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16.6.12

Zestful Jindal takes advantage of compliant legislators


In reaction to some choice line-item vetoes, no doubt detractors of Gov. Bobby Jindal will voice the usual canards about how the governor’s position in general is too powerful and specifically especially how Jindal is mean and vindictive. But if they wish to place accuracy over emotion and ideology, they’ll come to understand that the real culprits in setting up the exercise of gubernatorial political power don’t include but rather majorities in each chamber of the Legislature.

HB 1 featured ten vetoed line items, although almost all of them dealing with amendments that restricted the scope of executive branch discretion, showed favoritism to certain health care providers, or with funding legislation already vetoed. But it was items dealing with spending by the Departments of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism and Treasury that caught attention.

Out of the former, $2 million for marketing in the Office of Tourism got hacked away. For months, the official serving as the secretary of the department Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, has moaned about how the budget directed him to use part of his dedicated funding stream, from a .03 percent sales tax levy (classified as going to the Tourism Promotion District), to fund big sporting and cultural events – a reasonable use as these events attract tourists. From the latter, whose head Treasurer John Kennedy carps consistently, with ideas from the attention-grabbing while highly impractical to the competent, about how cuts can be made in government but Jindal and legislators won’t do it, got whacked around $511,000 said to be a “retirement adjustment” (meaning making up for unfunded accrued liabilities) excised because, the veto message said, the amount was overestimated from the three-year average and was inflated because it was funding four vacant positions.

14.6.12

Signing one, vetoing other rebate bill aids public education


Those legislators with an interest in maximizing government control grumbled somewhat when state Rep. Kirk Talbot’s HB 969 got put into law, which would allow tax rebates for donations to organizations that would help pay for tuition of lower-income students to private schools. Some responded by getting behind HB 1106 by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, which would allow tax rebates for donations to all but the most successful public schools. Their discontent reached new heights when Gov. Bobby Jindal, in contrast to Talbot’s bill, vetoed Jackson’s – as it is, for very good reasons beyond what he stated.

That perturbed the bill’s author, among others, who declared, with a flair for the inaccurate and sanctimonious, that this had been the only bill out there “which truly helps our public schools to receive much needed resources.” Jindal’s veto message noted that the initial $10 million that the program could cost was unfunded (and by the bill could have created an unfunded mandate by escalating every year). That practical objection aside, there was a huge conceptual objection to it as well, related to the differences between the monopoly and market natures of the different approaches to providing education to the state’s children.

Talbot’s bill provides incentives to donate money to independent organizations although affiliated with private schools that could use the money only as direct awards to families for their children to attend those schools, with preference if demand exceeds supply given to those who would otherwise have attended an underperforming public school. Accountability measures put in place in the new law, which will be supplemented by departmental rules, minimize opportunities to subvert the system on the basis of favoritism to families for reasons of friendship, athletic ability, etc. (but does allow earmarking on the basis of disability). The schools do not get the money directly, which is capped at only 80 or 90 percent of the aid given to public schools for each child, and are not shielded in any way from market forces; you can have all the money in the world flowing into the organization but if families are turned off in having their children attend the associated school, it doesn’t get these funds (and donors who do not have their dollars used can request a refund minus the five percent allowed overhead charge), and donations would decrease to these organizations until the schools improved.

13.6.12

Enforced parsimony improves program menu, delivery


For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that occurs relative to budget cuts in Louisiana, the fact of the matter is they have a cleansing effect, wringing out impure inefficiencies otherwise potentially tolerated without the imperative of tighter money. Case studies show the benefits they bring to taxpayers.

In the waning days of the just-completed legislative session, one high-profile program that seemed on the chopping block when there was a movement afoot to exclude some recurring funds from the budget just because they weren’t classified as being in the general fund was Early Steps, which seeks to assist developmentally disabled children to overcome as much as possible learning impediments at an early age to prepare them for regular schooling. If the program does what it should, this makes sense to avoid having more intensive and expensive services later administered without this intervention.

When funding did come through, obviously program participants were relieved, but the near-miss also induced some retrospection about what the program does and how it goes about doing it. As one functionary noted, restructuring and review of the core assumptions of how the program can operate to achieve its goals using fewer resources are tasks inspired by the threat of budgetary reductions. Without such external stimuli, incentives for this kind of evaluation may never exist sufficiently to prompt money-saving measures.

12.6.12

Jindal thwarts lemming's political ploy at taxpayer expense


If lemmings could understand human language, as you watched them run towards the cliff you could run with them, trying to reason with them, telling them if they would just stop and look at the evidence and think about it, they’d hightail it in the opposite direction. But because they are lemmings, because they feel they should be making that dash regardless of the truth that awaits, they wouldn’t stop. Which is why if she could choose to be an animal, state Sen. Karen Peterson would feel right at home as a lemming.

Peterson, a staunch ally of Pres. Barack Obama, recently took command of Louisiana’s Democrats in a state where the embattled Obama remains extraordinarily unpopular and the party unusually inert. She pledged to take the party even further to the political left, its steady drift in that direction already having weakened it, mimicking the actions of Obama at the national level.

As a legislator, this session she signed on to the usual moonbattery as is her wont, but one of her sanitized obnoxious ideas actually made it all the way to the governor’s desk. Her HB 577 came in as a related measure to her HB 568, which was based upon the sham that structural imperfections in society and economics discriminate institutionally against women by forcing them to be paid less than men for comparable work, limited in this bill to government positions. Through careful, valid research this myth long ago and repeatedly has been disproven.

11.6.12

This space helping to endanger LA newspaper industry


In the past few months, plenty of turmoil has swept through the newspaper industry both in northwest Louisiana and the state as a whole. You may thank this column in part for that.

Earlier in the year, Gannett Corporation, the owner of the Shreveport Times and several others newspapers in Louisiana, notified the world that by the end of the year its websites would be converted to paid models of delivery as a response to the rapidly declining revenues from its print versions. The idea is that too much of the product was going out for free and therefore to monetize it beyond the small contributions of digital ad sales.

But this tactic only will slow the decline, because you can’t compete against others still giving away essentially the same content for free. In the good old days, in almost any area of interest, the only source of information or entertainment one could get in a portable, on-demand way was a newspaper. However, you had to pay for it.

10.6.12

How to try retirement reform again to avoid coming crisis

Hopefully, it won’t take a massive crisis to get Louisiana policy-makers to realize the necessity of pension reform – but wait much longer and that imperative will force itself onto the state.

California exemplifies what happens when policy-makers ignore a pending crisis of this nature. The state and many of its political subdivisions in flush times became extremely generous to government employees with the people’s resources, creating a compensation structure that made these employees significantly better off on this account than those in the private sector paying for it. But good times don’t last forever, especially when decades of imprudent state fiscal management combine with periods of the same (such as currently) from the federal government, and now local governments are turning the spigot to ease the flow to public employees as pressure builds on California’s state government to do the same.

Louisiana isn’t yet to that point, but the situation parallels California’s and today’s present in the Bayou State reminds of the Golden State not long ago. Similarly, Louisiana’s employees are overcompensated relative to the private sector for jobs doing similar tasks. Similarly, a huge liability grows as a result that threatens to consume a large portion of future state budgets – with certainty if nothing changes as the Constitution mandates expenditures to reduce the unfunded accrued liability to zero by 2029. And the crisis might come sooner, with a predicted draining of funds to pay liabilities by 2020.