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Blanco pleads to invest in government rather than in people

In yesterday’s posting, I lamented how Gov. Kathleen Blanco would not feel the need to act responsibly, in the sense that it counters her ideology, with her 2007-08 budget for Louisiana. Instead, as her State of the State address to start the 2007 regular session of the Legislature, she is more interested in convey the impression of a positive “legacy” of her tenure in office than any lasting, meaningful policies.

Faced with a budget surplus that could be over $3 billion, yet at the same time because state spending has grown so much during her just four years almost in office (over 50 percent according to this budget, which is why one had to laugh when she said she and the state had engaged in “fiscal discipline” to produce this surplus), her requests have outstripped the Constitution’s stricture that the rate of government growth not exceed that of the private sector, Blanco kept referring to “investments” in the state. But the context of her usage of that term shows she really does not understand it.

For example, she asks to “invest” in education with a pay raise for teachers. This would represent a significant recurring expense of over $100 million a year. Yet the surplus is mostly a product of a bonanza of federal dollars coming into the state for reconstruction purposes which will end within a couple of years. There’s no guarantee this kind of expenditure will be affordable over the long haul, so if salaries are going to be raised past cost-of-living increases, at least another year should go by to assess the affordability of this.

(Another unintended moment of humor came when Blanco, by way of example to make a comparison with a high-achieving educational state, mentioned Massachusetts – which a few years ago introduced teacher evaluations and accountability into its education system which Louisiana doesn’t have and Blanco has never backed. What she doesn’t understand and made her statement the object of ridicule is that more spending on personnel is just one part of the equation for improving education; regular evaluations including testing of teachers for knowledge in areas they are certified to teach must occur or little change in performance will ensue no matter how high the salaries.)

In other words, Blanco is asking the state to behave like somebody to take out a mortgage on a house they can only afford at their current level of income – even knowing it is temporary and will end soon with no guarantee of continuing to earn at that level. The only way for that level to be reacquired is to cut taxes and create a more productive economy that will fatten both the wallets of the citizenry and state tax coffers.

But Blanco doesn’t want to do this, except a few “targeted” tax cuts that will shovel money to the day care industry and create a credit to families with children. The latter is not a bad idea but it won’t do what’s necessary: reducing the state’s high, and in per capita terms absurdly high, tax burden on its citizenry, which discourages both growth and attracting business to that state to help provide it.

Still, she exhorted the Legislature to bypass common sense here to spend more and not give it back to the people where it will be more productively used and instead to chase after a label which may make them, and her, feel good but not really do anything: the “education Legislature.” Much better it will be if the Legislature rejects that and rather takes the historic opportunity to be known as the “reform Legislature” that seeks to invest in people, not government as Blanco wants.

While her arguments to use nonrecurring funds weren’t bad on roads and coastal restoration, and to restructure the way insurance is regulated in the state, assignments like hers that weigh heavily on style but not much on logical or informed substance on the main issue don’t do well in my classes. For her last State of the State address, Blanco earns a C-.

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