Friday, April 9, 2010

The Jindal Way: ‘Every Man an Hourly Employee’

In Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana, more people work as cashiers, retail salespeople and laborers than in any other categories of workers. If Jindal had his way, the state’s future will look a lot more like that than, say, the technology and new industry future envisioned by Mike Foster’s “Vision 20/20” (PDF) economic development strategy. (Foster’s strategy was based on an accurate the assessment of Louisiana’s potential, but came too late in his administration to have had a chance to prove itself.)

In Jindal’s personal assessment of Louisiana (informed no doubt by the comments of those many Louisiana businessmen who have handed him campaign checks), our problem is that higher education is not turning out enough skilled workers to satisfy the needs of Louisiana businesses. It’s an odd line of thinking to be held by a Rhodes Scholar biology graduate from Brown University whose adult life has been spent almost entirely as an employee of either the state or federal government.

For some in the state’s business community, converting higher education to a vo-tech program with football teams is a long-held dream.

That perspective gives Jindal the policy justification and political cover for his work of throttling higher education at four-year colleges while proposing that the state’s nascent community college system take up some of the slack — except that he’s cutting them, too. If education was all that four-year institutions did, Jindal’s approach might be more palatable. But, as studies of the economic impact of the University of Louisiana System statewide and LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge have shown, higher education is big business in Louisiana with a big economic impact on the state as a whole, but especially on the communities where those campuses are located.

University-based research and technology transfer initiatives have been the base upon which strong regional economies have been built in various parts of the country, notably the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, Silicon Valley in California, and in the Austin, Texas, area. Under governors Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana finally got serious about pursuing those development models, committing state dollars to build university research capacity and encouraging the development of university infrastructure to attract researchers, research dollars and private sector support.

These are long-term strategies that require patience and persistence, things that do not come naturally to Jindal. The current fiscal crisis and the national campaign cycle have combined to arrest Jindal’s development of these traits.

It took “the intervention at the Mansion” of four of Jindal’s predecessors last year to keep him from inflicting a $220 million cut on higher education. He pared it down to half of that. Now, with the crisis worsening, Dave Treen is dead, Buddy Roemer has gone all Tea Party on us, leaving only Mike Foster as someone Jindal might heed from among last year’s team. Governor Blanco would offer him sound advice, but as Jindal’s governorship is based on being the anti-Blanco the likelihood of him taking it is almost as remote as his chance of being the Republican nominee for President in 2012.

That higher education is going to get whacked was made certain with the appearance of the newest hole in the state’s budget. Faced with what he knew to be a large budget shortfall but mindful of the damage a responsible call for tax increases would do to his national political standing among conservatives, Jindal’s executive budget for the next fiscal year abandons his previous ironclad rule against using one-time spending to shore up the state budget. He wants to grab money from the Tax Amnesty Program and raid various trust funds to avoid more cuts that are already unpopular with voters.

The problem now for Jindal is that he so effectively sold his previous stance that his former allies like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and fiscally conservative groups like the Public Affairs Research Council have lined up to oppose him. Even some of his erstwhile allies in the Legislature are aghast at the change of direction.

With the hole in the current fiscal year budget, some of that one-time money might have to be carried back into this year in an effort to avoid late year budget cuts that will force months-long employee furloughs (that is, months without pay!) at campuses across the state, the cancellation of summer school classes, and the halt of construction projects.

Furloughs will have a devastating impact on the families of those working in higher education, ranging everywhere from the administrative level down to janitorial services. People not paid means money taken out of circulation in communities. If bringing jobs to a community has a multiplier effect, taking money out of a community has a negative impact — (a denominator effect?) —that must nearly match that.

The cuts in higher education being contemplated in the last quarter of this state fiscal year (now until June 30) could — by themselves — precipitate what will be known as the Jindal Recession. He will own it because his policies will have caused it.

But, higher education isn’t the biggest sector that Jindal’s policies are wrecking.

That would be healthcare.

The 'Jindal Knows Healthcare' Myth
Saying that Bobby Jindal understands healthcare is like saying used car salesmen understand automobile design and manufacturing.

Jindal earned his chops as Mike Foster’s first secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals. He earned it by cutting spending in the department, particularly Medicaid spending. His ‘success’ there was so brutal that it cost him the 2003 governor’s race.

