Last week, three interest groups that focus on state government policy – the Committee for a Better Louisiana, the Committee of One Hundred, and the Public Affairs Research Council – introduced an initiative called Reset Louisiana. This agenda addresses four general areas – criminal justice/public safety, education, state finances, and transportation/infrastructure – concluding with recommendations for state policy-makers to follow when they enter or return to office next year after this fall’s elections.
In a way, this echoes the effort of the now largely moribund group Blueprint Louisiana. In 2007 it concocted a cocktail of policy preferences that it asked state office candidates to endorse. As always, candidates want their candidacies to live or die on their own issues, so few prominent and/or ultimately successful candidates did so, and not much of what the agenda advocated came up for policy-maker discussion, much less was adopted.
So, it tried again in 2011, with more general policy recommendations and without the request to endorse. And, interestingly, it went on to have some success. Although achieving little in the way of fiscal reform, it scored big with the revamping of almost all of Louisiana’s state-owned hospitals by their passing into partnerships with private operators and a move away from the fee-for-service model for Medicaid provision to a capitated system.
It also had some wins in the other two areas, although it took the Legislature elected in 2015 to finish the job in transportation with the embracing of public-private partnerships in building roads and in using Transportation Trust Funds only for that purpose. That class also had to follow through in higher education, which saw a small breaking of automatic Taylor Opportunity Program for Students award increases with hikes in tuition, consolidation of back office higher education functions, and some power for institutions to change tuition unilaterally. Still, higher gas taxes or Department of Transportation reorganization didn’t materialize, nor preservation of higher admissions standards (with Louisiana State University thumbing its nose at the Regents by watering down in standards through “holistic” admission) or realigning the top-heavy and duplicative higher education system.
Now comes the Reset Louisiana effort, which broadens Blueprint’s higher education area into all public education and swaps health care for criminal justice/public safety. It also abjures from having candidates pledge their support.
Overall, it doesn’t give a ringing endorsement of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ policies from his first term. In areas like education it asks to maintain reforms he has tried to dismantle, indirectly castigates his politicizing of tax exemption granting, and recommends a fiscal agenda that mimics the Blueprint request for higher gas taxes but otherwise wants no increases (save at the local level on property taxes but in a swap to lower state taxes and subsidization of local governments) and to shift the tax burden away from corporations contrary to Edwards’ past efforts. Only with preservation of criminal justice changes two years ago does it align better with Edwards’ agenda than not.
Outside of the mistaken notion that retail gas taxes need to rise (that refuses to consider other tactics that could free up $100 million or so annually for infrastructure), in fact its laundry list largely has been sought by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Republican majority’s rank-and-file members in the Senate. Every indication is that the 2020-24 term in the Legislature will feature similar conservative/Republican majorities in each chamber.
Thus, if most of this agenda has a chance for translation into public policy, its main nemesis – if reelected – will be Edwards. And that acts as the key to whether the agenda will make headway as did Blueprint’s second try, or go nowhere like its first. Aside from a few warts, it deserves enactment. Edwards isn’t the guy to do it.