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31.7.14

Bad news for statists: LA privatizations saving big



Last week was not kind to big government advocates, as the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration officials reported that its privatization efforts had yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from health care initiatives.



If it wasn’t enough that private operation of eight state hospitals seemed on course to save $52 million this past fiscal year, or that privatization of the operations of the Office of Group Benefits with other efficiency measures were expected to save $114 million, the jackpot was the amount from the first of the initiatives, changing Medicaid from a fee-for-service to a managed capitation system. Louisiana’s Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget was told by the Department of Health and Hospitals that the predicted first year of savings reached its $135.9 million goal.



Better, the figure could go much higher. Presently, five different plans are available, with three using a model of premium payment to an administrator coordinating providers and two where the role essentially get combined. Data from the first 10 months of 2013 revealed that on average the difference in payment per different kind of plan was about $13 per client month, Thus, DHH has decided that as of February of next year the only kind of plan offered will the premium payment kind, meaning about half of the nearly 800,000 covered individuals will have to switch.

30.7.14

The Maness-churian Candidate? For now, not really



Picking up a second semi-high profile endorsement and with fundraising now over $1 million, is Republican Senate candidate Rob Maness to the point that he can become the Manchurian Candidate?



That appellation refers to the greatest ever American-made political film (and subversive black comedy; but, buyer beware, referring here to the 1962 version fairly closely based on the novel, not the ersatz 2004 version that bordered on the downright silly), where Soviet agents, pretending to be super-patriots with one a U.S. senator, use an unwitting war hero to try to put that senator one step away from the presidency. In Louisiana’s 2014 senate campaign, the object is not the White House but the reelection of Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is the senator, and Maness becomes the unwittingly used ex-military man.



Almost every poll points to Landrieu, in the words of one leading and marginally pro-Democrat source of election analysis, of being “in deep but not necessarily worsening trouble.” Favored now is Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has led almost all recent polling. But hanging around in the single digits and threatening to break out into double digits is Maness, who began running for the spot not long after he retired from the Air Force and had moved to Louisiana three years ago even without any elective office experience.

29.7.14

BESE's Smith earns nod as LA's greatest political tool


Simply put, is not former state Sen. Jane Smith, now a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the most blatant tool inflicted on Louisiana state politics so far in the 21st century?



She always has danced with the one who took her to the shindig, choosing her partner whichever way she thinks the wind blows. Never let it be forgotten that the public schools served as the crucible of her political career – back when public education in the state overall was awful without any meaningful accountability. In that environment, she pulled herself up to become superintendent of the Bossier Parish School District, coming to power fully invested in that inadequate educational model.



But not long after she assumed that helm, education policy began to change with an emphasis on improving performance with accountability measures for schools. Perhaps not coincidentally she bailed into a state representative seat in 1999, impressively the only one elected that year not to draw a challenger who was not running for reelection.

28.7.14

Data continue to prove wisdom of hospital privatization


The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration looks like it may heave a sigh of relief on the budget front with the news that its plan to privatize operations at all but one of the state’s charity hospitals looks to come in well under budget – and aggravate the critics of the deal to no end.



As part of a busy day getting information about privatization initiatives in state government, the Louisiana Legislature’s Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget in the middle of the month was told that the deals to involving eight of these hospitals – a ninth just got turned over to private operators and the tenth will stay under state operation – collectively looked to save the state $52 million more than estimated for last year’s budget. While much of this appears attributable to greater efficiency in operations, including the expansion of services in some areas, some also is due to stopping some service provision in the transition period that both lowered costs or shifted them elsewhere. The amount could change prior to the state budget computation due Oct. 1 for the previous fiscal year.



The Administration hopes that it doesn’t, if not a greater surplus is achieved. This dividend certainly would take pressure off the state as far as the contracting goes, for three reasons, the first two specific to the contracts. For one, some of the contracts were front-loaded (which gave the federal government the excuse to throw a wrench into the process, likely for political reasons), meaning that lease payments for this year actually were paid last year, so in essence the state was looking at $55 million fewer from the operators. But with that about wiped away by this year’s projected surplus, the state wouldn’t have to scramble to scrape up those dollars and if it did could use them elsewhere.

27.7.14

Lightening govt touch necessary for N.O. to progress



A small controversy actually has a big meaning that illustrates the perils of New Orleans strangling the new ethos that has tried to germinate in the moribund city and reverse its declining fortunes.



As part of the city’s biggest redevelopment project ever, the siting of the new Medical Center of Louisiana – New Orleans in Mid City, this claimed a regrettable casualty, the Deutsches Haus, the headquarters for a German cultural organization since the 1920s, which not only, among other things, delivers an outstanding Oktoberfest celebration annually but also proved a haven for beer aesthetes before predilection for that kind of frothy brew expanded among the public in the last couple of decades. It has been in exile the past few years in Metairie but has secured a location (with actually enough parking spaces) somewhat farther north of its old spot along Bayou St. John, and has gotten up the funding and design for a new complex.



However, as required, the design had to be submitted to the City Planning Commission, which tepidly received the request and gave it only provisional approval. Its staff found it problematic because it was too “Germanic,” for which in that area “there’s not really a precedent,” and sent back suggested architectural changes to the organization.

24.7.14

Edwards deflects, distracts, deludes in media remarks



Recent remarks by the leader of Louisiana’s legislative Democrats, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, not only confirms he acts as one of the biggest gasbags in state politics, but also in the process tried to sell a bill of goods no informed and thinking person would buy.



