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Stuck on stupid XV: LA politicians need to get over it

I had hoped the whining had stopped. Instead, it reached a new crescendo when the federal government announced its latest cost estimates showed rebuilding levees in southeast Louisiana to protect against hurricanes in the top percentile of strength would cost almost triple the original estimate.

Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who at this time last year didn’t indicate she cared one iota about flood protection, fumed the federal government “cannot ensure even the minimum safety of southeastern Louisiana. This is totally unacceptable.” A “visibly angry” Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, who in the past steered flood protection money to less vital projects, stormed out of the meeting where the news was being delivered. Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon said the federal government “really didn’t want to help” and Republican Sen. David Vitter accused Washington of “stonewalling.”

Their rhetoric obscured the bigger picture. Recovery liaison Donald Powell stressed that the additional improvements would be mainly for insurance, not safety reasons – in other words, without them, some areas that otherwise would not have received flooding would one time out of a hundred (and the effects of that flooding could be largely mitigated through other preventive measures). Further, the increased cost reflected the oft-stated desire of Louisiana politicians to build better protection than before, and Powell said recent science had shown older research had underestimated the potential threat – in other words, Louisiana was bring told in order to fulfill its desire, this was the additional money that would have to be taken from the American taxpayer.

The reaction to all of this (some, such as Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal’s were much more calm and reasonable) yet again demonstrates how blind many of the state’s politicians are to how the rest of the nation perceives them: as a bunch of spoiled brats sticking their hands to the federal government, demanding that the rest of America pay to allow some of their citizens to live where they want without paying for any of the consequences themselves.

Consider that almost half of the additional cost would come from securing Plaquemines Parish from a one-in-a-hundred flood event. That would cost about $2.9 billion to protect 14,725 people – in other words, Louisiana politicians are petulantly demanding that Americans together pay almost $200,000 per person to allow those persons to live with reduced fear of flooding in a place of their own choosing. New flash: there’s no law or Constitutional provision that establishes the right of people to live in Plaquemines Parish without having to pay for their own preventive flood measures because the rest of America is forced to pick up the tab. Nobody is putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to live in Plaquemines Parish without flood insurance or doing things like putting their homes on stilts or raising their foundations.

Melancon, who represents the area, prattles on about how vital it is to the U.S. economy. But the one thing we never hear from him is any actual proof of this assertion. He needs to show us that whatever economic activity that goes on in Plaquemines Parish is so exclusively done there (that could not be done elsewhere nearby) and that is so significant to the rest of the country that people there deserve a nearly-$200,000 per person subsidy from the American taxpayer. After all, $2.9 billion would fund the education of every single child in Louisiana for a year, and then some. Contrary to what Melancon may think, the American taxpayer isn’t a bottomless well of money, and priorities have to be established. And in the scheme of things, some part of the additional money needed represents probably a pretty low priority – especially when it is the people who are living there who should take primary responsibility to take care of themselves and their property first instead of relying on subsidies from their fellow citizens.

But isn’t this the story of Louisiana’s political culture in general? In budgeting and public policy, it’s never been about making priorities, but rather following the whims of political pressure, cronyism, patronage, and the outlandish populist idea that if you need more money (and votes), you can always soak the rich and/or business. Yet now the grownups from Washington are telling them choices have to be made with money that is not theirs and they may not get everything that they want because it’s just not that important. And then come the inevitable temper tantrums.

My advice to all the crybaby elected officials in this state: get over it, learn the reality of the situation, and live with it. The world doesn’t revolve around Louisiana flood control.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh. I get it. Melancon shouldn't represent the interests of his constituents. Better he should be rational and listen to .... um . . . you? Bobby Jindal?