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LA should stop subsidizing use of convicted ex-officials

As if Louisiana and simultaneously its wasteful motion picture tax credit need any more black eyes, it turns out the reality television show starring Prisoner #03128-095 wants to make a go at it by pilfering Louisiana taxpayers. And maybe it’s something state policy-makers ought to do something about that also will improve its overall ethics climate.
Already being produced by the A&E Network, “The Governor’s Wife” features the former Gov. Edwin Edwards, his latest wife Trina, and their challengingly-blended family. Not only does the show wish to catch the eyeballs of the public with its slow-down-to-look-at-the-car-wreck premise, but also hopes to drain the state’s revenue sources by use of the credits. The producers likely will not use much of them; the rest they will sell at a discount to others at with demonstrated appetite (like this guy) to reduce their Louisiana tax burdens – money that otherwise would have been collected and used for state services, or to return to taxpayers if policy-makers wanted to use those funds as a basis for a tax cut.

Regrettably, these credits cost the state more than $7 for every $1 they bring in, having cost the state nearly $500 million more than the small revenues they have brought in since their inception. So it seems that the only thing worse than publicizing the activities of a geezer who brought disgrace on the state is that the state subsidizes others to do it.


Cut apron strings to improve LA higher education delivery

Despite the tepid reception received by legislators, Louisiana higher education officials have a point and ought to be allowed to have far more flexibility over tuition charged – but only if combined with a couple of needed policy changes.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Education heard a plea from Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell to back some familiar ideas that he said would promote efficient delivery. One addresses the long-standing bane of state higher education: capping tuition at 12 hours paid even if a student takes more than that. This leads to overstaffing as some students deliberately load up and then drop classes in which they are doing the weakest, and makes for free education typically for 20 percent of a student’s career (most programs are designed to require 120 hours to graduate, meaning 15 hours taken a regular semester, and often financial aid pays for 12 hours only) and thereby unpaid-for use of resources. At the very least, any such limit should be raised to 15 hours.

Purcell also broached the idea of charging higher tuition for programs more in demand. This might be a double-edged sword, however; higher rates may discourage students from entering these programs and, worst of all, drive them to proprietary schools that disproportionately offer these kinds of programs. He counts on the relative inelasticity of demand for these at state schools, but that may be a miscalculation which bears further investigation.


Tax swap must expand social responsibility, shrink govt

As discussion continues about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax swap efforts to eliminate income (and, for corporations, franchise) taxes, the correct policy will emerge only if there is proper understanding of the purposes of government and how to achieve them – something already policy-makers and commentators are missing.

As is evolving, the plan envisions tax neutrality requiring striking a short-term balance needing increases in other taxes. Discussed to accomplish this are an increase in excise taxes, in sales taxes, and in the reach of sales taxes, such as by adding some services subject to it and in making greater efforts to collect it from more difficult channels to enforce such as Internet sales. Even sketched in general terms, the swap’s desirability is obvious.

Some have cautioned about a heavier reliance on sales and use taxation – but outside of the proper context. One is Louisiana’s Public Affairs Research Council, which quickly put together a group to provide a rough analysis of the general information and produced a generally valuable and helpful brief on the matter.


Advocate prints gossip, devaluing public policy discourse

Of course what we know as the “mainstream media” has a political agenda, but those who think for themselves can see right through it and discount it as they review the products of newspapers and television (although local television news tends to have less of it). Certainly it gnaws at  outlets’ credibility and extends to the entire industry (large majorities now do not think they can believe most of what comes out of the media and rank them near the bottom of all industries/institutions in terms of public confidence). But sometimes it becomes so obnoxious that it makes one wonder just what kind of bubble do these journalists live in to be so oblivious to the nakedness of their narrative-building attempts.

Just such an example appeared in the New Orleans edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate. There, a story goes into how a rehired (at a salary cut of $5,000 per year) former state worker at what was the previously state-run Southeast Louisiana Hospital describes her experience there – with absolutely no independent corroboration – under new private management in the very first days of the facility’s management transition. Essentially, she claims she saw lots of chaos unhelpful to patient care, she got put into a job that was not in her primary professional field, and then she quit in disgust after just a few days. The remainder of the article deals with officials responding to the self-described events asserted by the disgruntled employee to be demonstrating declining care.

Several things about this should set off alarms concerning basic tenets of journalism I learned in my first day of journalism class and/or the first day I was on the job as a newspaper reporter. First, why is one woman being upset a story to begin with? Now, if you had a relatively large number of staff resignations, or an unusual number of patient emergencies, or many visiting families reporting significantly different conditions, or any systematic data from multiple sources showing an unmistakable change in care and in a negative direction, maybe the media ought to snoop into this. But one person subjectively upset in her workplace and this merits a story? How is this news?


Proportional electoral vote system promises accountability

Pretty much after every quadrennial set of national elections comes various “reform” efforts involving the indirect election method of the presidency. One seems to be gathering some headway, enough for at least for one Louisiana party official to speak to it, and thus bears some investigation, for it has the potential to create better policy-making and parties more in touch with voters’ concerns.

Currently, 41 states of the 43 that have multiple congressional districts provide for at-large, winner-take-all selection of Electoral College electors, with only Maine and Nebraska of two districts each providing for an electoral vote apportioned to the winner of each district and the two remaining given to the winner of the entire state’s popular vote. Now, some states are thinking of joining them, provoking outrage from Democrats.

That’s because of the top-heavy dynamics that favored them in the previous presidential election, won by Pres. Barack Obama with 332 of 538 electoral votes – but only from 26 states plus the District of Columbia, this 53 percent of electoral units only slightly higher than the 51.7 percent of the popular vote her received instead of the exaggerated 61.7 percent of electoral votes. But in terms of congressional districts, he won only 315 of those, easing that percentage win of 58.5 percent (including D.C.’s electoral votes) closer to his popular vote total.