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Voting rules changes can improve LA Legislature

Perhaps stricter limits on floor voting would reduce the amount of posturing and self-fulfillment common among Louisiana legislators in the performance of their legislative duties, as well as have the salutary effect of cranking out fewer but more thoroughly vetted and better bills.

This past session representatives smothered HB 373 by state Rep. Steve Carter, which would have amended the Constitution to reduce the length of the even-year “general” session of the Legislature and have limited the number of non-local bills intended to have the effect of law that a legislator could introduce to 10. Carter argued that Louisiana ranked high in the number of bills introduced but low in passage rates compared to other states, and so changing these parameters would make for a more efficient, productive, and less-costly Legislature.

Naturally, it went nowhere. Many legislators are enthralled with filing bills, some racking up dozens a session, which this time resulted in almost 2,000 being filed and almost 900 passed (and, believe it or not, in the past two decades there have been years where these figures were around 50 percent higher), and didn’t want time or numerical limitations on them. Their addiction to filing them comes from a desire to win credit from constituents and/or special interests by making a physical demonstration they support or care about something (even if there’s no chance the bill could pass given political realities) and/or from an ideological imperative drives them to express that and/or because they enjoy the process and perhaps psychological satisfaction of winning passage and having their handiwork appear in the law or the Constitution. And this is facilitated by having more days in a session to work these over.


LA nursing home subsidies too much to continue

While the just-concluded 2014 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature did nothing to create a less-favorable policy environment for long term health care for the disabled and indigent, a report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor emphasized the problems that remain in having the state pay too much for too little service.

Historically, Louisiana tilted it resources in this regard towards institutionalized care in nursing homes, where the state paid a much higher proportion of total dollars going to this care to them relative to other states. Operators became dependent on these payments, on average 85 percent of their total revenue, comprising by fiscal year 2013 $840 million that represents nearly a quarter of all state Medicaid money spent. Because of legal changes and court rulings, however, the state has been forced to spend more on home- and community-based delivery even as payments to nursing homes continued to escalate.

Unfortunately, in the past 20 years collectively nursing home operators bet on more business, because of a less-healthy and more elderly population comparatively, disregarding the changing fiscal climate courtesy of the mandate to move less acute clients out of institutions, and overbuilt. As a result, Louisiana has among the lowest occupancy rates of the states, which even as this edges downwards faces a continuing decline in the overall number of clients in institutions. The hope among these operators is that they can ride this out until demographics of an aging national population catch up. Yet the continued growth of non-institutionalized options, which on average save the state tens of thousands of dollars a year per client with the benefit of less restricted living for each, portends that the overbuilt condition will not go away any time soon, if ever.


Now buffoonish, McAllister may aim for self-parody

What started out as light comedy has turned into full-on farce as Rep. Vance McAllister becomes ever more desperate to stay relevant and to resurrect a political career the grave of which he continues to dig deeper.

McAllister, who had no political experience before parlaying a lot of his own money and the wit to diagnose a political environment optimally arranged to elect an unknown to Congress, less than a half year later was revealed – apparently through a leak by his own staff – to have committed extramarital infidelity, prompting him to declare he would eschew an attempt at reelection this fall in order to put family affairs into order. Lately he’s hedged on a withdrawal from politics, not realizing that once surrendering that it’s unlikely any electorate ever would take him back.

But, as he made his mark as preacher of dysfunction in Washington, perhaps a return of zeal to stay in power prompted him to get back to that narrative through a bizarre story. His claimed anecdote highlights that (in his words) “money controls Washington” and how work on Capitol Hill is a “steady cycle of voting for fundraising and money instead of voting for what is right.”


Voters need to reject creating unneeded cabinet dept

Perhaps the most surprising of a surprisingly bad crop of constitutional amendments not only would end up costing more taxpayer dollars for no policy improvement, but it could violate federal law if passed, all to feed ego and empower special interests.

HB 341 by state Rep. Joe Harrison proved surprising in that it even made it to the voters. The proposed amendment would allow expand the number of cabinet departments allowed to exist in the state from 20 to 21 and would allow a department authorized by the amendment to disburse funds from Title XIX of the federal Social Security Act, but limit its authority only to over programs not ever administered by another part of government and could come into existence only when it had its own appropriated funds after Jun. 12, 2015.

In practical terms, this means a Department of Elderly Affairs would be created, courtesy of Act 384 of 2013, which set this up contingent on there being enough constitutional room for it. This takes programs and authority from the Division of Administration, principally the Governor’s Office for Elderly Affairs, and also empowers establishing a new program to serve the “frail elderly.” How and why it got there illustrates the quest for political symbolism over policy substance.


Calming agents on LA budgeting this year won't remain

In the decade this space has served mankind (or at least that portion attentive to Louisiana politics), the 2014 budgeting process, described as quiescent elsewhere, provoked the least commentary. Due to the same dynamics involved this, don’t expect it again next year.

Ever since 2006, the state’s budgetary picture has been whipsawed by extremes. Immediately after the hurricane disasters of that year, a great state revenue retrenchment was feared and in special session general fund spending was contracted by about 13 percent or nearly a billion dollars. The cautiousness was debated in 2006 and continued, although reductions focused mostly on reaping the “disaster dividend” (i.e., fewer social service payments because of the disproportionate displacement of disproportionately larger receivers of those), across-the-board cutting with little attention paid to structural changes to make government more efficient or to eliminating programs on the basis of need, and using the Budget Stabilization Fund.

But by 2007, the unanticipated “false economy” of the federal government steadily pumping into the state’s economy what would become in five years the lion’s share of $142 billion allocated for recovery. This created general fund revenues that in fact surpassed those of fiscal year 2006 by FY 2009, even as the country was sliding into economic recession. Now the problem became the opposite: vigorous debates not on how to cut, but on how to spend.