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Prison sales challenge putting govt jobs ahead of people

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to contract out several prisons, including the sale of some of them, should merit applause not so much because it generates one-time, short-term funds, but because it will lead to better correctional operations at reduced cost. Whether legislators intent on protecting state jobs instead of taxpayers will allow this remains to be seen.

Yes, the state gets a one-time padding of the purse of an estimated $66 million for selling the two currently operated by the private sector, and then will save a forecasted $10 million-plus a year for the new contracted ones (savings figures, if any over existing contracts, are pending for the ones to be sold), but the real payoff comes from the ability also to do a better job if research – including that concerning its previous privatization of two prisons – gives any guidance. So long as the state puts sufficient care into both kinds of contracts – with sheriffs who claim they can do the job at lower cost and the companies that will buy the prisons they already operate – that ensures maintenance of standards and cost reductions – taxpayers benefit. To guarantee space will be there when needed, the state also should pursue changes in incarceration practices in concert with this transition which could generate savings in the $200 million range.

While the contracting part will not need legislative approval, sales will and the good old boys won’t go down without a fight on this. Typifying their attitude, Democrat state Rep. Robert Johnson whose district contains one of the facilities in question maintained, obviously ignorant of the literature on the subject, said “From the information I've been provided, I don't see how this is a good deal. I can't support anything that's going to cost my parish jobs…. I can't support anything that's going to result in jobs with a lower rate of pay.”

Often, fewer personnel and/or at lower pay are outcomes of contracting, being one reason why it reduces costs even as research shows quality does not decline. Which is why dinosaurs like Johnson, who care more about padding the state’s payroll than letting taxpayers keep more of what they earn and/or spending more efficiently on other important priorities, make the fate of the sales uncertain – because by adopting his government-before-people approach he can find a way to take credit having the jobs there and argue his “creation” of them merits his reelection.

To win over enough of these relics, the Jindal Administration will have to stress the long-term savings over the one-time cash infusion, a strategy made easier by the tough budgetary times plaguing the state, countering demagoguery with the facts. This makes connecting reducing the rate of incarceration in favor of alternative sentencing and correctional practices to this even more helpful, because these same individuals tend to favor fewer/shorter jail sentences (because it’s difficult to mobilize your voters when they’re in the clink). A comprehensive correctional reform plan of this nature stands a great chance of enactment, much to Louisiana’s benefit.


Jindal puts winning big fights ahead of convention

Now entering the home stretch of his first term as governor, Bobby Jindal has begun to get majorities of appointees onto a large number of state boards and commissions. Most exercise miniscule power but not those dealing with higher education, which distribute over a billion dollars a year and supervise nearly 50,000 employees through its appointees on five separate boards. Perhaps because these stakes are so high, desperate opposition has arisen focusing on Jindal’s appointments in general to them.

When Jindal announced he would like to see a merging of the University of New Orleans and Southern University New Orleans, simultaneously signaling support that the state boards be merged into one, shortly thereafter former U.S. Rep. and state Sen. Cleo Fields brought a suit that temporarily halted the process by which a recommendation would be made on the school consolidation matter, the first step of the process to make any changes to any part of the state’s extant higher education structure. At first succeeding in drawing an injunction, when overturned Fields announced he would drop the matter in favor of direct lobbying of the Board of Regents.

A lawyer backed by unconventional sources of funds, Fields based his complaint on the fact that Jindal’s nine recent appointees to the Board of Regents failed to “diversify” sufficiently the board.


Proposals increasing fiscal flexibility need passage

It’s three-quarters of a loaf, but certainly better than nothing, that Gov. Bobby Jindal and like-minded legislators have proposed to deal with future difficulties that loosen many parts of the straitjacket afflicting Louisiana’s fiscal structure.

Jindal announced that legislation will be introduced at the upcoming session that would increase flexibility in budgeting for periods of projected deficit. Beginning next fiscal year, during periods of deficit the proportion of dedicated monies that may be moved from one purpose to others would double from five to ten percent, interest collected from funds holding these monies could be removed additionally during deficit conditions, and a review of funds on a regular to basis to determine genuine need for their existence.

Some of this has come up before, this history clouding its chances for passage.


Ambitions hinted at for term-limited LA legislators

To their brethren in office, term-limited politicians are like veterans of wars prosecuted by undemocratic states in order to distract people from their lack of freedom: no longer combatants but trained for action, their persons forever altered by the experience to accept combat as normal, they seek ways to use their acquired skills, even against their comrades in power. Just so Louisiana now faces this situation in this election year.

While some members of the Legislature understand how extended service could cause deterioration of their accountability and impoverish truly representative government, which leads to their retirement, others do not and, like mercenaries, scour the landscape for another battle to fight. This cycle, seven senators and 11 representatives find themselves in this situation.

Their annual reports, required of anybody with a non-zero balance in an active campaign finance account, can give some hint as to future intentions.