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On budget matters, Blanco thinks Louisanans are fools

Is Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc just an idiot, or does he presume to take us for being ones? That the only two possible conclusions one can draw from his statements in front of the Senate Finance Committee during a special Sunday session:

Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc told a Senate panel that the state can either raise taxes or raid health care to increase teacher pay. He made it clear which scenario the governor supports.

"She will not do anything that pits teachers in a fight with sick people for an increase," LeBlanc told the Senate Committee on Finance.

Let me get this straight, out of a budget with $18+ billion in it, everything else in it is so important – building sugar mills, lakes, tossing out goodies to legislators, paying professional sports teams, etc. just to name a few things that seem safely ensconced in budgets and bills – that our two least important priorities are full funding of health care and teacher raises, and that unless we raise taxes one of these has to go?

No, we’re not that stupid to buy into the false dichotomy LeBlanc presents us. And if Leblanc and his boss Gov. Kathleen Blanco are stupid enough to actually believe this, I’ll be glad to raise their intelligence on this matter with two suggestions so they can have both (whether the teacher raise is deserved is another matter entirely), one of which requires no new taxes, and another which does but in a way which may solve the problem without ever having to implement it.

Why does Blanco continue to refuse to implement the conclusions from studies on efficiency in nursing home reimbursement fiscal structures which would save just about $100 million, the same amount of money she initially proposed for teacher raises? Indeed, she seems to have abandoned her efforts to bring about badly-needed reform in this area that is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year and now seems to be drifting in the opposite direction.

And one (relatively) small but vexing problem has been $15 million or so a year the state looks to be forced to pay out to the New Orleans Saints for the next several years under an ill-advised contract designed to assist the team. The revenue sources for this amount have fallen below expectations so the difference (now around $10 million annually) will have to be made up by state taxpayers.

For months Blanco has tried to get Saints owner Tom Benson to renegotiate, but not long after the bill-filing deadline he broke them off. Instead of proposing new broad-based taxes, here’s what she needs to do: announce now publicly she will call a special session with one item only, a bill to raise income taxes on any employee of a professional sports team making over $100,000 a year (which means only the Saints and New Orleans Hornets, who have their own sweet subsidy deal as well) from the current 6 percent to the 25 percent level, including any bonuses paid out.

Being that the Saints had a 2004 payroll around $73 million (of which all players make well over $100,000), that would pump an additional $12 million or so into state coffers, enough to make up the subsidy shortfall. Better, given the options of leaving New Orleans in a couple of years at the earliest and losing the subsidy (and other penalties applying like paying a buyout), or massive, expensive and inconvenient restructuring of contracts to be able to shield only part of that money, or hurrying back to the negotiating table, you can bet Benson will be begging Blanco to restart the bargaining.

Maybe Blanco and LeBlanc feel they can insult Benson with this threat, but they better not dare think they can insult the state’s citizens with the straw man argument about priorities in state spending they are trying to get us to buy.


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