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20.10.11

Most fall LA constitutional amendments deserve rejection

This election season, voters face unusually arcane yet important decisions on constitutional amendments. As always, this space is here to help provide clarity.

Most discussed on the October ballot, Amendment 1 does two things (which is a problem, as noted below). It caps the Millennium Trust Fund, with investment income from it continued to be used by a health care fund, education fund, and one for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars, but any settlement funds incoming from the state’s agreement with tobacco manufacturers that currently goes to the MTF to flow to the TOPS fund. That pot would build up over the next three decades or so with the intent of making TOPS close to if not totally self-sustaining.

It also places in the Constitution a permanent four cent per cigarette tax that would flow into the health fund, there because a standalone bill was vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature failed to override with a two-thirds vote, but it could muster a majority to tack this onto the language above, that, as an amendment, is not subject to a veto. Unfortunately, this appears to violate Art. XIII Sec. 1 of the Constitution, which states that amendments must have a single purpose.

19.10.11

LA makes wise call to work on programs, pass on grant

Today is the deadline for states to enter the third round of the federal government’s Race to the Top education grant program, this focused on early childhood learning. Louisiana, as it appears another dozen states will do (four because they did not qualify by accepting a specific kind of programmatic funds related to the oxymoronic Affordable Health Care Act), said it will defer. Despite some predicting that the state would have a good chance of success in winning up to $60 million, reasons for passing on it seem well-founded.

Over the past several years, funding has increased in the state for programs related to early childhood education, or that which occurs prior to kindergarten. But whether it has done much good, or as much as it should have, is itself a campaign issue in this fall’s elections for at least one prominent interest group that argues the system’s lack of coordination hurts the state, which ranks 14th in expenditures among the states. It, as did the Commission on Streamlining Government in 2009, recommends reorganization of the ECL system focused on a single system with high early learning standards and accountability measures. RTT-ECL addresses in particular the latter goal.

Thus, the problem for the state not only was to get together an application in less than two months, but also to spell out how major changes would be made in the state’s delivery system to begin at the start of next year.

18.10.11

Most Bossier, Caddo election action in northern parts

With one exceptional matchup, residents in southern Caddo Parish and their counterparts in Bossier mostly can snooze through fall state and local elections, as the real action seems to be in points north in both parishes.

That exception concerns the Senate District 38 contest between incumbent state Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek and Mansfield Alderman Troy Terrell. This is not a contest Cheek should take lightly, as four years ago in a differently-drawn district she eked out a narrow win over a relatively under-financed and then-relatively unknown today’s House District 5 state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, and Terrell appears to be a better-quality candidate now than Seabaugh was then, who this time drew a challenger in the form of former appointed Shreveport City Council member Cynthia Norton Robertson, now calling herself a Republican.

Through his pastoral duties, being a minister, Terrell has engaged in impressive community service both in the area and the state.

17.10.11

Early voting points to large GOP down ballot LA gains


Early voting in Louisiana for the general election this Saturday has concluded, and has given some hints about what may lay ahead – which looks redder and redder.

Turnout is up 12 percent over the period four years ago, but that doesn’t indicate a massive increase in overall turnout to come in a few days. As voters have become more familiar with the “no-fault” brand of early voting, more take advantage of it. In fact, given a low-profile cakewalk governor’s race for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s incredibly likely reelection without going to a runoff, overall turnout likely will be less than last time. This favors challengers down the ballot, as those who oppose incumbents are easier to activate into voting while voters less likely to show tend to go along with known names.

Comparisons of different kinds of voters prove more helpful, although they are a bit imprecise in using raw numbers rather than percentage figures since category populations change slightly over time. But even with raw numbers, it should be clear that the ratio of black to white voters in 2011 tells a different story than in 2008. Looking at a large parish with registrations split almost evenly between the two races, in Caddo in 2008 only about 1.1 whites for every black voted early in a high-stimulus election for blacks and Democrats with now-Pres. Barack Obama’s electors on the ballot, while in 2011 the ratio is about 2.5 to 1. In Orleans, with a heavy black majority, this year it is about one-half to one, while in 2008 it was about 0.3 to 1. Statewide, the figures are then 1.7 to 1 and now 3.5 to 1. With over twice as many whites relative to blacks voting early, this signals the black share of the electorate will be smaller than usual and favors Republicans and non-black candidates in the general election.

