12 March 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Executive Budget special edition

THE GOOD: I gave some consideration to the fact that Gov. Kathleen Blanco wants to cut the bloated state bureuacracy by almost 2 percent in size, the positions she explained as those being mostly currently unfilled and also historically having a low utility which means performance will drop off little by their elimination. But considering that within the changes in employment levels about six dozen new unclassified (almost all political appointive jobs) are being added, I think more significant is that she has pledged to cut the Urban and Rural Development ("governor's slush") funding almost in half. The $15 or so million saved is much better spent on most anything (except perhaps superfluous sugar mills) than doling out favors to legislators and local officials. If a legislator wants money for an area, there's a capital budget for that; local officials have their own resources they can use.

THE BAD: After parsing out the gimmick accounts and flat levels of spending recommended for the legislative and judicial branches, state operating expenditures are scheduled to go up 6.11 percent -- twice the rate of inflation. And this is with a small reduction in the amount of federal dollars expected of about 3 percent (nearly $20 million). The main culprit is health care spending, up over $300 million across the budget.

THE UGLY: In fact, this is more than the entire amount of budget increase across all budgets -- total state spending is budgeted at $20.6 billion, and removing gimmickry that's only an increase of around $250 million. Take away health care increases and the budget is less than flat. But the greatest tragedy here is that there still isn't enough money to fully fund health care at current levels, including an underfunded portion related to federal government matching that could cost the state $157.5 million (even after throwing in a supercharge $75 million fee on private hospitals).

OVERALL ASSESSMENT: Actually, more positive than negative. A large forecast budget hole got filled in a mostly satisfactory way without tax increases (although the governor says she'd still like to get more money to teachers). There seems to have been more of an effort to rank priorities in an intelligent way. The budget now makes official policy of moving long-term health care more in the direction of community-based care rather than the very overweighed system favoring institutionalized care. Spending increases are not a good thing when the budget already is bloated, but they are small and no additional tax decreases are planned. But in all, it could have been much worse.

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