Wednesday, 22 August 2012 08:42
Pay-to-play Louisiana government boards, commissions too costly
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legislature jvlastnews thumbIt’s not so much in monetary terms that a Louisiana rife with commissions and boards acts as a drain on the state, but in the inefficiency that this condition brings to policy-making for which the citizenry pays.

This year’s annual report on the number of boards and commissions not in and of themselves a separate state agency by the Legislative Auditor reveals nearly 500 of them. The law also requires computing the costs of personnel serving on these (salaries, per diem payments, and travel expenses), which is at the least approaching $5 million. Note that this does include the overall expenses of these, which can be considerably higher but most of which would be spent by other agencies if that function needs to be performed, nor costs of staff, which also would have to be paid for by another agency if it performed that function, or already is as many of these bodies have minor administrative assistance from personnel on loan from other agencies.

 

 

The member personnel expenses can be deceiving somewhat. For example, the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council is required by federal law and spending on this category is paid for by federal funding, so the state does not have the option to not have it and does not pay state funds for these kinds of expenditures. But perusing the list of all of them brings considerable questioning into the utility of many of these entities, which by their abolishment or consolidation into another agency would save on these kinds of expenses.

A similarly-situated state Alabama, by contrast, only has about 350 and the equivalent of some of these exist elsewhere in Louisiana government (for example, each of its state universities has its own board of trustees, whereas in Louisiana all public universities are under the authority of an agency which does not count under the audit, the Louisiana Board of Regents). The multiplicity of these in Louisiana might be attributed to a plethora of local governments besides municipalities, parishes, and school districts, but, in fact, Louisiana interestingly is on the low end of states in terms of its propensity to create local governments. It has the seventh fewest total units, and the fifth fewest special districts, whose presence often requires a board or commission to govern them. Alabama has over five times the number of special districts as does Louisiana.

Instead, Louisiana has a bad tendency to parcel out very narrow functions, both in scope and geography, and set up some kind of body to advise and even to govern in this thin slice of policy. Hyper-politicization explains why: executives or legislators can get these created and have appointive power to them, and then use them as tools of political patronage to win supporters’ votes but, more importantly, their campaign donations.

Yet it’s not really the personnel expenses that are the largest cost of this fragmentation. By splicing out small bits of power in all sorts of directions, it creates difficulty in coordination and invites working to cross-purposes, driving up the costs of resources to make and implement policy in ways that cannot be estimated, but which likely are far higher than the actual personnel costs.

Every year, traditionally a legislator goes to the trouble of identifying what appears to be stagnant and unproductive boards and commissions and submits legislation to terminate them. State Rep. Johnny Berthleot recently has assumed that task, but perhaps he and other like-minded legislators who don’t operate enthralled with the idea of patronage should get together and plot for a much more massive extinction of entities that no doubt have very small but passionate supporters but which cannot be justified when looking at their existence from a statewide, holistic perspective. Louisiana’s citizens can do better than facilitating a few hundred of their number to puff out their chests in pride of having a tiny bit of policy-making power in exchange for opening up their wallets.

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Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines

Website: jeffsadow.blogspot.com/
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