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Politics more than need explains plan for N.O. hospital

It’s not so much that it’s a matter of one hand of government not knowing what the other is doing, but a complex interplay of genuine need and political wants which explains why the state and City of New Orleans both are building hospitals just miles from each other.

The state continues with its effort to build a brand new charity hospital in New Orleans to replace the in-the-breach interim facility just west of the building site. This new facility has faced criticism over its size in a market already above the national average in beds per thousand population (about 10 percent higher at 3) and consequent cost. Yet simultaneously the city is building a facility in New Orleans East around the site of the old Methodist Hospital, to be operated by a nonprofit religious organization but governed and funded through the Orleans Parish Hospital Service District A, a state-created entity but a component of New Orleans.

The legal structure of this district intends to operate a hospital as an enterprise, without use of taxpayer funds other than a city payment to run it. To date, its funding has come from grants or in-kind contributions and revenues from opening an urgent care clinic. But the intent is for the creation of a full-service hospital even though it would create even more beds in the New Orleans metropolitan area and with 80 beds ridiculously over-bed New Orleans East at about 10 per thousand. The compelling argument, claims the city, is that no emergency services presently cover in the area without having to go over a major patch of water – six traffic spans to the west to other New Orleans/Jefferson hospitals, two east to the Slidell area, and one south to St. Bernard. Thus, potential bottlenecks exist that could cost lives in an emergency situation.


Closing barn door on tax exceptions later better than never

It’s never too late to close the barn door after the horse has gotten out, as some Louisiana legislators demonstrated again as part of approving the details of new tax breaks established earlier this year.

The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget had to approve of regulations issued by the Department of Economic Development incident to the new laws. But the natives seemed a bit restless and did not want to do the usual rubber stamping of anything proposed in this regard, no doubt because of the state’s continued precarious budget position and the exposure the issue of exceptions to the tax code increasingly is receiving, with a select legislative committee overseeing the matter.

Eventually, they went along with it, but only after grilling department officials to ascertain that some kind of oversight would occur. These concerned tax rebate agreements that could be offered to employers that would require their approval after a review by an independent, third-party economist aimed at making sure the state will get more tax revenue from the new jobs created than the tax money lost with the credit.


Issues emerge from forum to help voters decide PSC race

Candidates for the open District 2 seat of the Louisiana Public Service Commission participated in a forum where interesting questions arose about the operation of and service on the PSC, also shedding light on a court case dealing with financing the body, all of which help the public evaluate the PSC and its current or potential members.

One question concerned whether candidates for the office should accept contributions for campaigning from utility companies, one of the kinds of firms whose activities may be regulated by the PSC. The fronturnners called this acceptable and said they had already taken such funds, while the also-rans, none of whom to date have filed a campaign finance report implying they have raised little money, said candidates should abjure from taking them.

But the problem with the latter approach is it unfairly restricts the free speech rights of shareholders of those companies, while their special interest opponents would face no barrier. And why single out utility companies when others, like motor carriers, regulated by the PSC would face no ban? If a candidate out of personal preference declines such funds, that’s his business, but mandating that stricture puts the state in the position of tipping the scales against a certain industry, as it already does in similar restrictions against gaming concerns.


Populism explains dearth of intellectual conservative media

Has the New Orleans Times-Picayune woken up and smelled the coffee? Who would have thought that apparently a closet conservative lurked at what’s left of it? That’s the impression one gets upon reading James Varney’s first opinion piece, and, although the issue he brings up isn’t exactly a burning one of the day, it’s interesting and deserves investigation.

Varney appears to have replaced the T-P’s rotund, pale female true-believing liberal columnist, joining the retained relatively thinner, dark male true-believing liberal one (and guest appearances seemingly planned from the aged, pickled leftist curmudgeon) on its opinion roster – which in and of itself is quite a statement. That balance now appears in the offing for the paper’s assigned opinion writers shows that T-P management perceives in order to catch the eyeballs that have begin deserting the printed word in droves, for the first time in decades it might actually want to present on a regular basis arguments sympathetic to the views of the majority in the metropolitan area, Louisiana, and in the country – in full contradiction to its reliably liberal (if not the state media’s worst offending) editorial page.

In his initial effort, Varney advances a question about why conservative opinion journals seem rare around the area, concluding that he doesn’t actually know why, only that digital offerings will increase access. Well, after 30 years of writing conservative opinion pieces and having spent about as long studying conservative philosophy in and out of the academy, some of this in New Orleans and most of it in Louisiana, I can answer that for him.


Electricity deregulation could tip scales in PSC contest

The last edition of this space criticized politicians who should know better in attempting to insert more government into electric power regulation in Louisiana. Perhaps the upcoming Public Service Commission contest will present an opportunity for a winning candidate to embrace the winning issue of less government intrusion.

In the past, there might have been a case for close scrutiny of government in all aspects of this historically vertically integrated industry where generation, transmission, and distribution were performed by single firms in geographical areas where any competition faced tremendous entry costs. But the monopolistic environment, thanks to technological advances, has become softened at least on the distribution end, and to some degree on the generation side. Now, as long as a concern isn’t too far away from transmission lines to one of the three American power grids, as distribution becomes more and more deregulated in allowing customers to choose which supplier provides power, there is greater incentive to create generation capacity and plug it in, increasing choice further.

Unfortunately, Louisiana has yet to ride this wave of the future, until recently having just a handful of firms, dominated by Entergy, generate, transmit, and distribute power (although they have been able to buy and sell power on a wholesale basis) as the only provider in varying geographical regions. However, the first step to changing this occurred a few months ago when the PSC authorized Entergy to join the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc, with the specifics to be worked out over the next few months. This consortium governs power transmission in 13 states. Thus, the new member for the PSC from the open District 2 seat that will be elected no later than Dec. 8 will participate in some big decisions right off the bat.