Edwards snared an invitation to speak to the media, no doubt as a tactic to make his campaign for governor anything else but moribund, and proceeded to unload a slurry of drivel. He claimed the current budgeting practices of Gov. Bobby Jindal were designed to forestall a day of reckoning which the next governor would have to address, mainly because of around $1 billion in funds that he alleged would not reappear next year. He said he would address this by jettisoning what he called outdated or ineffective tax breaks and by expanding Medicaid. He railed against “privatization.” He termed himself a candidate of the middle, saying that’s where governance needs to be.



All of which demonstrates that after over six years in office, Edwards doesn’t seem to know much about how Louisiana’s fiscal system works, covers that ignorance with large doses of disingenuousness, and thinks he can fool a lot of people a lot of the time. The “one-time money” claim illustrates all three tendencies. The amount to which he refers is money used that does not come directly from the general fund or directly from dedicated funds to dedicated purposes, yet he made it sound like it dropped from the sky in order to fund continuing operations.

23.7.14

Good policy for Cassidy to reject continuing Ex-Im Bank

If Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy wishes to confirm his conservative credentials in his contest to knock off Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, he should vote to end welfare to big businesses and discrimination against private banks, and not become what fellow Republican Rep. Charles Boustany has on the issue of reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.



Regarding the government concern, Congress must decide soon on whether to allow the Bank a charter to continue, for which Landrieu is all for. It provides loans, loan guarantees and insurance policies for U.S. companies that export products abroad, as well as financing help for some of their foreign customers. Cassidy has said he has not decided what to do when the matter comes up, although he did vote for the previous authorization.



Such doubt doesn’t exist in the mind of Boustany, who penned a full-throated defense of its operations for an establishmentarian website. In it, he claimed that the bank proved helpful to small business and that it could not compete against private lenders and therefore not only would not take business from them but also was the only source for some businesses given foreign regulatory environments, and that it turned a healthy $1 billion profit. Landrieu joined him in a news conference to reiterate that and trotted out a local business owner to sing the Bank’s praises, underscoring that well over a hundred Louisiana businesses got such loans.

22.7.14

Lower LA student debt levels means tuition underpriced


The fact that student loan debt might impose a greater burden than in the past on borrowers in Louisiana is a function of the choices made by them rather than in erroneous public policy.



Statistics show that nearly half of the class of 2012 in Louisiana graduated owing something. The average debt load was about $22,789. Further, an estimated one in 10 Louisiana graduates defaulted on federal student loan payments within two years of entering the repayment period.



But it’s illogical to assert that tuition rates at Louisiana colleges contributed much to this. After all, with the fourth lowest average tuition and fees rate in the country, in-state students here had a bargain compared to their peers in most states. Add to this that about a fifth of all college students in the state benefitted from a free ride on tuition, or more, from the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars that pays for tuition at state schools and in some cases even more, and it’s clear that taxpayers were putting up more than they should have to supplement a tertiary education to individuals who may not even stay in state once they graduated.

21.7.14

Mill bust exposes those responsible, wages of liberalism



The final tally from a recent notorious exercise of liberal populism has come in, and it took from every Louisianan almost $17 apiece for nothing.



The Louisiana Legislative Auditor looked at the pieces left from building a state-run sugar mill in Lacassine, the idiocy of which this space time and time again exposed. Now finally almost off the state’s ledger, in a report issued last week, the office determined it cost taxpayers a net $71 million (and this was described as the loss at a minimum). Its only revenues came from about a month’s operation, minimal lease payments, and scrap and salvage value.



That’s only the direct cost. Because the bond money for it was floated through the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority, it deprived the use of that money for its purpose originally intended, suppressing boll weevil activity. This forced the state some years ago to spend extra money it never should have had those funds not gone to the mill’s construction and instead could have been used to prevent flaring of weevil infestations. And since it used state workers in construction, most for tasks not even close to their job descriptions or competencies, an untold amount of productivity in pursuing state activities also was lost.

20.7.14

Jindal's white whale pursuit threatens to make him Ahab

The kabuki generated between Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with its superintendent of education picked by it John White continues with a string of announcements and an actual meeting between Jindal and White, but the advantage in the conflict held by BESE remains the same to the detriment of Jindal’s political effectiveness.



Last week, BESE made another apparent concession, after having said previously it would use state-derived questions for testing purposes, to Jindal in that it would restart the test procurement process. Jindal has ordered heightened scrutiny over that process, almost the only conceivable way in which a governor can influence even the implementation of education policy in the state as that policy-making is vested in the hands of BESE, because he claims using a national test by definition imposes national content on the state, even if it is not content but common standards being adopted by Louisiana and most states that the test would evaluate the degree of their achievement.



But just as the previous request really meant nothing granted, in that only the subject areas not covered by national testing would use Louisiana questions and BESE indicated national tests still would be used in English and mathematics, so also did this latest offer also give nothing up to Jindal’s insistence that the national exam developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers not be used for this purpose. BESE officers and White proclaimed that they voluntarily would start over, if allowed to immediately and wrap it up in three months, the procurement process again – knowing that because PARCC had discussed giving the exam to the state for its first year for free that it could come in with a bid of zero and automatically win. Even if that didn’t happen, the officers – whose offer antagonized the only three apparent (of 11 total members) BESE opponents of the Common Core State Standards to which PARCC is tied – said the winning bid had to be for a test allowing for comparisons across states.