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LA economic performance validates conservative policies

It’s tough being an economic leftist in Louisiana these days. After five years of economic mismanagement, from whatever the motivation, by Pres. Barack Obama and Democrats in Washington, with so little to defend at the national level, liberals in the state turn to its economic performance to try to restore their faith in their untenable ideology. But while the state as whole got more good news on that front last week, to them it simply was more of the bad variety.

It turns out that the state set a jobs record last month, getting pretty close to two million employed. Better, it came as a result of strong private sector hiring in the face of small declines in public sector jobs. That makes the state only one of 14 that has added jobs since the recession began in 2008 followed by the Obama-inspired jobless “recovery,” and has done so now for three straight years. Even the only potential negative to this report, the unemployment rate higher than last year is because the workforce has expanded so significantly, and that rate of 7 percent still is below the national rate of 7.3 percent where the expansion of the workforce has been much slower, if not retracting, than Louisiana’s.

Add to this a rising household median income that is among the fastest in the nation which has gained 4.2 percent over the past dozen years while the nation’s has fallen 6.6 percent – with this drop essentially all during the Obama presidency – and a slowly but continuously falling poverty rate over the past few years even as Obama’s economy continues to create more poverty nationally. At the current rates of change, by the next decade Louisiana’s poverty rate will be lower than the national average and by the end of that decade its median income will be higher.


Don't buy DOJ assertion it doesn't oppose LA vouchers

Realizing the gravity of its situation, has the federal government folded up in its attempt to impede Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program? Chances are the legal tussle may be only beginning, because the federal government insists on bending the law to fulfill an ideological purpose.

Yesterday, Pres. Barack Obama’s Department of Justice, out of the blue, released a letter to the media declaring that quick resolution was at hand concerning its lawsuit against the state. DOJ sued Louisiana over the program that allows students in underperforming schools to receive state aid to attend schools of their choices, almost always private ones, because it said about 560 of these students were in districts under court desegregation orders and that courts had to supervise these transfers even if they changed minutely the racial balance even in schools largely racially balanced.

The note, actually a reply to an inquiry by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner about the legality and purpose of the action, said that the state had turned over information that it sought, or promised it would soon, and that the federal government was awaiting court action on the suit to determine whether there was a violation. It also repeated that “we are neither opposing … nor seeking to revoke vouchers from any student.”


Implemeting Common Core must avoid federal overreach

The tempest in a teapot colloquially known as the Common Core State Standards surged again with the statement of a Louisiana legislator that he would file legislation hoping to block their implementation next year, and Gov. Bobby Jindal asking state education leaders to take questions surrounding that seriously. That this debate features more light than heat nonetheless does not mean it should be settled either definitively for or against CCSS.

State Rep. Cameron Henry claimed in the letter to Jindal that implementation of these standards shifted oversight from parents to bureaucrats, were not scrutinized prior to adoption, overrides state choices in curriculum, educational standards, and the “proper role of parents and teachers,” through its testing mechanism violates privacy rights, and imposes additional costs. He wrote not only that he would file legislation to halt implementation at the last minute, but also asked Jindal to complement that effort by getting the Department of Education, run by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education through its appointed superintendant John White, to stop the process.

For his part, Jindal asked White to review with Henry these concerns but said little beyond previous comments about then issue, where he cautioned that the CCSS effort not become the imposition of a federal curriculum. However, Jindal does not have any formal authority over this kind of policy, except for his ability to appoint but not remove three of the 11 members of BESE to an unlimited number of terms. And, to date, White and BESE have shown little enthusiasm for any substantive changes to the course; in fact, Louisiana was one of the initial adopters and leaders of the effort in 2010, shaping the concept more than most because the allied testing program that goes along with it largely replicates what Louisiana already does.


Federal rule change to hurt LA health care delivery

Last week, Pres. Barack Obama’s Department of Labor threw a sop to labor unions that creates yet another potential financial crisis for Louisiana.

The department issued rules regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act which wiped away the exemption to pay minimum wage and overtime to unskilled home health care workers. While a minority of states already mandates minimum wage or higher payments and/or overtime to these workers, Louisiana is among the majority that does not have to pay $7.25 an hour or time-and-a-half for any work over 40 hours. Unions long have wanted this because this boost in pay could make unionization more attractive for these workers with the potential increase in pay that could justify union dues.

While a good deal of the market involves families paying from their own resources or from insurance to a person or organization, in Louisiana a significant portion of the quarter billion dollars a year spent on Medicaid waiver programs is on reimbursements for hiring these workers. The state contracts to agencies, paying a specified rate. From that, agencies set their own wages and overtime policies with an eye to having enough left over to stay in business. Also impacted by this change would be the state’s fledgling self-direction program, where families are given Medicaid dollars to hire their own workers. These would have no choice but to pay the higher rate if they are not doing so already (which many do, given the savings from reduced bureaucracy from them taking on that function), but that reimbursement rate fluctuates with some hours budgeted as many as two bucks below $7.25, meaning depending on circumstances for some it could cause hardship.


Dardenne should stop whining, start privatizing

As previously noted, complaints about funding for Louisiana’s Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism are the norm for its chief Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne because of his political ambitions. But if he really wants to set himself apart from other gubernatorial contenders in 2015 as well as serve the state better, a change in tune from asking for handouts to helping himself would do the trick.

So far, as the state has faced fiscal pressures in the past few years, annually Dardenne has moaned that (1) his department isn’t getting enough money overall, (2) some of statutory dedications that could go to operating expenses instead are directed to funding special events, and (3) funds that could be used for capital items are getting diverted to operating costs. Almost certain to run for governor in two years, he has kept up this drumbeat of criticism as funding for parks has decreased from over $33 million to under $32 million, and for the department from $87 million to $80 million since he assumed the job in 2010 (a percentage reduction below many state agencies) because the relative powerlessness of the office becomes even more pronounced the fewer resources he has to use.

Last week, he harped again on the last gripe when lamenting about how repairs are coming so slowly for the most-visited of all state parks, Fontainebleau, concerning its dozen cabins that often are reserved months in advance still out of service after Hurricane Isaac. He repeated his refrain that in the past six years the removal of money from the State Park Repair and Improvement Fund, some $34 million worth, could have gone to repairs, among other capital items. However, using the discretionary authority in the law (clarified this year), over that span Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have chosen to use that on operating expenses, leaving a $20.4 million backlog and a empty fund.