Our view: We have met the enemy … and he is us

We admit it is easy to throw rhetorical rocks at Gov. Bobby Jindal now that Louisiana is in the process of making damaging cuts to public education and health care. However, that is really not a healthy or intelligent approach.

Talking with a former Nicholls State University professor and current employee at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center on Friday, we realized how for many years government bureaucrats and a public willing to protect special interest have neglected the wellbeing of two institutions that impact our state most when it comes to equipping young people for productive lives and caring for those unable to adequately care for themselves. Now, we are all paying the price.

According to state Treasurer John Kennedy, our government engine, while touting its own reduction in numbers, has spent $650 million more on salaries and benefits for fewer state positions.

An audit provided by Kennedy revealed while touting the benefits of private enterprise and reduced government, our state has actually grown with what he called “warm body” departments.

During the past six years Louisiana taxpayers spent $397 million more on salaries, $47 million more on overtime, incentive pay, shift differential compensation and $210 million more on health insurance and retirement for state workers.

“That’s $650 million additional taxpayer dollars despite the reduction of 6,874 positions,” Kennedy said.

The state treasurer said that Louisiana has several one-person departments that could be consolidated, but have been spared the budget axe because voters protected them.

Our educator and medical expert said in turn, Louisiana has “cherry-picked at education and health care for years” because they were not constitutionally protected. “Everyone thought ‘Nobody would ever seriously hurt health care and education,’” he said.

Every unnecessary taxpayer dollar state government spends to protect sacred cow projects is a dollar less to invest in infrastructure, quality schools and universities, health care, coastal restoration and small business development, Kennedy said.

This week we saw what happened when federal Medicaid funds offered by Congress on a short term bases following Hurricane Katrina were treated like a lifetime windfall by the Department of Health and Hospitals.

The benefit deadline arrived on Oct. 1 and the state suddenly faced an $860 million deficit in medical programs. Now seven public hospitals are in financial crisis.

We in Louisiana are all guilty of missing priorities and allowing government bureaucrats to mismanage funds at the expense of education and health care.

It is enough it make us sick, if we didn’t already feel so ignorant.