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Agency's embarrassing admission holds key to saner state spending

Hopefully, the snafu that led to Louisiana’s Department of Labor discovering it was $10 million “short” in funding can teach policy-makers some valuable lessons. They are:

  • Stop with the budget gimmickry. Governments at all levels everywhere engage in a host of tricks either to find more money to spend in a given budget cycle or to manipulate the numbers to allow circumvention of a certain spending or revenue ceiling. (Remember the Louisiana Recovery District, used to get around the state’s limit on deficit spending for continuing operations in 1988?). Apparently, use of these tactics got DOL into trouble.
  • Review meaningfully the nature and purpose of each funded government program. The need to reduce spending has caused one DOL program to be terminated because DOL finds the function of that one substantially is being done elsewhere in government. Why wasn’t this duplication of services discovered before? Didn’t we just have a whole Legislature and the governor review a record-sized budget and this never was brought out? And how long has this been going on?
  • Look for more opportunities to reduce personnel numbers. Louisiana continues to ride along as one of the most over-staffed state bureaucracies. Not only should program reduction be a method by which to cut numbers, but the efficient use of those personnel resources needs review as well. This is sorely needed. As independent analyst C.B. Forgotston (although many government, elected and otherwise, officials prefer to call him a “kook,” “under a rock,” etc.) almost monthly points out, the largest category of job growth in Louisiana is government, and that needs to change.
  • The sky won’t fall if government cuts back on its operations and spending. Sure, it looks like millions in federal money won’t be coming in as anticipated, but the sun still is going to rise and the grass continues to be green. It doesn’t look like a reduction of less than 5 percent in agency spending is going to cause chaos. That being the case, maybe some more reductions should be done elsewhere?

    Money is nice to have and not as nice to not have (repeat that back three times, fast). But out of this embarrassing episode, maybe state government will (re)learn these important precepts and, if so, the loss of a few million bucks now will turn out to be a huge bargain later.
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