When Gov. Bobby Jindal accused some state officials last week of preferring whining over leading, he hit on a major reason why the state has come to a perilous fiscal point.
Louisiana state government, as a whole, is just flat-out inefficient at what it does. Worse, we know many of the reasons why and continue to let them happen. When state Treasurer John Kennedy points out that, in per capita terms, Louisiana has almost twice as many state employees than the national average, or that the span of control of supervisors is almost half the average, he points out symptoms of specific problems that can be rectified.
Higher education in Louisiana in real terms has seen a less than five percent reduction over the past three years, yet as of last year was in the top ten states in per capita spending and in the bottom ten of graduation rates. It operates with too many schools and governing boards when other states do with far fewer of each. State-provided health care pays for too many procedures and for too many not really needed because of lack of coordination and patient responsibility. It also has a sprawling, duplicative structure of charity hospitals and parish health units that could be handled easily by the private sector for reduced costs with likely better outcomes. The same goes for care facilities for the developmentally disabled. Nursing homes get sweetheart deals with taxpayer funds. And these are just the big ticket items in the state’s general fund.
The existing fiscal structure is all wrong. It pumps money to certain places without any ability to create priorities, exacerbating the monetary difficulties in the big ticket problem areas funded through the general fund. Finally, its tax structure is not broad enough and thereby discourages economic development.
None of this is a surprise, yet nothing gets done about it. The Jindal Administration tries to implement changes, and those getting the largesse and who want to take credit for it all complain rather than cooperate or act to save the taxpayers some money. Or, they mutter about how identifying certain interests in state government as problems in overcoming these difficulties is unhelpful. Not that Jindal is completely blameless – he needs to take stronger action to get the necessary special session going that can begin to address the structural problems with the system. (Although his tackling of the deficit, which avoided making cuts he could have made to these protected, may be a tactic to force the Legislature into loosening the protections.)
Still, the point remains. Policy-makers both in bureaucracy and in the Legislature need to quit protecting fiefdoms and political bailiwicks and get on with the task of right-sizing state government instead of pretending the inefficiencies currently in the system deserve continuation. Yes, it’s going to reduce their power and, for those elected, it might cost a few of them here or there their jobs. But they have to remember that they work not for certain interests, but for the people and taxpayers of Louisiana.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 16:05