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Legislator's tantrum threatens wasteful spending

Popularity and political muscle don’t make bad law good, changing something’s name doesn’t change its importance, and a politician’s personal political pique shouldn’t cost taxpayers money are all understandings that would aid state Rep. Joe Harrison in doing his job.

Harrison has misfortune to be in the Louisiana Legislature’s Republican majority but out of step with its prevailing idea that government ought to be right-sized and taxpayer-friendly. On several issues, such as improving education by disempowering special interests, trying to rein in the gravy train of retirement benefits paid out to state government employees and to privatizing operations to make a bloated public hospital system run more efficiently, Harrison has protected through word and deed big government by strident opposition to these kinds of relief.

Lately, he has expressed this through a useless measure that created a cabinet-level Department of Elderly Affairs. It garnered many co-sponsors and two unanimous chamber votes, because to vote against it would seem like voting against your grandparents, But it would do nothing any differently or better for the state’s elderly than organizing most programs addressing elderly concerns in the current Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs – if it actually came into existence, because the Constitution limits the number of cabinet departments to 20 with all spots taken. The only difference is a few other smaller agencies also could be folded into the new department.


Claitor bill more about his career than serious solution

Election-year politics unfortunately has thrust its ugly mug into resolution of the Tulane University scholarship controversy, where a dog-and-pony show bill only serves to distract from the real issue.

The untenable program, which allows each state legislator and the mayor of New Orleans times five, as currently constituted creates incentives for elected officials to use these awards, a full year scholarship to qualifying students not closely related to officials, as political plums. In exchange, Tulane gets tax breaks. It has become controversial again, following changes made two decades ago that eliminated awarding these to close relatives, because legislator reluctance to disclose these public records invites a suit to expose the illegality of withholding that information .

As previously noted, far easier to eliminate qualms about records and in matching deserving students to aid would be to eliminate the program entirely, having Tulane pay its taxes and constructing alternative means if scholarships are to be give out; for example, New Orleans and the state could create using their extra tax takes merit-based scholarships to be distributed, eliminating politics. But precisely because of politics and the ability to use awards as tools to build political support, explaining why many refuse to turn over records of these because of the obviousness of it all, politicians balk at the obvious reforms needed.


EWE strings along campaign talk or else he can't abide

Prisoner #03128-095 didn’t win several city council, state Senate, congressional, and gubernatorial elections because he was a political dunce. But he does like attention. Hence, we get media commentary about his running for the Sixth Congressional District office despite that he never will do it.

Born Edwin Edwards, the former governor who spent 99 months as a guest of the state for racketeering related to his terms in office, although not for activities while as governor, when queried by the media neither confirmed nor denied that he would run. If it will help the media, I also neither confirm nor deny that I will run for that office as well. You can quote me on that.

That he would have no chance to win, absent the introduction of live boys or dead girls, should go without saying, but I find it necessary to write it and why. True, if announced gubernatorial candidate state Rep. John Bel Edwards swapped his first and middle names for “Edwin Washington” he’d get more votes without doing a lick of campaigning than he’s likely to if he follows through vigorously with his promise to run in 2015.


Try streamlining recommendations before contracting

Just as in the case of the investigation into the alleged improprieties surrounding the state’s Medicaid processing contract, Louisiana’s Division of Administration had better be very sure its willingness to spend money to save money will work out, given the far cheaper option it has at hand.

Last spring, after spending several million dollars towards implementation costs of this contract with Client Network Services Inc., the state yanked it when it became aware of both state and federal investigations into how the contract was awarded. Allegedly, relationships between former Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein and other state employees with CNSI helped get it awarded the contract. While this move allowed the state the ability to recoup a performance bond and to move ahead with the previous vendor substituting in, it also brought a suit by CNSI for wrongful termination. Thus, the state better be confident the evidence presented to it by authorities about probes in CNSI are correct, or there will be pretty penny to pay in damages.

In a different and decidedly legal way and on a smaller scale, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s DOA better be sure it’s doing the right thing in its contracting out to Alvarez and Marsal, a frequently-used consultant by the state in areas such as tax policy, higher education, and health care, to find efficiencies in state government operation. For $4 million, the firm already has started in looking specifically at how the state delivers in the areas of human services, transportation, public safety and justice, revenue and debt collection, facility and assessment management, risk management and public finance, among others. It would not address policy choices, but would focus on the implementation aspects of them.


Suit welcomed to keep judicial reform pressure going

Speaking of lawsuits that not only need to go forward, but also of one that actually has, New Orleans’ Bureau of Governmental Research correctly put more pressure on balky state legislators to prompt efficient use of taxpayer dollars, even if that particular an effort that may end up in vain.

At the start of this year, the BGR sued a special committee drawn up by the state’s Supreme Court by legislative instrument, with its members, elected judges, and community representatives, to review judicial workloads across the state. It asked that records be produced about its activities, after multiple requests to different parties in the committee went without success. The Court itself refused to release records with its lawyers arguing that, uniquely among Louisiana policy-making institutions it would seem, its committees can shield even in rule-making or administrative law-making situations this information, and pointed to a case where the Court declared it didn’t have to release such information under the notion of separated powers. The BGR claims as it is the Legislature that determines the judicial structure in the state, sunshine laws about its activities apply here.

This means the BGR is unlikely to win, for it’s unlikely that the Orleans Parish District Civil Court, where the suit was filed, or any judge anywhere would cross up the body that largely controls the operation of the state’s court system. And whether the releasing of the information would make a difference in the outcome of the committee’s deliberations is as unlikely.