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Gov. polling results present quandary for Democrats

A couple of polls concerning the governor’s contest later this year have hit the public consciousness. You can’t put much stock in them as to how the contest will turn out, but they do show the very broad contours of the race as it threatens to develop, and provide especially trenchant information for Democrats.

One organization put one out last week, and another followed this week, with roughly the same sampling frame. Both excluded cellular phone numbers, which almost certainly introduces error into the results as roughly three-eighths of the population nationally live in wireless-only households, and the proportion probably is higher in Louisiana as states with more extensive rural populations disproportionately have these kinds of households. It’s debatable how this bias works in if at all, for as the younger and Hispanics, for example, are both disproportionately likely to vote for Democrats and also not have households with landlines, at the same time they are less likely to vote.

Regardless, the results for both came out about the same: Republican Sen. David Vitter lead the way in the mid-thirties of percent, not far behind him came Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards, trailing much further back in the mid-teens was Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, and trailing in single digits was Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. The undecided portion comprised in the 10-15 percent range.


LA higher education needs reform before tax dollars

Understanding the policy debate concerning higher education funding in Louisiana means realizing that its leaders say one thing when in reality they fear it, in an attempt to deflect attention from larger truths about their environment that they wish to keep out of the spotlight.

At a recent forum that brought together various systems chiefs, campus heads, and the top dog himself, Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo, generally they stumped for what they termed “autonomy,” which they defined as marginal changes to practices and procedures in delivering higher education, such as in pursuing capital projects without so much bureaucracy to hurdle. These kind of changes will do little to stabilize funding and increase efficiency in higher education for a state ranked 18th in per capita spending on higher education now facing cuts of anywhere from $100 million to $600 million this upcoming fiscal year, depending upon legislative vagaries in the next few months.

But when queried about substantive changes in Louisiana’s higher education systems featuring genuine autonomy that would induce efficiency, these mandarins blanched. In particular, University of Louisiana System Pres. Sandra Woodley was dismissive about the notion of increased “privatization” (in the sense higher education mostly would control revenue-raising capability, have few constraints on spending decision-making, and its possessing a large degree of separation from state control), alleging through this that “only the relatively wealthy will be able to participate” in earning a college degree. She also called mythical that closing or merging campuses would put higher education funding on firmer ground, because it would cost more to educate different “universes” of students.


Funding reform needed to sustain indigent defense

While north Louisiana’s Public Defender Offices won’t be the only ones in Louisiana to face budget cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year – most around the state are – their struggles and consequences illustrate questions that deserve addressing about funding of this service.

As part of fiscal shortfalls at the state level, the state’s contribution to the 42 offices carrying out the function of representing indigent clients – around 90 percent of all trials in Caddo Parish involve a public defender and four-fifths of all felony accusations accrue to individuals eligible to be declared indigent – will see a $5.4 million reduction or about one-sixth of the entire contribution spread out over one-third of the fiscal year. Funding comes from the state, from local governments (by grants, contracts, and a fee on bonding), from $45 assessments, up from $35 three years ago, on the accused not found innocent, and from $40 application fees and possible reimbursement assessments, although less than half in the First District pay the fees and a much smaller proportion engage in partial reimbursement.

Several years ago the state revamped the public defender system and increased the state funded portion of it to serve as a backstop against the vagaries of court assessments. By reducing the state’s contribution, this depletes the backstop and begins to approach the same situation as some years ago. As the First District gets about half its funding from the state, this has thrown it into crisis.


Tax & spend natl policy subverts LA budgeting

Recently the Baton Rouge Advocate printed a piece trying to understand why a series of Louisiana operating budgets seem unable to close permanently a deficit. Unfortunately, the effort missed opportunities to provide a comprehensive explanation and thereby presents somewhat of an incomplete, if not misleading, picture of reality.

The article attempted to divine why, as its headline proclaimed for an answer, “Revenue fell faster than budget shrank.” But it comes up short in understanding both sides of that equation, beginning with alleging that “the supply-side economic policies that Jindal said would make the state’s coffers run over haven’t done so.”

Many misunderstand, if not intentionally try to caricature to try to prop up weaker worldviews, Austrian economic theory, from which the supply-side argument is derived. First, “supply-side” does not mean that all tax cuts generate increased revenue, but that past a certain taxation level, particularly on income rather than consumption, any increases become counterproductive, in that the confiscation of wealth from individuals disallows its use for investment to the point that tax revenues decrease because of too little economic development. Thus, only cuts that remove government from this prohibitive zone will cause increased revenue.


Legislature can trap Jindal in political no-win situation

Perhaps the Louisiana Legislature will double-dog dare Gov. Bobby Jindal on tobacco taxes, thereby forcing him into what could be a no-win position.

Boosted by a report recommending increasing tobacco taxes as a less-painful means by which to raise revenues for a budget scrounging for these, which might draw in as much as $275 million annually if hiking the cigarette tax to the level of most surrounding states, this option intrigues legislators. The Jindal Administration has consented to this deployment, but only if the revenue gets shunted to a pot that funds a special fee increase for residents paying tuition at colleges in an effort to induce revenue neutrality through a continually-shifting, if not convoluted, arrangement.

But legislators may not buy the abstruseness of this plan and may feel boldness coursing through their veins after they prevailed against Jindal four years ago on a renewal of a cigarette tax. Then, a bill by state Rep. Harold Ritchie (who personifies the alpha and omega of the issue by being both a smoker and funeral director) attempted to jack up the tax. As the 4-cent-a-pack tax rolled off and needed renewal, Jindal declared any next version, even if identical in measurement, was a new tax violating his standard of no new taxes not offset in tax cuts elsewhere. It passed but Jindal vetoed it and an effort to override it failed.