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Petty legislative agendas interfere with optimal policy

While many believe the informal levers of power of Louisiana’s governor control too much relative to the Legislature, it’s often overlooked that the Legislature can run some pretty good interference over the governor’s plans – and too often motivated by parochial and political interests.

Yesterday a committee in each chamber gave a good example of how this thinking may come to hurt Louisiana. In the Senate Governmental and Affairs Committee, it passed out unanimously SB 18 by state Sen. Edwin Murray which would allow the Senate to confirm appointees to the governing board of the new Medical Center of Louisiana – New Orleans facility. It has four appointees each by the governor and the Louisiana State University system that will run it, and single ones from participating partner universities Tulane, Dillard, and Xavier.

Officials of the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and LSU argued this could prove problematic. They said this system without Senate approval was designed specifically to avoid any debt registered by the facility (and it will be in several hundreds of millions of dollars) to count against the state’s total. This has a constitutional cap on it so if it qualified as the state’s, it could delay seriously the project, and typically it has a better chance of not being counted this way if there is no Senate involvement.

The problem is, the determination is made by a somewhat subjective process by credit rating agencies so nobody really knows what impact this additional requirement would have. Discretion would have been the better part of valor, therefore, and left it off.

But apparently some in the Senate have had a fit of pique that, with five appointments made and six to go, all to date have been white males. While diversity does no harm when it occurs naturally as a part of a process to pick the best representatives, if the law was used as a club to force it, that would be a detriment to the state where an informal quota takes precedence over quality, just to assuage the political leanings of some senators.

Yet this interference is mild compared to that put up by the House Health and Welfare Committee when it approved HB 1443 by state Rep. John Bel Edwards which would give committees veto power over many Department of Health and Hospital contracts to privatize services. The department has outlined a scenario that would save the state likely tens of millions of dollars without deterioration of services because of the fundamental recognition that for many in need of mental health services the private sector inherently provides them more efficiently.

However, this goes against the ideological belief of legislators like Edwards who is more concerned about protecting state jobs and union influence than in working for better allocation of funds. That also jibes with the agenda of legislators like state Rep. Tom McVea who consider state facilities in their districts as government-provided economic development whose presence politicians can derive credit from for future electoral activities. While they may care about service quality for clients, they cannot provide a shred of evidence that private facilities (which far outnumber those of the state) do any worse job at any higher expense.

Both bills unflatteringly put agendas and government ahead of people, and it’s unlikely they can survive anticipated vetoes by Jindal if they were to get that far. They also serve as reminders of this bad tendency that is part of legislative politics everywhere, but not often seen as virulently as in Louisiana’s hyper-politicized atmosphere.

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