So let’s get this straight. The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration wants to privatize some aspects of mental health delivery, which it says will save money without reducing the quality of service. Then, a bill emerges that would essentially give a legislative panel a veto decision over these kinds of measures, and getting assent is a resolution that says the bureaucracy must present all sorts of justifying information and that it must take the welfare of displaced state workers into account in contracting for these operations.
Also, another Administration money-saving privatization effort involving the state’s self-insurance plan requiring legislative panel approval gets stalled because too many lower-level state employees may be thrown out of work or have salary reductions even if employed by the contractor. See a theme emerging?
And then another committee continues the legislative progress of a bill that would undo a fee increase authorized by the Legislature two decades ago but only very recently charged. Finally figured it out?
It’s the old, unwelcome practice of the Legislature – made up of part-timers with scattered expertise at best in a handful of policy areas – of micromanaging the running of the complexities of state government. It’s bad when legislators stick their noses into these kinds of administrative decisions after they already authorized by statute for the executive branch to go and do exactly the tasks it’s performing. While oversight is desirable, you can go overboard and one wonders at this level of scrutiny why Louisiana even bothers with having an executive branch if these busybodies – who apparently don’t have enough to do in their real full-time day jobs – involve themselves so much in the minutiae of administration.
But it’s far worse when the motivation for the meddling comes from a desire not to work for taxpayers, but for state employees. Legislators seem more concerned about state employees losing jobs or getting paid less than saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars – unless you’re a state trooper, as reversing the fee decision could cause some of them to lose their jobs without that revenue.
Explaining this is the reality that often state employment gets concentrated around agencies and offices located in legislators’ districts, and state employment, unlike private sector employment, is something for which legislators can attempt to take credit that assists their chances at reelection or for reaching other elective positions. Transfer a state-run mental health facility and you don’t have that pool of jobs to tout or an opportunity to buy loyalty from those workers. Disperse a state-run program and those jobs diffuse out and away from the area, maybe out of state even – and who cares whether the state saves its citizens money as a result? (By contrast, state troopers are widely scattered and not really community-based.)
As Louisiana struggles with budgetary difficulties that increasingly are acknowledged in part as a result of the state’s inefficient fiscal structure, not to be lost in the analysis is the impact of political culture. Inefficiencies are tolerated because of political considerations by elected officials putting politics over principle. Yet ultimately this culture is allowed to persist because the people themselves that do the voting permit it. Blame the politicians for these attitudes, but don’t forget to blame the public because it gave them power. Changing the culture has to begin within the people first.