Jim Tucker's Fight to Keep Workers on the Government Dole in Louisiana

(See here, here, here, here and here for previous coverage on the budget battle in Louisiana.)

It appears that Louisiana Speaker of the House Jim Tucker has won at least a temporary victory in his battle to prevent Bobby Jindal from selling and privatizing three state prisons, a move which would have infused almost $100M in cash to the State’s strapped budget as well as saving the state almost $300M over the next 20 years (more on that fight here). The bill failed to pass out of committee today on a razor-thin 13-12 vote, which means the standalone bill is dead – it is at least possible that the sale can be added as an amendment to a bill on the House floor (to which it is germane), but its prospects there look doubtful with Tucker leading the charge.

The result of this vote – which was very much what Tucker intended – was that more employees will remain on the public payroll, entitled to civil service protection and bloated pension packages (which Tucker will fight to prevent any increase in employee contribution). Meanwhile under Tucker’s preferred course of action (a flat one-time $27.5M cut to prison budget), more violent criminals will be released into Louisiana’s population.

It seems a common theme is emerging during the course of Tucker’s fight with Bobby Jindal: while beating the drum of “fiscal conservatism,” Tucker seems to always take the side of the fight that opposes privatization and keeps as many government workers on the payroll as possible – whether in terms of healthcare, prisons, whatever – even though Louisiana still has the highest number per capita government employees in the country (even after Jindal has cut 10,000 state employees since he took office).

A couple of other examples serve to show the solicitude Jim Tucker has shown for the jobs of even completely duplicative state jobs.

Currently, Louisiana State employees have the option to choose between three health insurance plans. By far the most popular plan is an HMO run by BCBS of Louisiana. The second most popular plan is a PPO plan that is administered by the Louisiana Department of Administration’s OGB. That’s right: the State of Louisiana actually acts as its own health insurer for approximately 61,500 of its employees. Utah appears to be the only other state in the union that does this. This healthcare plan is administered by 300 state employees, a level of staffing which is indicative of fairly typical levels of inefficient government bureaucracy and duplication of effort. The Jindal administration proposed in their budget to dismiss 150 of these state employees (which would have saved Louisiana taxpayers an estimated $10M) and to engage a financial firm to do an analysis of how much money could be saved by essentially selling this plan to a private insurer to administer (the Division of Administration’s internal estimate is that a private company would bid approximately $150M for the value of the plan).

When Tucker submitted his counter-budget proposal, all references to this proposed reform were removed and the funding for all 300 employees was put back in the budget. Tucker has never explained how or why he opposes these cuts or the sale of the PPO plan to a private insurer. None of the Republican legislators I talked to last week had any idea why these positions were put back in the budget.

Another proposed reform which would have eliminated State jobs and streamlined services – the Coordinated System of Care (CSOC) program – was likewise axed in Tucker’s counter-budget proposal. The idea of this program is simple and makes intuitive sense. Currently, Louisiana has an excess demand for mental health services, and has too much reliance on institutional care. Additionally, a single individual who needs mental health services in Louisiana currently may have his/her case managed (inconsistently or poorly in most cases) by four separate Louisiana agencies – the Department of Children and Family Services, the Court of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Hospitals. Many of the individuals in these agencies who provide care never coordinate with each other, and as a consequence much of the work they do is duplicative, and much of the mental health care that is provided is contradictory and leads to bad results. Unsurprisingly, the implementation of the CSoC program has as a goal the ultimate reduction in needless government staffing (as well as more efficient delivery of care). However, this item was also eliminated from Tucker’s counter-budget proposal.

I could go on and on – for instance, one reform proposed during this session was the consolidation of two state universities in New Orleans (UNO and SUNO) that are mere blocks away from each other. The two colleges only exist as separate institutions because of historical segregation, which of course does not exist anymore. Given their geographic proximity and the fact that both are no longer needed, some had proposed (and Tucker initially purported to favor) the consolidation of the two universities in order to eliminate duplicate administration and faculty positions; however, at the last minute, Tucker allowed this to die an unceremonious death on the House floor with no explanation.

Jim Tucker likes to beat the “fiscally conservative” drum and proudly touts his “no one time money for recurring expenses” credentials; but when the chips are down, it seems that all his proposals have the end result of keeping excess government employees on the payroll and protecting their pension plans. If this is “fiscally conservative,” one wonders why conservative governors across the country have been fighting for the exact opposite result for the last three years.