Jindal has never understood that behind every government budget dollar there are people dependent on the service that dollar delivers. Nowhere is that more true than in the Medicaid program. Medicaid is a safety net program. It exists to provide access to care for those in our society who cannot otherwise get it, particularly the young, those with chronic disease, and the disabled.

That Jindal made his name by cutting cost in Medicaid is to say that Jindal worked to deny access to services and to care. Yes, he eliminated fraud in the medical transportation program, but the bulk of the savings he found came through a redefining of what services were available and who would be eligible for them. To Jindal, these were just budget numbers. To the people who had them, these were services taken away.

Jindal’s approach has not changed after stints with the Bush administration and in the Congress. He brought in Alan Levine from Florida to manage DHH. Levine came to Jindal’s attention after implementing a managed care pilot project in Florida’s Medicaid program. Levine tried to get the Bush administration to sign off on a similar plan in the final days of that administration, but the plan arrived too late to get approval.

The managed care approach to Medicaid combines Jindal’s indifference to human need with a Bush-era style of crony capitalism. The idea is to reduce the state’s Medicaid spending by bringing in a private sector administrator to run the program that would set limits on the types and frequency of care available to Medicaid patients.

That is, the plan proposes to save money by adding another layer of bureaucracy — a private sector hand in the till — Medicaid spending will somehow magically go down. Think about that for a second. That program manager will be expected to take over administration of the program and save the state money in the process.

The only way that can possibly work is by denying services to those dependent upon the program.

But, as former DHH secretary and current head of LSU Hospitals Dr. Fred Cerise revealed recently, privatization of Medicaid service delivery in the Baton Rouge area is going to drive up the cost of delivery of those services.

This is crony capitalism because the real winners in privatization schemes like this are not the consumers of those services or the taxpayers; the real winners are the companies that win those lucrative contracts. If this sounds familiar, then you were either a victim of the Bush/Cheney era approach to FEMA or read the stories about American reconstruction scandals in Iraq.

All of this is obvious to those now fighting Jindal’s attempt to privatize the homes for the disabled across the state. In a recent legislative hearing on the budget, a parent of a disabled child who is a resident at Pinecrest Supports and Services Center near Pineville plaintively told lawmakers, "I have not heard anything about a better level of care for our family.”

No, because the level of care does not figure into the Jindal Way. It’s not a number. In Jindal’s world, numbers are real; people are not — at least not those who might actually need government services.

Hundreds of state workers who deliver the services at centers like Pinecrest and other state facilities will lose their jobs, undermining the economies of the communities where they reside.

The state’s portion mental health services program will be all but eliminated under Jindal’s proposed budget. The state wants to discharge 118 patients from state-run psychiatric hospitals and place them in privately run group homes. Another 138 beds in state-run facilities would be privatized.

Again, privatization is being pushed as a solution to the state’s budget crisis but privatization has not been shown to be a money-saver nor has it been demonstrated that the quality of care will not be affected by the changes.

Next Year, We Take Down 'Charity'

Jindal is committed to taking this a step further in their next budget when he wants to develop and implement a plan to shut down much if not all of the LSU Hospital system (formerly known at the Charity Hospital System).

This has been the long-cherished dream of conservatives and it will be presented as a budget necessity. But, it is nothing but a naked ideologically driven move designed to prop up Jindal’s conservative credentials. The closure of these hospitals has been Jindal’s goal all along. Jindal is now citing the impact of the Affordable Care Act as the justification for the move he craves to make. Jindal says the problem is that the Affordable Care Act will do away with the Disproportionate Share Program of compensating hospitals for providing care to the uninsured.

True enough, but the Affordable Care Act will bring coverage to 800,000 Louisiana adults (PDF)who do not now have coverage so that there will be fewer people without insurance coverage or the ability to pay for care.

In fact, the Affordable Care Act will bring $17 billion in new healthcare funding annually into Louisiana through a combination of tax credits to businesses, subsidies to individuals, and expansion of the Medicaid program. If anything, Louisiana will need more medical capacity, not less.

Typical of an ideologue, Jindal is committed to a course of action and he’s not going to let the facts stand in his way.

When the Revenue Estimating Conference makes their official end of the fiscal year deficit estimate next Wednesday, all of Louisiana will get a much clearer picture of just how far down Jindal is willing to push this state in order to attempt to continue his political climb.

Get ready to feel pretty low on the totem pole, Louisiana.

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