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Outlay deviation proper to address inefficient system

Moving through the legislative process is SB 204, a bill that causes perplexed and contradictory reactions, but seldom any real understanding of its genuine meaning going forward.

The bill sponsored by state Sen. Robert Adley would allow the Louisiana Community and Technical College System to undertake a series of capital improvements worth $250 million across the state. It gathers a 12 percent match from private sector concerns, who figure the improvement will increase the pipeline of skilled workers to them, and then gets the state to pay in $20 million a year over 20 years to pay it all off.

Controversially, it goes outside of the normal capital outlay process, where the Legislature puts up a list of projects, which if it exceeds the net state tax supported debt limit then is culled by the State Bond Commission. The bill exempts this outlay from that limit. Treasurer John Kennedy raises the alarm about the precedent set in this ability in a technical sense to exceed that limit, as this could increase interest rates faced by the state and obviously creates increased obligations in the future.


House balking imperils good higher education reforms

Two higher education reform bills failed to pass yesterday in the Louisiana Legislature. While one appears to be a goner, passage of the other at least ameliorates the consequences of that to some degree.

State Rep. Thomas Carmody’s HB 87 would have removed the requirement that the Legislature must approve of all tuition and fee increases by two-thirds majorities. Louisiana is the only state that has such a requirement, where the only exception to it is if institutions achieve stated goals approved by the Board of Regents they may raise these up to 10 percent for the next year. It needed a two-thirds vote to proceed as it required amending the Constitution to remove the additional burden on tuition increases.

But it drew support of only a little more than half of those present and voting, and not even half of the seated membership. Mostly Republicans voted for it and most Democrats against, with two interesting variations. Several black Democrats from the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas voted for it, possibly to assist the Southern University System schools in these communities. Several Republicans voted against it, almost all aligned with if not more vocal members of the Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign, perhaps as a tactic to enable better crisis creation; by closing off this avenue of higher education revenue, it might magnify the deleterious effects of a fiscal structure that makes higher education funding especially vulnerable, increasing the appeal of their reform agenda.


Bill promotes unwise reshuffling, procedural duplication

While it may spark a useful discussion on a larger question of government organization, the proposal for Louisiana to create a Department of Elderly Affairs given the current environment is unwise – although that may not be the main reason the bill in its current form was filed.

HB 352 by Rep. Joe Harrison would do this. Currently, programs dealing with the elderly are split between the Governor’s Office, a non-Cabinet collection of agencies, and the Department of Health and Hospitals. This bill essentially would take the Office of Elderly Affairs from the former and make a cabinet department of it – despite the fact there seems no real demonstrated need, in terms of improved efficiency or effectiveness, for this bureaucratic shuffling.

The matter of moving boxes and arrows around is more than trivial because of the Constitution, which states there should be only 20 such departments, so either it needs amending to allow for more or action would have to scrap one statutorily. While some states have such an entity at the cabinet level, most do not, and the mere symbolism of adding a department to government – acknowledging an expansion of it – makes the amending option unlikely to succeed.


Recent race cautions about raising judicial salaries

This week, the Louisiana Legislature will continue its look at raising judicial salaries again with state Sen. Danny Martiny's SB 188. While the debate mostly may turn on cost/benefit calculations such as whether the state can afford more in order to attract quality judges -- if higher pay actually does that -- something else to consider is the role that rising salaries has on the selection process for judicial jobs, as one of the most recent contested elections in northwest Louisiana showed.

Despite the fact that judicial contests – reinforced both by campaign finance law and by the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct – are supposed to have a nonpolitical air about them, the race for the open seat on the 26th District Court that covers Bossier and Webster Parishes last year had all the trappings of an issue-promoting, mud-slinging tussle that one might expect in an election to legislative or executive office.

By and large, norms of judicial contests typically carry the expectation that the person to be elected presides over a non-policy-making part of government, where competence and integrity as a jurist should decide who gets the job. The candidates are supposed to comport themselves as above politics, in order to emphasize their fairness and impartiality they would portray if on the bench.

All of which has been turned on its head in this race. On the surface, past assistant district attorney and currently privately practicing Whit Graves may have seemed to start this with his proclamation that his election would end up lowering constituents’ taxes. Interjecting the issue of fiscal probity into a kind of contest where this seldom is seen, he argued that he would prompt a reorganization of the district’s courts in a way that would obviate the need for tax increases to offset additional spending for maintaining a new judgeship.


Hypocritical rant shows high stakes for funding renewal

The hypocrisy demonstrated in a statement made by a Louisiana legislator – likely shared by many of her partisan colleagues – illuminates the toxic mindset of the left’s impact on the lives of citizens, but especially on the black community, when it comes to the role that educational policy plays in keeping its members in power.

Last week, the Black Alliance for Educational Options staged a rally of parents, children, and supporters of the state’s scholarship voucher program that allows families whose children endure underperforming schools to be given the resources to choose an alternative provider that may not be a government school. Due to a recent judicial decision, the funding mechanism for the program now requires a separate appropriation, and these individuals wanted to remind legislators to ensure continued funding.

This apparently upset state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb: