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Jindal's budget serves half a loaf, maybe more to come

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s first crack at a budget is out, and it’s clear that while he’s making a departure from previous governors who didn’t see a whole lot wrong with growing the size of government, it’s not that clean of a break with the past and hopefully sets the stage for a greater turnaround in succeeding years.

The good news:

  • Overall spending, after backing out federal disaster recovery aid, is up only 3.6 percent, about the rate of inflation after steep increases approximately 100 percent of state funding in the past decade.
  • Much of that increase goes to plugging a hole that will open up when transportation-related revenues are directed solely to transportation-related capital outlays instead of the general fund, enabling the state to whittle down an estimated $14 billion backlog in roads needs.
  • Using 90 percent of excess, presumably recurring funds available for this year’s budget in next year’s to replace one-time revenues used this year under the budget strategy of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco – although because the administration sees a rapid slowdown in revenue growth in future years there’s a chance these recurring funds might be reduced and some portion unavailable in future years.
  • $42 million will be saved by eliminating over 1,000 jobs which are vacant presently.
  • $169 million additional for more efficient, less expensive home- and community-based health care, although $50 million was required by a law passed last year pulling 5 percent of declared surplus money up to that amount into creating waiver slots for Medicaid recipients to receive these services.
  • $30 million to improve education; $20 million in merit pay for teachers and $10 million to create a vaguely voucher-like program to increase competition among schools.

    The bad news:
  • Adding $307.1 million to a fund to attract large employers that already contains $140 million, leading to questions about why it should be so large when perhaps this money could be used to grant relief to businesses large and small already in Louisiana (with some questioners like Democrat state Sen. Eric LaFleur ironically being last year big boosters of a $300 million fund to do the same thing).
  • Sending $60 million more to nursing homes when they are already among the most overpaid and underutilized in the states.
  • Cutting taxes only $110 million (actually planned to be accomplished during the second special session starting in a week) and these just being certain business taxes.

    Worth noting:
  • Because the Legislature busted the spending cap (spending of state revenues may not exceed the private sector growth rate unless two-thirds of both chambers approve) last year under pressure from Blanco and because Jindal restrained the growth of state spending, his budget falls under the cap by about 1 percent or $116 million, meaning he won’t have to ask for a potentially politically controversial cap increase as did Blanco.
  • Of the 10 percent of excess revenues for this budget year that will be spent this year, some are going to pay for boll weevil eradication, because money intended to do that got pledged by former Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom to support bonds for various wasteful capital outlay projects.

    To summarize, this budget is conservative not in terms of reducing the size of government by restoring money to its rightful owners, the people, but in the sense that on most accounts it creates a sounder fiscal plan and improved priorities. Half a loaf is better than none, and if Jindal’s planning in this regard (plus the Legislature’s cooperation) to offset the predicted no- to negative-growth in revenues the rest of his term succeeds then maybe the rest of the loaf, income tax cuts, may be possible at the end of the term.
  • 28.2.08

    Jindal: compromising pragmatist or shrewd conservative?

    With the special session on ethics behind him, as Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a few peeks into his fiscal policies, he prompts the query whether he will govern as a conservative diluted by pragmatism, or as a politically shrewd conservative reformer.

    Yesterday, the Jindal Administration made two important announcements, that the LaCHIP program for providing health insurance for lower-income children would be expanded, and that teachers would get yet another pay raise. On the surface, neither would suggest Jindal was ready to pursue fundamental fiscal reform that uses taxpayers’ dollars more productively and returns some of them to their owners.

    But look more closely and these decisions are not of the same old free-spending mold of its past. In the LaCHIP instance, the newly covered children in families up to the 250 percent of poverty level line would co-pay for care, which in a similar proposal by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco months ago without co-payment was rejected by the federal government which mainly funds Medicaid which covers LaCHIP. Jindal and the federal government recognize that such a program should not by design out-compete the private sector, nor should those without some limited means of paying be absolved of such responsibility by taxpayers.

    And in the case of the raise, while teachers have done little to deserve a raise judging by the slow progress of improving education in the state, as part of the total increase ($56 million in new funds, $14 million from the portion set aside by law from funds dedicated to education although not all teachers would get a raise from that), Jindal also said merit pay to the tune of $20 million would be funded, a first at the state level. In his campaign rhetoric, Jindal recognized the old government monopoly way of education had to be reformed, and merit pay while perhaps is the least potent way to create better education, it also is the least controversial compared to other necessary changes such as teacher testing and vouchers.

    These initial policy views mean one of two things, either Jindal intends to govern as a conservative but whose principles are shaky enough that he will make significant compromises – which would imperil his success in bringing about fundamental change in Louisiana – or at this point he believes as a true conservative a few tactical retreats are needed to get his main agenda into place. For example, as logical as merit pay for teachers is – reward better performers – teacher unions will squeal long and loud in opposition as not only does it violate their standard that teachers should get the most pay for the least work and performance, but they fear it could lead to the other reforms that will require more competence from teachers. Jindal can help offset that resistance by firmly tying pay raises to merit pay – remove the latter, and he’ll line item veto the former.

