One way of looking at the appointment
of Courtney Phillips as the new head of Louisiana’s Department of Health –
which swallows nearly half of all money spent by the state – is that Democrat Gov.
John Bel Edwards
has realized the serious spot into which he has put himself.
Phillips comes from Texas, where she ran an operation
over twice the size of Louisiana’s, and prior to that headed up Nebraska’s
similar agency, which isn’t quite he size of Louisiana’s. However, she spent
many years moving up the ranks at LDH before decamping to Nebraska in 2015, and
headed to Texas in 2018. A Louisiana native with family in the state, she will
take a pay cut when she starts Mar. 13.
Significantly, two conservative Republican
governors appointed Phillips and she loyally carried out policies that reflected
an appreciation for right-sizing government – an attitude foreign to the Edwards
Administration. Both resisted Medicaid expansion (although a majority of Nebraska
voters drank the Flavor Aid and imposed it on the state after she left),
although she took over a similar kind of program for lower-income women for
family planning and health services that Texas instituted.
Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards
said his reelection
would result in continued pay raises for education employees. He also
alleged that Medicaid expansion and criminal justice changes (termed “reinvestment”)
cost savings for Louisiana. That these claims didn’t pan out explains why
Edwards will keep fighting tooth-and-nail to inflate the state’s fiscal year
2021 budget, the
faux version of which he released last week.
The spending plan put
forward is not
the version required legally because he didn’t use existing revenue
forecasts, including $103 million extra dollars in the general fund forecast as
well as $25 million of individual citizens’ unclaimed assets that follows past
practice now in legal dispute with Republican Treasurer John Schroder. Taking that as it
comes, it calls for $128 million more in new general fund commitments and $285
million across that, federal funds, self-generated revenues and statutory
dedications, and interagency transfers.
Put another way, Edwards wants to increase general
fund spending by nearly 3.5 percent, or half again higher than the 2.3 percent
increase in inflation for 2019. Over the course of his term, such
spending has increased from $9.118 billion to the requested $10.147
billion, or 11.1 percent, while inflation has gone up only
6.8 percent – which doesn’t even include the fact that millions more disappeared
from this budget’s general fund total when reclassified as statutory dedications
that understate the actual increase. Overall spending has risen from $29.589
billion to the projected $32.165 billion, an increase of 8.7 percent.
With Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards suing
Republican Treas. John Schroder, he
managed to validate a lie of his, flub an opportunity to keep a promise, and
speak out of both sides of his mouth.
Edwards’ falsehood involves his suit over
Schroder refusing to allow a funds sweep of unclaimed cash escheated to the
state, an amount from 1973 through fiscal year 2019 totaling $882 million
(another $237 million in unclaimed securities external entities hold and are unaffected
by the suit). This running total moves up and down by tens of millions of
dollars each year as claims are paid and escheats received.
But Treasury coffers actually hold a far smaller amount, thanks largely to the practice of the state taking $635 million over
that span to spend on current operations. Another $50 million over the years
went to administrative costs, and $180 million by separate appropriation authorized
by law went to fund Interstate 49 bonding. Only a $17 million buffer actually
remains, after Schroder rejected a transfer in FY 2018 of $12 million to bump
up cash on hand. This he did when improved dissemination practices caused such
a run that the amount returned to owners exceeded by more than $5 million the escheats
collected, delaying payments.