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Wasteful windfall handling provides litmus test of Jindal

Like a Cyclops, Democrats are prepared to release a tunnel-visioned spending plan that debauches the economy and country. Making sure no government spending is left behind, it redistributes wealth to those who have not earned it, spends money on a potpourri of liberal causes that have nothing to do with the economy, and resorts to a New Deal strategy that not only failed to produce economic growth, it prolonged economic doldrums. But when it passes Louisiana stands to gain $5 billion regardless of the massive debt (over 10 percent increase total, or another $3,800 for every citizen) it imposes upon the citizenry and the economy. The question then becomes, what does Gov. Bobby Jindal do?

The state will not (can not, in fact, legally) turn down this money when diverted from taxpayers to it. But the Republican governor, whose partisan colleagues to a man voted against the bill in the House, will have to decide how the receipt of this money will affect his policy preferences. Just as one example, the state’s Medicaid program could gain $1.5 billion over the next three years, which could offset the $771 million the federal government says the state owes for gaming the system over the past decade and provide enough to transition into a defined-contribution plan away from the current open-ended fee-for-service arrangement that could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year and provide comprehensive coverage of the indigent.

The question is whether Jindal will use any monies that work their way into the state’s operating budget as a crutch to offset needed reductions in state government spending. With the enthusiasm Jindal seemed to exhibit in rapidly addressing the forecast deficit in the state’s budget this fiscal year, one may have thought the crisis released his inner conservative cutter of the size of government, meaning the situation would produce a good political opportunity to cut out spending of marginal worth in state government.

But that is hard work, identifying this spending, then bucking political forces who advocate big government to reduce it. Not only is it so much easier to let “free” but temporary money pour in to avoid hard decisions but doing so would allow Jindal to do the convenient thing, i.e. spend as usual and build a reelection campaign on the basis that the existing stuff still was provided at no cost in Louisiana taxes (federal taxes are another matter), instead of the right thing of reducing government that would empower productive citizens and economic development at government’s expense.

No matter what rolls in, Jindal needs to remain committed to shrinking the size of government. He must take the windfall and deploy it to cushion the transition to smaller government, whose reach will be smaller but whose coffers will soon go up in amounts if government backs off taxation and regulation of much business in the state. This issue therefore will provide a litmus test of the conservative credentials of Jindal.


Spoiled brats rally to protect selves rather than students

Once more the world got treated to a display of everything that is wrong with Louisiana, and more specifically East Baton Rouge, education when a couple of dozen teachers in the Louisiana Association of Educators union protested in front of the Board Elementary and Secondary Education complex over the Board’s decision to take 10 failing schools, eight in East Baton Rouge, out of local control and into state control because of years of exceptionally low performance in those schools.

“LAE is fearful that if Superintendent (Paul) Pastorek continues to systematically take over more and more schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, he will continue this destruction of our educational system across the state of Louisiana,” said Joyce Haynes, president of the teacher union. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that among the schools the state already has taken over or said it will that they already weren’t evidence of a destroyed educational system in part at the hands of these very teachers and others like them. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact that yesterday, a school day by all accounts, had these teachers playing hooky to do the protesting – that shows some great devotion to their educational mission.)

One Isaiah Myers, a teacher at Capitol Middle School and a teacher last year at Glen Oaks Middle, said the schools the state has taken over already are doing worse than they did before. At best this is misinformed; at worst, it is a lie. The truth is, a couple of months ago scores indicated substantial progress among the New Orleans schools now run by or on behalf of the state. A few have come out of failing status, and even with big gains some still aren’t which just goes to show the tremendously bad shape they had been in under local control.


LA, Jindal should resist SCHIP expansion

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal faces a quandary with a decision to expand Louisiana’s coverage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program: change the rules to expand coverage at a seemingly small cost to the state, or philosophically oppose more big government that threatens to crowd out the private sector. What he does may signal how much acquiescence his administration is willing to make with big government.

