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Blanco still proving she is no fiscal reformer

In response to optimistic projections by the Revenue Estimating Conference, it looks like Louisiana has chosen more a path to spend like a drunken sailor that true fiscal prudence.

Of course, part of this comes from the legislative process, where legislators stuff in as much pork as possible. Just to use an example from around here, why is it that Shreveport’s Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association gets $100,000 in state money under the amended operating budget now headed to the House floor and other area associations like Queensborough’s, Broadmoor’s, Captain Shreve’s, and University Terrace’s get nothing? Or why should they get any money period?

But some of it also comes as a result of Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s lack of fortitude. We must never forget that while Blanco is not a big spender in the mold of federal prisoner #03128-095, neither is she a fiscal conservative who wants smaller government (this guy was the gubernatorial candidate in 2003 that was a fiscal conservative).

The Administration doesn't want you to know that. "Show us where you need to cut, and show us where the money is," press secretary Denise Bottcher said in response to the accusation that Blanco has become a tax-and-spend governor. "No one has been able to do that, so those words have no meaning."

Uh, try reading below, and then tell me my name is "no one." By way of example, instead of holding the nursing home industry’s feet to the fire by forcing them to operate more efficiently, saving nearly $100 million in the process, she has indicated that she will restore $60 million in the budget to them – not withholding $42 million in empty bed payments and an anticipated $18 million in attrition through reduced occupancy. This is so backwards – you don’t reward poor behavior. The money still needs to be excised out of the budget to encourage efficiency reforms in the nursing home industry.

Blanco has said she won’t use her line-item veto to remove that restored funding. Hopefully she will her regular veto, or threaten its use to get modifications, on SB 253 which makes the present reimbursement rules a matter of law rather than agency rule, meaning a majority of legislators would have to vote to change it. Blanco’s long-term health care reforms would be in serious jeopardy if she hands over control of the reimbursement rates to others.

(It is odd why state Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek would be authoring this bill in its present form. She was an active participant in efforts to restructure long-term care in the state, yet she seems to be distancing herself from that effort with this bill as is. Hopefully she will listen to Blanco, and Blanco will press, to get the onerous effects of this bill neutered.)

In tandem, these parts of HB 1 and SB 253 stand as examples of where the governor’s priorities should be but, as yet, are not. And, as an example of a single bill, there is HB 688 which is a $45 million tax increase that has totally escaped attention. Essentially, to raise funds for a variety of purposes, a tax of 2 percent can be slapped on any telecommunications subscriber line (mobile or land). So far, it has faced no opposition and is scheduled to hit the House floor Thursday (if it managed to comb its way through HB 1, so it may get held over until Monday). Blanco needs to make known in uncertain terms, publicly or otherwise, that this tax increase affecting virtually every family in the state will be vetoed.

So, it’s the same old story. Just because the state gets a windfall doesn’t mean it can slack off on efforts to make wiser and more efficient spending choices. Blanco said she was going to be a different kind of governor. So far, in terms of any commitment to smaller, more efficient government, her dealing with fiscal matters does not provide much evidence to support that claim.

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