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It’s a wacky time in the Louisiana Legislature when self-proclaimed Republican conservatives team up with liberal Democrats to try to defeat conservative policy. Yet understand that a vote last week by some Republican House members to push to defeat a money-saving measure does not so much reflect that they have abandoned conservatism but more that they needed to throw a tantrum to save face with constituents and/or to shape a public perception of them – even if it costs them influential positions in the House.
Such happened when the House Appropriations Committee met jointly with the Senate Finance Committee to review a contract negotiated to administer the state’s Preferred Provider Organization health care plan for state employees and retirees. The current state-run operation wastes taxpayer dollars and will produce an estimated $20 million in savings for them as well as lower costs to clients with comparable if not better service.
Trying to stop this contract – for while Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Division of Administration has complete legal authority to remove the state from operating its own insurance business without legislative input, an attorney general’s opinion interpreted that law to mean a contract to do so would have to pass muster of majorities of both committees – has become the latest cause célèbre for Louisiana’s left on the heels of a long string of defeats. Ignoring the taxpayer and ratepayers that preventing privatization represents, they justify this partially out of their love for big government (as a number of inefficient positions would remian), but perhaps more pertinently they wish merely to try to poke Jindal in the eye as he uses a conservative agenda to sweep them aside from policy-making relevance.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 15:30
While this space has provided guidance on statewide Amendments 1 through 9 in upcoming elections, there remains for voters in 67 school districts the question of imposing terms limits locally – one the answer to which should be affirmative.
The official view of those satisfied with the current state of elementary and secondary education in Louisiana is that “the best term limit is the ballot box” because term limits “mandate removal of qualified members.” So what? It is the height of conceit and arrogance for any politician to consider oneself so talented as to be indispensible to the body politic, and a sign of intellectual laziness if not of a slavish willingness to surrender self-governance to think as such of any. It is folly to think that in any school board district in the state there is not at least one person who would be as good as, or better than, an incumbent in each.
But, as explained ably elsewhere, likely an enormous proportion of those capable unelected does not run or cannot run competitively because entrenched incumbency brings advantages particularly in contesting low-level offices over a governmental unit that typically has the largest budget, often by far, than any other local government. Worse, this disproportionately aids the stinkers sitting in those seats in retention, most particularly those tied in with special interests who like things as they are and who have disproportionate electoral and policy clout in a situation where policy benefits get concentrated in the hands of a few (politicians, administrators, employees, unions, ideological fellow-travelers) while their costs are dispersed among the many (the taxpaying public).
Part of the last gasps of populism in Louisiana has come as hot air from opponents of the administrative decision to get the state out of the self-insurance business. Not so much despite, but more because of, the demonstrable savings involved, the populist left that opposes the reform reveals the poverty of their argument.
They’ll get a shot at it tomorrow when two separate legislative committees together get to review the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration’s plans to contract out the state-run health plan for employees and retirees. An earlier attorney general’s ruling provided the legal basis for the chance to veto the product of the negotiation.
Proponents of larger government with more control very tellingly do not suggest that the plan will not save taxpayers an estimated $20 million and reduce rates for those insured. Instead, they conjure up the notion that “loopholes” exist that will allow unilateral administrative actions to increase payments over the three-year deal to the administrator. Why that’s bad is never explained nor is it compared in any way to the state’s present ability to do the exact same thing under the plan it has run itself. The state needs flexibility over the life of the contract to increase – or decrease – payments as it sees fit.
While the proposed reconfiguration of the Louisiana State University System brings with it many salutary characteristics and strengths, the nagging question remains about whether some of the things the system tries to do would not be done better with alterations to it.
At the end of this week, the LSU Board of Supervisors appears ready to accept the plan, drawn up by a nonprofit organization that consults on the area of higher education, that is congruent with the “One LSU” concept that has been floated by a number of interests in the state. The separate universities, professional schools, research/public service agencies, and medical educators/providers will cede some autonomy that fuses to some degree the Baton Rouge campus and present system, but retain a fair amount of it in a way that hopes to promote cost savings, efficiency, and increased stature.
The structure, similar to those of a couple of other state university systems, would provide consolidation savings of the academic administrative apparatus and also of back-office functions, the latter mirroring recent action taken by the Southern University System. It permits independence in many areas, such as the abilities for schools to continue to make personnel decisions, choose coursework offered (beyond a standardized General Education Requirement), and leave auxiliary programs intact such as sports and academic teams. The initial combining would go into effect by the 2015 academic year.
Since his dramatic pivot from the political left to right after his defeat for the U.S. Senate in 2004, the question always about state Treas. John Kennedy has been whether he truly has embraced conservatism. As he gears up for an expected run for governor in 2015, the things he says and does continue to cast doubt on that transformation.
The latest came in his response to Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell’s legal opinion confirming that the state corporation that insures property when no private sector entity will, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Company, could increase wind and hail policies for homeowners in several parishes where no standalone private market activity exists because of the high risk involved. In part, this reluctance to write has existed precisely because government will do it.
Legally, Citizens must offer policies at no lower than 10 percent higher than the market rate of a basket of insurers, or the highest rates charged by insurers with a minimal increase in recent business if not wind and hail policies, but if neither exists, then an actuarially rate based on recent past history must be used, This last approach underappreciated actual risk of wind and hail damage and therefore set the state up to collect too little money to pay off potential future major storm damage. In this situation, as occurred after the hurricane disasters of 2005, taxpayers would have to make up the difference.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:10
If you see one of the few Republicans to sign on to the idea floated by state Rep. Dee Richard, ultimately failing, to call a special session to review recent state responses to budget deficit conditions, offer to stake him at the craps table because this is one guy who knows when to roll the dice to get a natural – even if he may not properly understand his job.
Altogether, 49 of the 144 legislators signed the effort that would have inserted much more decisively the Legislature into the policy implementation process. That’s greater than a third of seated members, but it did not allow for advancing to a vote whether to have the session since a third was needed in both chambers and the House was five to the good yet the Senate four to the bad. The session would have allowed rewriting of laws to allow for greater legislative insertion into the policy implementation process and could have undone the budgetary adjustments, many of which downsized or closed government facilities in a handful of legislators’ districts.
Observers who for political reasons desire fomenting opposition to Gov. Bobby Jindal simply for the sake of conflict and inefficiency in state government, or the gullible who thought anything meaningful could happen by the session’s emergence, even if just the symbolism of a chimerical “legislative independence” appeared as a result, rooted for success in the matter. Of the legislators involved, the large majority of signatories being Democrats, representing about half of all the legislators of that party, fit the former motive. But the GOP signatories had a very different motive – raising their political profiles while coming across as “concerned” about how the cuts impacted their constituencies.