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Angelle entry for top spot hurts Dardenne, helps Kennedy

With Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle declaring his candidacy for governor of Louisiana in 2015, this disproportionately detracts from the chances of one existing announced candidate and should embolden another heretofore unannounced to dive right in.

Perhaps the lazy way to consider the move is to see this as part of the match for state supremacy between current Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter, the latter already having taken the plunge to replace the former. Jindal cannot run for a third consecutive term, so to stay on top of things he must resort to a surrogate, the thinking goes, and with Angelle having been a Jindal cabinet appointee, temporary lieutenant governor, and legislative go-between for the governor he fits the bill.

Assuredly that’s part of it, but Angelle put himself out there primarily because he thinks he can win without being (overall) a rigidly principled conservative like Jindal. It’s tempting, but ultimately reductionist, to write off Angelle as a Jindal clone. Recognize that Angelle came to politics in the state from an insider’s family, and as a Democrat, whose outward conservatism one senses doesn’t quite match Jindal’s all-his-life unshakeable fervency but more opportunistically as in the mode of several ex-Democrat legislators who as soon as Republicans came within sniffing distance of a legislative majority jumped ship. His actions on the PSC seem to confirm that, where he’s demonstrated he will defect strategically from a pure free-market, anti-crony capitalist, right-sized government agenda.


Statistics suggest coming LA job, tax revenue boom

As good economic news has flowed around Louisiana over the past few years – low unemployment, job creation, and announcements of new jobs coming online – some policy-makers have wondered why these seem only partially reflected in state tax collections. Others say this level of success has constrained the labor market to the point that it might hamper major expansions seen on the horizon. The process to reconcile the notions that a healthy labor market on the verge of a squeeze, but one not well translated into economic growth that brings increased tax revenues, begins with an interesting report from the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The LFO has taken to putting out, between legislative sessions, a monthly newsletter investigating fiscal topics of its choosing, and in this past month among other items looked at Louisiana’s job growth relative to the south and the country as a whole. Choosing Feb. 2010 as a baseline, due to the judgment that this was the nadir of the 2008 recession, since then (through Aug. 2014 preliminary figures) overall employment growth has lagged the south and country. This is because while private sector job growth has been about the same for all three, there has been substantial retraction in government employment in Louisiana. This could explain why sales and income tax receipt increases have been tepid.

But to focus on this alone, if not reductionist, stops way short of fully understanding the dynamics. In March, for the first time ever the state cracked the 2 million employed number, and while receding slightly from its April high mark since is still above that benchmark. And the August preliminary number showed the most people in the active workforce ever for the state, at about 2.13 million. As a result of these numerical perambulations, the state’s unemployment rate fell from its 6.9 percent rate in Feb. 2010 to the preliminary 5.8 this August – which is up considerably from the early spring number of 4.5 percent, as a result of about 30,000 more people in the labor force in that six months but only about 1,000 more jobs over that period. By contrast, government jobs have fallen 10 percent from that Feb. 2010 baseline, or about 34,000, and over 2,000 alone since the spring – leaving the fewest government jobs in Louisiana since 1991.


Suit tips hand of regressive educational agenda

Special interests in Louisiana’s public education system have not given up in trying to protect their power and privilege, as indicated by a suit filed regarding funding of charter schools that seeks to erode the state’s school choice options.

An alliance of regressive forces, school boards and teacher unions, will argue in front of state district court that, essentially, certain kinds of charter schools are ineligible for funding through the main mechanism of apportioning state financial support to public education, the Minimum Foundation Program. They argue that some types, roughly 25 schools drawing $60 million from the over $3 billion distributed, are not “public” schools and not run by a school district of some kind. Therefore, they claim the MFP is ineligible through which to channel money.

This echoes the decision last year where the Louisiana Supreme Court determined that MFP money could not go to funding the scholarship voucher program that pays parents a chit that can be used at a private school, as it said the purpose of the MFP was for public education. And even as this logic provides a rationale for a suit on this basis, it also provides the grounds to reject it absent a very activist role on part of the judiciary.