A priority of the reinvigorated Democrat majority in the federal government is to expand offering of this program. A version of this was defeated in 2007 only because the Republicans held the White House, but with big government liberal Democrat Pres. Barack Obama now ensconced for a likely four years, the green light is on to expand the program to allow middle-class families, with incomes as high as more that $83,000 a year, to get government coverage as an overall effort incrementally to push the nation to universal health care.

Louisiana at least has resisted talk to this point of increasing coverage beyond current standards for the citizenry, commendable given the considerable crowding out of the private sector/government intrusion that expansion would entail. But policy-makers have discussed expansion to include children of legal immigrants to age five. Currently, these services are covered only pre-natal.

Keep in mind that Jindal himself could have benefitted from this kind of rule. When born in Baton Rouge, his parents had been in the country only about a year. Given that perspective, his administration may wish to take advantage of this change if it goes through at the federal level since it will cost relatively little, some tens of millions of dollars annually, from state coffers to expand the program this way.

But at the same time, note that only the lowest-income legal immigrants would qualify for this benefit. Which begs the question, why should the state be in the business of encouraging lower-income rather than higher-income people to locate here, which this program would do? Tending to lower-income citizens is difficult enough without adding an incentive for lower-income legal immigrants with citizen children to come here.

Given this dynamic and the extra money the state would have to pony up to fund the program, it is best for the state to reject this option, True, legal immigrants of low incomes will still come to the state and Medicaid may have to pay for their citizen children, but the reimbursement given by the federal government for that should not differ too much from what would be available under this new law. In other words, costs to the state should not be much different and could be lower by resisting expansion. In tandem, the symbolic message of rejecting bigger government would be valuable.

Despite the carrot dangled by the federal government (paid for by higher taxes on cigarettes that disproportionately would hurt the poorer), Louisiana should reject this option given both the symbolism and the fact that tough budgetary times make any new expenditures questionable. For both practical and philosophical reasons this expansion should not occur in Louisiana, especially with a conservative governor at its helm.


Opponents of evolution teaching policy could use its help

You would think that the sky is falling, from some of the overblown, world-is-ending rhetoric regarding Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s promulgation of standards regarding the teaching of evolution, which basically proffer the radical idea that if teachers want to point out holes in the theory of evolution, they can without fear of censure but whose materials used to do so can be reviewed by policy-makers. The consensus was the new rules would allow within the confines of the enabling legislation for critical investigation of evolution, yet had safeguards to stop religious views from being introduced

Yet this exercise in encouraging critical thinking is seen by many as a threat, driving some to the point they abandon critical thinking. They wail about how even the smallest leakage of religion would cause disaster, or make Orwellian comments about how not only should material illuminating evolution’s fault must be vetted, but the thoughts behind their authors as well. Some Chicken Littles, however, try to couch the argument against in economic terms, arguing that having law that does not shield the teaching of evolution from criticism, which they without factual basis always equate to an automatic teaching of creationism, will discourage “excellence in science and math,” or “dilute standards.”

Such simplistic thinking ignores that this development does precisely the opposite. The law encourages that classrooms not be a place where sheep are being herded without thought of where they are going, but as incubators for the introduction of genuine inquiry. The law and policy promote students not to swallow whatever some teacher wishes to pour into them, but to think for themselves about the merits and demerits of any theory. A student population trained in this fashion is precisely the kind that will excel in math, science, or in any subject area with tasks demanding higher order reasoning, and that is exactly what will improve educational quality in the state and ultimately attract economic development.

On this issue, the hostility to religious belief that many opponents have had, which has led to the constant blowing out of proportion of the meaning and relevance of the law and now the Board’s action, it is regrettable that they have let these feelings so overwhelm their reasoning that they cannot even see this simple truth. Perhaps they could have benefited themselves in their schooling from the attitude of free inquiry that the law and policy promotes.


LA GOP does better by keeping primaries closed

While an interesting proposal that Louisiana Republicans should allow anyone not affiliated with another party to vote in its primary elections for federal office, from the party’s perspective it is better to leave the rules allowing only registered Republicans to vote.