    Theoretically, Jindal could go either way. But those interested in the better welfare of the state hope his motivation was shrewd politics, not as a pragmatist of the kind that has failed the state before.


    Jindal must take care in organizing next special session

    Job done with meaningful ethics reform in the special session. But is Gov. Bobby Jindal whistling in the dark when it comes to his thinking that the next special session, planned for Mar. 7, will not be difficult or contentious?

    Jindal’s thinking here is since the exercise will involve spending a “past” surplus now estimated at $1.088 billion, giving away money out to improve the humor of legislators. In addition, other funds have appeared eligible for spending, $982 million. The first batch of money should conform to Jindal’s prediction. This is because constitutionally it can be spent only on non-recurring items, such as debt reduction, capital outlay items like roads (or for a business incubation center in Bossier Parish for cyber-related concerns), coastal restoration, and reduction of unfunded accrued liabilities. The call should include these items.

    And only them, because other money can be spent for any purpose which will lead to three political problems for Jindal that he best leave to the regular session. First, his priorities likely will differ from a number of legislators’, particularly from the Senate so the anything-goes nature of the call will set up conflict between freer spenders and Jindal. Second, what gets spent on recurring items, unlike nonrecurring items, will count against the state’s spending cap (the state cannot increase spending beyond the rate of increase of private sector growth without two-thirds legislative approval) and Jindal will want the increased flexibility that comes from greater budgetary options that will present themselves during the regular session. Third, one way to “spend” and not have it count against the cap is tax cuts and those will be politically unpopular among some tax-and-spend and/or good old boy legislators who want to have more, not less, money in state government hands.

    When issuing the call, Jindal also must make clear two things. First, spending on capital items will have to be for purposes that serve a genuine state need and if they don’t he’ll use the line-item veto on them. This means few in the way of local projects, and no sham “economic development” measures like reservoirs requiring a huge capital investment with little real return. Second, money spent in the special session on roads does not mean that more recurring revenues won’t be dedicated to roads in the regular session and the future by passing a law mandating all transportation-related revenues be spent on transportation items (currently not the practice, with $300+ million a year being dumped into the general fund despite 40 times that in identified state road needs).

    Just as the ethics special session created good public policy and served as an optimal vehicle to increase Jindal’s political capital, so should the nonrecurring surplus special session be designed to do the same. Because Jindal’s forthcoming ideas, if he keeps to campaign promises, will alter radically the state’s fiscal priorities and reduce its spending appetite to taxpayers’ benefits, he will face bitter resistance from entrenched interests. Few grasp that he has indicated such profound changes at odds with the state’s political culture and thus he will need all the capital he can get to succeed, and not trying to take too big of a bite by pursuing less controversial fiscal changes first will help.


    Expect opponents to discount successful Jindal session

    Minutes after the special session of the Louisiana Legislature dealing with ethics matters ended, Gov. Bobby Jindal declared, “This was a grand slam. This was a home run. This was complete victory.” It wasn’t the first or third, but it probably was the second. Now expect those against the other parts of the Jindal agenda to claim not only that it was none of the above, but that it wasn’t even a success.

    Jindal most definitely did not get everything he wanted. He lost on several proposals, including a ban on taxpayer-funded retirement benefits for public officials convicted of crimes related to their office, a prohibition on candidates paying family members out of campaign dollars, and changing reporting requirements to verify employers of donors. Still, there’s absolutely no doubt ethics standards are stronger as a result of the session, and Jindal is correct in proclaiming that “Today is a huge first step toward a new Louisiana. Today is a day where every Louisianian can be proud of their state.”

    Despite these real and tangible results, the “political class” of the state in large part is going to do its best to dismiss these very substantial results. Some will do so by trying to deny Jindal credit through an obnoxious attempt to argue Jindal is “corrupt” because a campaign operative of his forgot to record an independent expenditure on the campaign’s behalf when there were no other lapses in the most comprehensive and expensive campaign in the state’s history, or that he had a few tickets left over to give to other politicians’ families to a sold-out event in a state building. Others, preferring to overlook unbiased analysis, will claim he’s gutting ethics enforcement, or that he’s not addressing other elements of ethics legislation even as they are unable to point out where these shortcomings might actually be.

    (A great irony underlying these attempts is that what Jindal has led the charge of could have been done at any time by any politician – yet apparently only he had enough fortitude to do so, and he will get criticized because he was unable to do a perfect job whereas no other politician even tried to do any close to this. It’s easy for these critics to get lost among the trees and fail to see the forest.)

    Such distortions of the truth will come because the ethics session serves just as an hors d’oeuvre for an upcoming promised special session on fiscal matters and then the regular session. During these, Jindal probably will promote an agenda clearly at odds with many of the state’s powerbrokers and much of the political class – focused on empowering people rather than government, turning resources away from special interests and facilitating individuals to keep their own. There’s much inertia against him to pursue the agenda, and he’ll need all the political capital he can get to accomplish it.

    By painting the session as a kind of failure for the state, opponents try to reduce this political capital. Politically, Jindal knew leading off with ethics reform was something on which he could generate substantial change – and political capital, which his opponents realized, too. Even if some of these opponents by and large may agree with the changes, they will do all that they can to deny him credit and thus capital simply because they know things with which they don’t agree are fast approaching.

