The Gov. Bobby Jindal
Administration seems to have lost its nerve, at least temporarily, in its quest to improve in limited ways the efficiency of state government. If only it had relied more on persuasion than fear if it actually seriously wishes to reduce the size of government, suasion would triumph over special interests on this issue.
Faced with determined opposition, this week the Jindal Administration announced postponement of its strategy to privatize prisons and their operations, which promised to save $86 million this year in state expenditures and tens of millions more annually thereafter. Essentially, Jindal announced he would punt to the Revenue Estimating Conference on the desirability of the plan, saying if it determined sufficient additional revenues could be forecast, no need may exist for the plan to go through to save money.
These feet of clay illustrated the tactical error the Administration had made on the issue, and its disappointing lack of commitment to cutting state costs. Early on it had tried to tie the issue to revenue needs for health care and higher education, saying that failure to approve of such changes would require cutting in these areas marked already by sharp recent reductions, instead of framing the debate in terms of the very high likelihood of continuing cost savings by pursuing contracting and sales, which is supported by research
. Boxing itself in this way surrendered the latter course as a means of getting this policy enacted.
Even a partial ceding of ground over the issue of sale of facilities still would have allowed Jindal to proceed with some enduring cost reductions had he relied upon cost effectiveness as his justification. He had proposed selling the two prisons already contracted out (and successfully, as a study
by Louisiana State University faculty members revealed this privatization saved money with no aggregate reduction in quality) and a couple of more, but he could have just dropped the idea of sales and continue to stump for contracting out operations of those other two. Yet he folded completely on the issue, making a perverse implication that efficiency in government was worth going after only if revenues were too low, rather than pursuing it for its own sake and to the benefit of taxpayers.
Of course, he faced the good old boys that infest the Legislature and state government who define government’s primary purpose as not to perform few and basic necessary services that otherwise might not get done, but as to provide jobs and to transfer wealth to favored classes and constituencies. That populist passion takes much energy to overcome, but especially for that middle of course of more contracting only that doesn’t even need legislation. Jindal showed shallow belief in reasoned privatization by failing to back even that. This sends a disturbing signal about the success under this administration of a continued needed agenda for the state along these lines.
by Jeffrey Sadow, Ph.D.
Visit Sadow's blog, Between The Lines
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