Louisiana law allows parties the option of opening up their primaries for federal office to no-party (independent) registrants. When the law first went onto the books over a year ago, the GOP announced Republicans only could participate, while Democrats said independents could participate with their partisans in their primaries. This means, as of now, the only such primary elections in which independents may participate are the Democrats.

A GOP official has proposed allowing in independents. “You are ignoring a large group of conservative independents,” State Central Committee member Mike Bayham argued. “They are part of the party's voter base. We need to do everything we can to keep them.”

But the facts nor reasoning here are quite accurate. First, voting participation statistics show independents are the least likely to vote. Among whites, there was an 18 point gap in turnout for the 2008 presidential elections Republican to independent (at 57 percent). And from what we know about the nature of ideological identification and participation in politics, those who are more ideological on both ends of the spectrum, including conservatives who would be expected to vote Republican and therefore in that primary, are more likely to vote. So it’s debatable that there are a significant number of active conservatives among independents, or else there would be a higher rate of voting.

Let’s hypothesize, however, that there is a core group of some significant size that offsets what therefore must be truly lackadaisical interest among the rest. (After all, widely syndicated radio talk show host Moon Griffon publicly announced his switch from Republican to no party as a sign of disgust at too many elected Republicans doing too many non-conservative things too often.) The theory would be that these voters would be shut out of a process that, with their inclusion, could produce more conservative candidates for the party. In Louisiana for the majority of districts and statewide, that means more electable candidates since these nominees will activate conservatives to vote and there are many more of them than liberals.

However, that view ignores that more moderate independents – and research shows the majority of independents identify as moderates – also could influence nominations. Even if the conservatives would participate at higher rates, the sheer amount of moderates favoring them might mean introducing more of them into the primary process, decreasing the chances of nominating conservatives that can win.

Besides the empirical evidence, there is a philosophical objection as well. By allowing independents to participate, the organization retards its party-building efforts. Research shows that voting for a party’s candidate is habit-forming stemming principally from efforts to increase adoption of a party label. The most powerful way to encourage adoption of a label is to provide a reward by identifying and/or a penalty for failure to do so. Allowing only party members to participate in primaries accomplishes precisely this. Why should anybody who already can participate as an independent go to the effort to change their registration to GOP? They would get all the benefits of the label already. Changing usually occurs only when a person feels sufficiently moved, but for some the prodding needs to be sterner, i.e. not allowing to participate those feeling closer affinity to the GOP unless they switch. Simply, the more people are encouraged (by avoiding the penalty of nonparticipation) to join the party, the more reliably they’ll vote for the party.

(This benefit extends beyond federal contests. It also would spill over into state and local elections where there are blanket primaries so while nomination is irrelevant, increased recruitment into the Republican label also would like create more voters for GOP state and local candidates.)

In addition, keeping the current rule is akin to having a strong hand in poker and raising the stakes. Understand the reason why Louisiana Democrats allow independents to participate is because they are operating from a position of weakness. Research shows independence is a label often adopted by voters making a transition from one party to another. In Louisiana, those going from Democrat to Republican far outnumber the reverse. Democrats want to hang onto those attitudinally moving away from them by allowing them the privilege of not being Democrats yet permitting them to participate in the most important decision a party can make, who its candidates are to be. It is scared of losing them, reconciling itself to letting unreliable voters for it decide its nominations. Republicans don’t have to settle for that; they can swing for the fences with conversion of independents into Republicans by withholding the privilege of selecting candidates to those not willing to adopt their label.

In fact, there is only one practical reason, given the objective conditions of the state parties, for this change that could benefit the GOP: it might slice some independents out of the Democrats’ primaries which could cause them to select a more liberal nominee, and thus one usually easier to defeat. Yet given the other philosophical and practical reasons above, on balance the party’s electoral chances probably are harmed by this change. If Republicans want to continue to have the success they enjoyed in Louisiana federal elections in 2008, keeping their primaries closed probably does better at achieving this.