Myth vs. fact in LA health care benefits debate

At least the gripe session about changes to health insurance benefits of state employees, retirees, and some school board employees didn’t drag the entire Louisiana House of Representatives back, just its Appropriations Committee, and some useful information did come out about the issue. Which makes this as good as any time to reveal myths that for political reasons are being circulated about it.

In short, three years ago the fund that maintains reserves, which is the excess of monies paid in from premiums from taxpayers (typically 75 percent) and clients (typically 25 percent) over expenses was around $500 million. The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration then decided to cut premium rates a total of 9 percent. This meant both ratepayers and the state paid less, the latter being able to use tens of millions of unused dollars in the past two budget years for other purposes. It also opted to privatize claims administration to save on bureaucratic costs. While that went into effect this year, rates also were increased 5 percent, and pharmacy benefits changed a couple of months ago that increased costs to some users. Starting next plan year (Jan. 1), while premiums are not proposed to increase, non-pharmacy benefits will change that likely means in the aggregate clients will pay more in health care costs, because of changes to co-payments, deductibles, and covered services. Meanwhile, rising costs of health care with lower premiums have put the reserve on track to go close to zero by the end of the fiscal year (Jun. 30).

Some politicians and special interests have seized upon this series of events to put forward dubious claims, none of which are true:


Shreveport campaigns should include sales, privatization

Whoever the next mayor of Shreveport will be, that person will have to face and will need to solve a capital projects crunch that shows no signs of abating, because of sins of the past.

This spring a report by the city pointed out the dire straits in which the city finds itself in this election year. It highlighted what it claimed were $1.5 billion in needed improvements, but naturally not all of these items are of genuine high priority and necessary. For example, an intelligent traffic system certainly would ease congestion, but it’s not a life or death matter, especially when it could cost as much as $60 million.

But clean water with a federal mandate is another matter. The most pressing concern on the list was the estimated $342 million needed to be spent over the next dozen years to rehabilitate a city water system that has been crumbling for years as it spent precious dollars on things like a convention center, hotel, and sludge pits, the effects of this disrepair drawing the ire of the Environmental Protection Agency. A consent decree between it and the city that was hammered out late last year means the city must start spending about $34 million a year on this beginning in 2015.


Alexander right to support performance measures

As the federal government moves towards completion of a ratings system for higher education, Louisiana State University System President and Baton Rouge campus Chancellor F. King Alexander has become one of the louder advocates in favor of such a plan, last week penning an opinion piece praising the concept and often quoted on the matter. Past a certain point it’s a good idea, but up to that point and no farther it becomes an exercise in self-interest for academia.

Early in his second term Pres. Barack Obama shook up the insular world of higher education by proposing that federal aid to students be tied to some performance measures, in some ways like the system that states like Louisiana operate in terms of funding directly their state colleges. Since then the overall reaction within higher education has been negative, but pockets favorable at least to some changes have emerged, falling along two particular fault lines: whether the institution is for-profit and whether the institution is public, with for profit schools the least supportive and public schools the most, relatively speaking. This is because, as Alexander has implied, for-profit schools with disproportionately higher consumption of federal aid dollars – these for institutions and students now eclipsing federal discretionary spending on housing and community affairs, international affairs, energy and the environment, and transportation combined – but lower completion rates makes them “bad actors” that cast a negative view over all of higher education.

Even so, public schools have given lukewarm at best acquiescence to the idea, mainly because they are torn in the purposes that the ratings could perform. There seems consensus among them that they could live with tying simple metrics such as completion rates and proportions of graduates employed being reported and used for accountability purposes, even as some also want greater complexity added to any such index created, such as a measure of “readiness” where scores are adjusted favorably for a school the higher is the proportion of presumably less prepared students they admit.