    As informed observers consume media accounts of the session, they need to understand this dynamic driving the actions of Jindal’s opponents in order to accurately assess the impact of the session, and to understand the genuine successful and beneficial change Jindal helped to engineer through it.


    N.O. displays of nut cases won't get country's sympathy

    Some may argue that with Ray Nagin as mayor of New Orleans, the city already has a reputation of harboring wackos. But the city’s nuttiness increased exponentially last week with a crew that just gives the rest of the more-balanced country reason to shake its head and dismiss it and its prospects.

    Some of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s policy preferences no doubt are caricatures of reasoned intellect, bereft of substance or any connection to the real world. However, being a seasoned politician it’s questionable just how much of it she truly believes when more likely these ideas are just political tools to achieve power. By contrast, some of the people accompanying her to the “The State of the Black Union” event in New Orleans last weekend make her look centrist and reasonable.

    Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, representing the District of Columbia in the House of Representatives, supports increased gun control, a moratorium on the death penalty, and the U.S. unilaterally disarming itself of nuclear weapons, while being against school vouchers. Rep. Maxine Waters of California has voted consistently against support of American military forces in the Middle East, defended action of race rioters after the O.J. Simpson trial verdict, and praised on more than one occasion the action of recently-retired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Prof. Cornel West has preached Marxism from Ivy League campuses combined with the ignorant mantra that the U.S. is a "racist patriarchal" nation where "white supremacy" continues to define everyday life. I don’t suppose West’s pal Rev. Al Sharpton or Rev. Jesse Jackson need any explication of their nuttiness. (Poor Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu must have gotten roped into this out of obligation both to the state’s tourism industry which he nominally oversees and his sister Mary’s reelection chances.)

    Yet, incredibly, these weren’t the most colossal moonbats to hit town last week. Preceding them by a few days was one Hussein Ibish, who passed himself off as a representative of the Islamic community said America’s view of it is steadily deteriorating under an onslaught of “bigotry” on cable news shows, newspaper op-ed pages and in the blogosphere. He got the chance to say this at a forum provided by some useful idiots at the Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer at Tulane University.

    Ibish, founder of the Hala Salaam Maksoud Foundation for Arab-American Leadership, has made a career of accusing American culture of oppressing Muslims. As Communications Director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, prior to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks he accused the weak counter-terrorist measures than employed as an assault on civil liberties, praised and defended the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hizbollah, condones suicide bombing as long as “civilians” aren’t hurt, and claimed the Iraqi prison controversy was a product of Hollywood and certain intellectuals and their organs (note: all presumably Jews or run by them). One of these is academician and journalist Daniel Pipes who has written critically about Ibish and demonstrated his lack of moral standing to assert his self-anointed role as a spokesman for American Muslims.

    Despite his hateful rhetoric, incredibly Ibish still had the audacity to call these opponents’ comments “bigoted.” To say the religious-hating Ibish has any moral or intellectual capital to presume to diagnose feelings about Muslims, the relation of this to public policy in the U.S., or feelings of his opponents is laughable. Similarly, to hold him out as a representative of Muslims in America is like arguing the proxy for American womanhood is Bratney Spears. Saddest of all, however, is that Tulane didn’t appear duped at all by this charlatan, but actually took him seriously. “Dr. Ibish is a fearless and tireless advocate for Arab Americans. He has the ability to distill issues to their essence, and brings to the fore something that most Americans have little if any awareness of — hate crimes and discrimination against Arab Americans,” a starry-eyed graduate student remarked with a statement surely to give pause to anyone who thinks much if any learning goes on at Tulane’s Payson Center.

    And given that it’s about as infantile to suggest that Jackson, Sharpton, Waters, Norton and West know anything about what typical black Americans go through, the rest of the country has to look at these events in New Orleans and simply conclude nothing intellectually serious is occurring there. Which is going to make it all the more difficult to convince America that taxpayer dollars should go to help rebuild the place.


    Committees ready for Jindal to strengthen diluted bills

    The perceived amount of success of the Louisiana Legislature’s special session devoted to ethics matters not just in substantive terms of what comes out of it, but in symbolic terms for the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration. This is why we can expect to see over the next couple of days a lot of unwinding of loopholes to stronger ethics legislation added by legislators in bills.

    While Jindal chose not to go for the titanium standard in ethics, he did reach for the gold standard but the defeat of a couple of key bills plus riddling others have reduced the haul to a silver standard at best (which, admittedly, is vastly improved over the lead standard that currently exists). But not only is a higher standard inherently desirable, but for his future purposes Jindal would like to be credited with as much success as possible as that will make him able to project more power to achieve other things.

    So far, in the appointment of conference committees for legislation that has passed both house but not in identical form – comprised of three members of both chambers where two from each delegation must approve – they have been stacked with administration supporters, generally chamber leaders and chairmen of respective Governmental Affairs committees. Several other bills wait for chamber concurrence, most waiting on the Senate to deal with House changes so several more such committee may appear.