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Budget spat counterproductive, reflects political ambition

The spat that has erupted between the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and Treasurer John Kennedy only may be understood in the context of political ambition that ultimately impedes optimal policy-making on the issue of the budget.

It began when Kennedy, no stranger to offering advice to other policy-makers even when it has little to do with if anything with his official duties, took matters a step further and criticized Jindal and his crew for their deserved reluctance to flush available but poorly-allocated revenues out of the budget that would lead to cutting higher-priority functions in state health care and higher education. Ever since he lost in his third attempt to move beyond the office he has held now for over a dozen years in 2008, unusually for an executive branch officeholder Kennedy has peppered the universe with ideas about how other parts of Louisiana government should do their jobs, but until now never had moved to outright political attacks on others with the accusation that they were whipping up fear to prevent the budget reductions.

This atypical behavior of a statewide elected official stems from Kennedy’s absolutely naked ambition to achieve higher office, with the governor’s office presumably in his sights in 2015 (as his rhetoric in these commentaries that began only after his last unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, we can assume he is not interested in a rematch in 2014 with Sen. Mary Landrieu). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; having such a carrot dangled spurs candidates into coming up with good policy suggestions. And, when he first came up with a comprehensive list of policy changes to try to reduce state spending without, he argued, big cuts in health care and higher education, while uneven both in quality and realism, there were some good ideas on it.


Dynamics make Jindal serious VP nominee contender

With the Republican presidential nomination apparently settled, figuring out who will be presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running has begun to rival baseball as the national pastime. As Romney has started to lead national polls against embattled incumbent Democrat Pres. Barack Obama, the stakes grow higher and especially so in Louisiana, as one potential contender is Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Talk of making him the game changer on the GOP ticket emerged in that contest four years ago, but reasons he would not have made the cut (assuming, leaving aside his declaration to then-candidate Sen. John McCain that he was a non-candidate, he would not have been selected) were he would have left the state open then to a Democrat successor (current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu) and he didn’t come from a state that would give him a competitive advantage. He also didn’t have a lot of experience in elective office – then three years in the U.S. House of Representatives and just starting as governor.

Turns out that those two things didn’t much matter, as the eventual pick former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got the nod, who had only a little more experience as a governor and also hailed from a noncompetitive state. However, like Jindal, she had acted in office as a conservative and with her female sex, as would have Jindal’s south Asian Indian background, was figured to offset Obama’s “Magic Negro” status in the minds of less sophisticated voters.


Reelection politics drives prison privatization opposition

As the issue has been brought to the wider consciousness of policy-making in Louisiana, it’s ironic that, for the second straight year, the chances of reducing state government spending in corrections through privatization seems to be dwindling under charges that contracting out corrections would be detrimental, when Louisiana already is by far the state that contracts out corrections the most.

As measures that would contract out prison operations, if not sell them outright, have faced stiff resistance although on spurious terms, ignored in the background has been the fact that, besides the two prisons already privatized two decades ago, between now and then Louisiana has gone in whole hog on contracting out its corrections operations. At the end of 2011, only 47.45 percent of all individuals under state incarceration were housed in state prisons. The only difference between an expansion of private sector corrections in the state and the current common practice is the state contracts on a short-term basis with local governments.

But this still is contracting, where not only do parish sheriffs running the facilities who accept state prisoners (almost always rural sheriffs, as the urban ones’ facilities typically don’t have enough room for their own miscreants) feel pressure to get as many transfers in while spending as little as possible on them to make a “profit” off the state’s $24.39 daily reimbursement, some go in for subcontracting – they house whatever prisoners they have plus ones from the state in facilities run and even owned by the private sector. There’s no conceptual difference between this and contracting with the private sector.


Bad budget consequences await with meat cleaver approach

As stated previously, the good news concerning the Louisiana House of Representatives decision, in its iteration of next fiscal year’s budget, to dump out all of the “one-time” money is that, in doing so, it began to take a little more responsibility in setting priorities and thereby inviting consequences for its actions, establishing minimally increased accountability on its part. But the bad news is that this is not going to work as planned and thereby will create major policy problems that negate this approach’s usefulness in this instance.

To reiterate, the state’s fiscal structure, because well over half of its revenues from its own resources are dedicated in some fashion, creates a financial straitjacket that poorly matches money to priority – low priority items get over-funded and create unused pots of money, while especially the areas of higher education and health care get squeezed in terms of dollars available. The typical solution has been to sweep idle funds out of those over-funded areas – most of what is termed in total as “one-time money” – to approximate reallocation on the basis of genuine need.

However, many self-proclaimed fiscal hawks, rather than fix the system that would fix the allocation problem, want to prohibit the correction method in an attempt to force smaller, more efficient government onto the state, which by any metric does need right-sizing. Yet in doing so, they foist an unhealthy starvation diet in those two areas because their replacement strategy is incomplete and unworkable.