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Report provides Jindal historic leadership opportunity

Louisiana’s short-awaited Commission on Streamlining Government’s recommendations finally officially are out, and the problem with the report’s results having a significant impact is not with the quality of the recommendations, but with the necessity of political will and from where it must emanate to implement them.

Gov. Bobby Jindal no doubt enthusiastically will go after some of these, as those particular ones are part of a reformist agenda that politically faces tough sledding. While of course Jindal wanted to see savings suggestions in this time of budgetary strain, his main goal was to find political cover for favored measures such as closing inefficient state institutions such as state-run developmental centers, reorganizing higher education (tangentially addressed by this body), reduction of dedicated funds, and reorganizing civil service personnel policies, to name some where he has articulated a need for change and actually has tried to foment some.

Legislative enthusiasts such as the commission’s chairman state Sen. Jack Donahue also can be counted on to run with these. In remarks related to the release of the report, Donahue urged the Legislature as a whole to review and act where appropriate on the report’s conclusions. That, however, even with Jindal’s assistance, will shape up as a tough sell for many items.

This is because they are frightening efficient and truly revolutionary in the context of policy in Louisiana today and historically. For example, the report advises giving no pay raises to state classified employees who garner a middle (“meets expectation”) rating, closing out almost all dedicated funds in the near future, that only accredited nongovernmental organizations receive state appropriations and cannot contract with the state for a year for functions similar to those vetoed by the governor, shifting of health care responsibilities away from state institutions, that elementary and secondary education spending follow pupils and not districts, that those able-bodied recipients of public housing assistance either work or train to do so, moving the state retirement systems from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution system (including the phasing out of the DROP system), and eliminating the state’s public insurer Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and return that function to its previous quasi-governmental administration.

All of these alterations with the exception of the first would require legislation that might be difficult to extract from the Legislature. Individually, too many legislators have too many sacred cows – NGOs, the education establishment, state employees, the “poor,” contractors, etc. – which all together might add up to resistant majorities for true change. Despite Donahue’s plea, for these kinds of things, the leadership will not be forthcoming from the Legislature.

But it can provide for some success if it comes from Jindal. The governor has been excellent in getting unglamorous yet significant changes that promise substantial cost savings enacted in the executive branch. Yet it he really wants to go for the home run, he needs to go after at least some of these. He has shown that he will strategically use the inconvenient fact of budgetary stress to pursue a reform agenda that he articulated during the campaign, so there is reason to believe he will back visibly these kinds of improvements which is the only shot they have of becoming policy.

To date, this means that Jindal has done an adequate job of fulfilling his promise of making the state use taxpayer resources more efficiently. However, if he wants to earn the label as the governor who has had the most enduring impact on the state in history – along with Prisoner #03128-095 and Huey P. Long and unlike them for the better – his opportunity and moment have arrived with the political capital provided by this report.

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