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Lackey Landrieu promotes partisanship over policy debate

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu may be tucked away in a do-little office, but as he showed last week that doesn’t mean he hasn’t the ability to serve as a Democrat partisan hack.

As the Legislature’s House Appropriations Committee continued its runup to the regular session by gathering initial information on the budget submitted by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, Landrieu was called to testify on behalf of the agency he nominally leads, the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. Given the chance, Landrieu launched into a political diatribe about how the significant cuts, about 35 percent in state funds, would cost $300 million in potential lost revenues coming into the state. He seemed particularly perturbed when his former sidekick who was the actual secretary of the Department and ran it, now Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis, revealed Landrieu initially wanted to close 17 state parks (he claims it was just six) in an exercise to create an unrealistic budget scenario to scare legislators into reducing the size of the cuts.

Landrieu asserted he used a “performance-based” calculus to determine how reductions should be made. Apparently, these criteria are built on assumptions like every tourism dollar spent brings in 17 more (which partially explains how a reduction in advertising of $24 to $21 million could create a $76.5 million loss to the economy) and explained why spending on the arts – asked by Davis to be reduced overall a little more than half of its current $7.3 million – should be cut perhaps 10 percent and at least a half-dozen parks closed.

But anybody with any common sense and a little knowledge about the situation can realize that Landrieu is full of more hot air than the occasional balloon festival the state subsidizes. At that 17:1 ratio, we ought to blow the whole Budget Stabilization Fund on tourism advertising and reap $14 billion-plus in economic impact the sales and hotel taxes on which would throw the budget into balance. And why not close all the state parks, which only plunked a shade under $600,000 into state coffers, which would save the state $30 million in its own funds, and fully fund arts grants, which generated $24,000 on their own costing the state in funds about $11 million?

Simply, this extension of the suppositions behind Landrieu’s thinking is garbage in, garbage out. There’s no reason as much if not more tourism can be generated – particularly in a recessionary climate where Americans will want to travel more domestically – by smarter use of $21 million as compared to $24 million. And park resources can be managed more efficiently – closing during slack times and opening during peak times, for example – to make that two percent return on investment grow while sacrificing a 0.2 percent return on the small amount of arts subsidies by the state which were inflated by one-time recovery spending in any event and, frankly, if it was wanted by the public, would be donated and paid for directly by the public instead of being squeezed out of taxpayers.

This is the kind of policy discussion Landrieu did not want because that was not one of his main objectives in his testimony, which were to poormouth the situation as much as possible (in reality, in terms of overall reduction it is only about 30 percent and backing out all one-time monies puts it at 17 percent) in order to gain more sympathy and therefore more resources, and also to make Jindal look heartless, unwise, etc. Landrieu wished to avoid an exacting examination of his numbers and assumptions to make him look put upon and Jindal bad, with the latter being an important political objective as nationally Democrats wish to nip in the bud a Jindal challenge to their orthodoxy before he gets too powerful. No doubt Landrieu was all too glad to serve as a lackey in this latter task.

Unfortunately for him, Davis knew too much about him and his department and opened the lid on his true motivations. To prove differently, Landrieu needs to make public his original plan and explain the theoretical and empirical justifications for his 17:1 ratio (and another oft-cited conjecture, that spending on the art produces a 6:1 return, a claim even the mainstream media finds dubious). Then there can be reasoned discussion concerning what government should and should not do instead of finger-pointing and insinuation. Failure to do so indicates Landrieu operates as another Democrat stooge willing to put partisan considerations over a true policy debate about priorities in Louisiana.

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