In partisan terms, while there has been a steady erosion of Democrats redounding to Republicans and no-party registrants over the past four years, the raw numbers show such dramatic changes that it’s hard not to conclude total turnout will end up favoring Republican candidates. While the ratio of Democrat-to-Republican early voter in 2008 was about 2:1, this year it has dropped to less than 1.5:1. As with race, a paucity of competitive high-profile Democrats for statewide offices looks likely to fail to excite their party’s voters, favoring Republican candidates.

The GOP entered this election cycle with enthusiasm borne of increasing the number of offices they held in the state at both the national and state levels, through elections and switches, and their continuing surge in registrations relative to Democrats. These early voting numbers show the optimism is warranted, and perhaps even understated. That means, besides keeping all seven statewide executive offices in the fold (obviously without the Democrats putting up a quality candidate for any of them), gains in the Legislature and in local contests may exceed what Republicans had envisioned.

16.10.11

Jindal budget reducing real, but not as big as claimed

Although apparently headed for an easy reelection, whether Gov. Bobby Jindal has, as his campaign claims, significantly has cut spending in Louisiana over his first term has come into dispute. When looking at the number in the most objective way, it seems that both Jindal and his critics on this issue are correct.

The Jindal campaign, at the simplest level, asserts that he lopped off around $9 billion from the last budget of his predecessor to his most recent. While factually correct, it assumes that the reduction came from conscious budget-cutting decisions made by Jindal when, in fact, not all of it came in a discretionary sense.

First and of course, note that the governor does not made spending decisions in isolation. He may have the majority of input, in his submission of the budget, his shaping it through the threatened and actual use of vetoes, and in implementation decisions that require no legislative oversight, yet the Legislature does pass budget bills and does exert oversight in many implementation decisions. Thus, any claimed reductions in spending in the main a governor can claim attribution for, but he cannot take entire credit.

Second, a great deal of operating expenses of state government get paid for by the federal government – in the most recently reported fiscal year, over a third. And in Louisiana’s case, between the start and end of Jindal’s term, a fair chunk of that almost uniquely was not discretionary – recovery funds relating to the hurricane disasters of 2005. These mainly constituted one-time expenditures for things normally not part of governance in the state and so existed invariantly relative to policy decisions made by policy-makers.

Third, of the remaining federal funds allocated, the governor’s spending decisions only partially influence them. For example, spending fewer state dollars on Medicaid means fewer matching federal dollars to spend, but those funds come in regardless. So, a governor does not control entirely this kind of spending; the only way that happens is in decisions whether to participate in federal programs, such as Jindal’s decision not to participate in, and thereby got no federal funds for, one that would pay more unemployment relief to more recipients.

Finally, the real area of policy-making discretion comes from general fund expenditures, since they are unencumbered in any way. By contrast, dedications and self-generated revenues have statutory or constitutional requirements that forcibly spend. The only other area of discretion in spending comes from the ability to dip into funds separate from the general fund (the so-called “one-time” money), to get at surplus monies produced by dedications and fees.


Parsing out these kinds of factors, the claim about reduced state spending may be fairly evaluated. A review of the state budget report for the fiscal year (2008) budgeted prior to Jindal’s assumption of the office and the latest (2012) provides this information. Comparing general fund totals, Jindal had about a half a billion fewer dollars to work with, and with the self-generated and dedicated funds almost the same amount, just a little less. He also had nearly $8 billion fewer coming from the federal government. However, considering that this difference was mostly recovery money, the net result actually was, adjusted for all of these things, a small net decline.

So Jindal did cut the budget in policy-related ways, but not nearly as dramatically as he might advertise. One could argue that the nature of declining revenues forced him into it, or that if he really made this a priority he could try to get through the Legislature bills to reduce the forced dedicated spending. As it is, his incremental reductions fit his governing style as someone not given to sudden, dramatic changes but who slowly but surely tinkers at the margins to create a more efficient government that spends less and more wisely.