOP House error already haunting it politically

It didn’t take long for the Louisiana House’s petulance, and in particular that of self-styled Republican “fiscal conservatives,” to come back to haunt it. The possibility that the GOP would put itself into a political bind became reality when its own recent action stymied its ability to pass a budget to its liking.

Earlier this week, supported by House Republican leaders, the body made a rule change that would require two-thirds approval for any use of funds that were deemed “one-time” in nature – asset sales, privatization proceeds, and dipping into funds with dedicated sources of revenue – in a budget beyond what the forecasted increase in state general fund revenues would be for the next fiscal year. This meant that when the state’s operating budget came up for discussion, cuts of $93 million needed to happen.

So the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Democrat state Rep. Jim Fannin, proposed hacking $81 million of that out of money that would fund the transition of Louisiana’s Medicaid system from its present fee-for-service arrangement to a more efficient coordinated care network.

25.5.11

Diluted board merger better than nothing, but still may fail

If tying Southern University New Orleans a little closer to the University of New Orleans instead of a demonstrably better merger is an eighth of a loaf when bread symbolizes good public policy, then, as currently envisioned, the creation of one governing board for higher education to replace the current five is a sixteenth of a loaf. Whether this marriage can make it out the church, unlike the other, is another matter.

HB 391 (unamended text here; as is growing more common, legislative staff are getting lazier in posting current information) by Speaker Jim Tucker would accomplish this by consolidating all governance power of higher education into a board of 13 gubernatorial appointees and one student member – looking on the surface remarkably like the existing Board of Regents with its 15 gubernatorial-appointed members and a student. But a couple of other aspects smirch the laudatory aspects of the amendment almost to the point its success would become pyrrhic.

As amended in committee, it retains the Art. VIII Sec. 5 requirement that the Legislature may close or merge institutions only through a two-thirds vote, a stricture due more to politics than to philosophy.

24.5.11

Cowardly House GOP angles for assisted political suicide

One of the main reasons, in a moderately conservative country like the U.S. where Republicans do not consistently operate government, and in a conservative state like Louisiana where only recently Republicans have come to power, that the GOP does not run government as often as their numbers would suggest is the party’s propensity to have its elected officials form a circular firing squad and shoot. And when it’s done for reasons of political cowardice, it’s that much worse.

Louisiana Democrats must be guffawing at the latest incident, the House’s passage of Republican state Rep. Brett Geymann’s HCR 27 which requires, for use in a budget, a two-thirds vote of the House to allow in any funds “ available for appropriation from any special treasury fund excluding any monies forecast to be dedicated into such a fund by the Revenue Estimating Conference in the official forecast for that fiscal year [or m]oney available for appropriation from the state general fund from one time transactions, but not recognized as nonrecurring revenue by the Revenue Estimating Conference, including but not limited to court settlements, the sale of state facilities, and the privatization of state operations.”

As previously noted, the second part of this isn’t entirely reckless – asset sales and settlements are true windfalls of a kind, although there’s no logic including privatization efforts since they produce recurring savings. But it’s the asinine first part that demonstrates too many members of the House choose symbolism over substance, to the detriment of both the state and, in the case of Republicans, to GOP fortunes.

23.5.11

Strong governor possible only with Legislature's cooperation

It’s not that the governor of Louisiana is so powerful, it’s that the Louisiana Legislature, shaped by the personalistic political culture of the state, is so willing to abdicate its considerable power – especially when democratic checks and balances come into play.

Some observers had a chance to muse about the fate, the apparent death in the Legislature, of a proposed constitutional amendment this session, which would have tripled fees for private vehicle registrations and dedicated the additional money over the next six years to fund a potpourri of roads projects. Not that the legislation was good to begin with – it’s never a good idea to write such specific things in the Constitution leaving no room for changing needs and there have been suggested better plans to more flexibly get more money to roads construction that don’t require any fee increases – but regardless of its worth the episode serves as a example of how the personalistic political culture of the state continues to shape its policy outcomes.

This political culture emphasizes the role of the individual policy-maker in the aggregation, articulation, and pursuit of policy interests, as opposed to collective institutions such as political parties, interest groups, and social movements. This transforms the purpose of government from something that is to impartially manage social conflict to allow individuals the maximal opportunity to pursue their own ends in societal interactions, and instead makes it an active participant to be used by the strongest coalition to steer resources to its members from non-members.