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How to Streamline State Government!

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Linville, North Carolina

LOUISIANA’S STREAMLINING COMMISSION

WHERE’S THE FOCUS?

The much ballyhooed Louisiana Governmental Streamlining Commission is under fire for getting off to a slow start and not considering immediate options to reduce state spending.  The legislatively created commission was charged to review the structure of state government and adopt ways to streamline, consolidate, and reduce the cost of running various public agencies.  But observers of the commission’s work so far see no concrete approach to the job, but instead  a hodgepodge of suggestions being thrown out for the commission to consider.

Respected governmental watchdog C.B. Forgotston dismissed the whole idea of a commission as a waste of time and money, suggesting that the appointed group is little more than a cover for the legislature and the governor, both who should be the ones doing the streamlining.  And the one member who has put forth a number of good ideas, State Treasurer John Kennedy, seems to be receiving little enthusiasm from his fellow members. Kennedy deserves credit for at least taking the initiative on major issues like having one board to govern higher education, rather than the mishmash of the four board system now in place.

A major problem caused by the legislature in setting up the commission was not to spell out any specific goals. There was nothing more   than a general baseline charge to review and streamline with no apparent   benchmarks other than to try and save taxpayer money. But where does such an effort begin?  What are other more progressive states doing?  After all, since Louisiana is regularly at the bottom of most achievement lists, there certainly ought to be a few ideas to steal from other states.

Here’s the charge the new commission should have received.  Do major comparisons of what is happening in both other states and other countries that are getting results. What productive changes could be adopted and integrated in the Louisiana system? Then set out special goals, including a timeframe that Louisiana should be aiming for.  Define just what goals the state should strive to achieve.  Not just in the next four years.  But where does Louisiana want to be 20 years from now.

To assist in this effort, I would urge the commission, as well as members of the legislature to read four books in the coming weeks. There is time this fall, since little is happening around the capitol right now.  Four books.  Each that would help the commission establish specific priorities in the years to come.

First on the list is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  A New York Times best seller for months, Gladwell talks about how one can “catch up” when they are far behind in any given area.  If a state lags in educational attainment and needs to make huge leaps as does Louisiana, it’s not just important to adopt what other progressive states do.  Louisiana is behind, so there has to be a quantum leap forward. 

 Gladwell follows the same reasoning put forth in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. A kid in a small mountainous village in China has access to the same information as the student at a major American university, and thus has quickly closed the learning gap.   Say “computers.” Basic laptops are being given to students in a number of states.  Less than $100. And large numbers are being donated by both local businesses and foundations.  Louisiana is not in this mix.  Why not?

Next, Greg Leroy’s The Great American Jobs Scam.  Simply put, quit buying jobs from other states.   It’s a giant waste of money.  Louisiana has paid out billions of dollars in recent years to bring new jobs into the state.  Leroy argues convincingly that these inducements do not work, and are never a major reason for a company moving for one state to another.  He cites numerous examples or CEOs saying, “of course we will take your money, but these state programs are never a significant reason for our company to move.”Â  These companies were coming anyway.  They just played the stare for all it was worth and bilked taxpayer dollars.

Add to the list Harvey Silvergate’s Three Felonies a Day, where productivity is being sniffled by the unjustified expansion of too many new crimes being passed by both the legislature and congress.  Louisiana has adopted a litany of new criminal laws affecting both businesses and individuals alike, many that no rational citizen could have viewed as illegal. He suggests that the average Louisianan is committing several crimes a day unwittingly because of vague laws.

And finally, Start -Up Nation, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. It’s a story of Israel’s economic miracle, but there are a number of good lessons for Louisiana.  Israel has no natural resources.  They are abundant in Louisiana.  Israel produces more start-up companies than does most of the world’s major industrialized countries.  Louisiana has few start up companies.  Israel has more companies on the NASDAQ than those form all of Europe, Korea, Japan, Singapore, China and India combined.  Louisiana has one listed company.

The key, Senor argues, is how universities are brought into the mix.  Private-public think tanks have been formed and the state has encouraged venture capital with tax breaks taking an aggressive pro new business attitude.  No outright efforts to “buy” companies as does state government in Louisiana, but a business-state partnership that have produced bountiful new higher paying jobs. (Dan Senor will be the guest on Meet the Press this Sunday, October 25).

Is the Streamlining Commission a waste of time and taxpayer dollars?  Yes, if it does little more than play with the state budget.  That’s the job of the governor and the legislature.  But there is a need for a concentrated review of what direction Louisiana will take in the years to come.  A long-range master plan, filled with ideas taken from the best and brightest concepts in place all over the world. Such a roadmap should have been developed years ago.  

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“Long range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.” Peter F. Drucker.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s column appears weekly in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the gulf south.  You can read all his work at www.jimbrowqnla.com.                                                                                                

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