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22.1.15

Evaluation results call for more rigorous expectations


State Rep. John Schroder rightly expresses skepticism about the continuing amazingly high performance level of state employees even after a change in evaluation procedures from the prior system that showed similarly high levels. It’s because little was changed, which does little to move Louisiana forward on this issue.



As previously noted in this space, much grander and more substantive reform had been offered up by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration. But after predictable resistance from the civil service, watered-down alterations got enacted, and in the first year of full use, in terms of statistics, the almost perfect qualified rate remained essentially unchanged, with almost no requests to fire people for low performance.



Schroder commented, “Why do evaluations if everyone is going to come out with flying colors? I’m not persuaded that almost every single employee is doing a great job.” By contrast, Director of State Civil Service Shannon Templet said they must be, for two reasons: the new protocols were more than before evaluative of tasks and that the proportion of those employees rated qualified was not significantly higher than what was found in the private sector.

21.1.15

Workable solutions elusive to reduce LA roads backlog


Like everybody else, putative Louisiana gubernatorial candidates struggled with offering solutions to the state’s tremendous roads and bridges backlog of $12.3 billion, if their discussion of this topic at a forum designed for that purpose conducted last week indicates anything.



As the state makes little headway on this amount and seems slowly slipping behind in maintenance as well for roads, the issue has grown in prominence. This year, the state had allocated roughly $925 million in its capital outlay budget for roads, or about half of all total capital outlays, most coming from cash generated from bond sales. This upcoming year the figure predicted is $649 million, which doesn’t seem likely to reduce that wish list.



This total can be a bit deceptive, because little bits and pieces of capital outlay requests can be found strewn through the state’s operating budget as well. The largest portion is extra compensation beyond legal requirements that the state gives to parishes for roads, around $16 million. With the $60 million siphoned from the main funding mechanism for roads construction, the Transportation Trust Fund, to pay for operating expenses of the State Police, together these could reach the goal of over $70 million a year for maintenance if kept for that purpose.

20.1.15

NW LA BESE election may act as CCSI bellwether


The new 2015 in northwest Louisiana brought some interesting changes that may signal where state policy could be headed in this election year.



After 26th District Judge Jeff Thompson got himself elected unopposed, his vacated state representative slot was to have an election to fill it. Instead, none occurred there as well when only lawyer Mike Johnson qualified, after a former candidate for the same office in a different district Richey Jackson deferred. The Republican will have to run again later this year to retain the 8th District seat for a full term.



Johnson, a former radio talk show host and former dean of the law school proposed by Louisiana College that now faces uncertainty as to whether it actually will come into existence, is best known as a constitutional lawyer who has defended, often successfully, First Amendment religious-based claims. His abilities in this area and his socially conservative agenda should give opponents of these issue preferences heartburn, as he should prove to be an extremely effective advocate in the House for those.

19.1.15

Lack of planning, courage triggers LA college crunch


Unfortunately, crisis budgeting is not synonymous with making the delivery of Louisiana higher education efficient or even effective, although it can serve as a starting point for that overdue process. Problem is, that process should have started long ago.



While premature to review specifically what could be attempted to keep the state’s institutions operating at an adequate level should large budget cuts become necessary, it’s helpful to understand the larger parameters of what the challenge is and what definitely would not work. Discussion must begin with the fact that Louisiana is saddled with too many institutions chasing too few students and not providing all that efficiently as a result.



Consider that, as of the latest data, Louisiana among the states and the District of Columbia ranked 18th in per capita spending on higher education, in part because it was in the top ten in number of institutions per capita. It also historically grew abnormally dependent upon taxpayer aid, as today, even after years of 10 percent annual tuition increases for most schools, it still ranks fourth from the bottom in average tuition, whereas the ability to pay by residents was higher in terms of per capita income, a dozen states being lower. Had the system not been so deferential to student finances and asked so much of taxpayers, it might have been induced to greater efficiency by now and less vulnerable to reducing state aid.

18.1.15

Vitter triumph directs end to campaign finance limits


That Sen. David Vitter beat the system constricting the use of campaign donations gives a clear signal that Louisiana needs to rid itself of any limitations on political speech in state elections.



When Vitter launched his gubernatorial candidacy a year ago, that only meant he had taken the idea a step further than some dozen years earlier. For back then, in the waning of Gov. Mike Foster’s terms, Vitter, then only three years in the U.S. House of Representatives after several years in the state Legislature, had contemplated making a run for governor. His idea would have been to use money in his federal campaign account to fuel the run for the top office.



But his fellow Republican but political foe Foster (at loggerheads, trivially, over allowing another Indian casino) would have none of that, and pushed legislators, enough of whom had their own partisan reasons for wanting Vitter out of the race, to pass a law prohibiting the use of that money, roughly a million dollars then. In part, it led Vitter to passing on the chance.