I continue my plan here, this time tackling the cultural aspects instead of the need for job creation. Louisiana’s culture has many wonderful things to offer but we have within it a cancer that is eating away at our state and ultimately if it is not rooted out this disease will kill all of us. There are five points that must be attacked.
1) No one will argue that our state’s educational system is functioning properly; it is not even close. It has been this way generation after generation. Every election cycle we complain about it, but nothing ever changes. Sure we may give our educators a much deserved pay raise and we even took a great step forward by implementing charter schools, but as a whole we still rank amongst the worst performing states in all areas of education. We have thrown plenty of money at the issue; we’re ranked right in the middle for total dollars spent and near the top when you break it down by dollars on elementary and secondary education as a percentage of the state GDP. We even are near the top (12th) for bookmobiles! So why are we do we still have one of the highest dropout rates in the nation? Why do we continually rank so poorly in standardized testing? We must fundamentally restructure our entire educational system. We must focus on the students and not the schools. My plan would allow individual school districts to opt into a state program that would open “Individual Educational Accounts” in each student’s name instead of blindly attaching the money directly to the schools. This program would allow the parents to use the funds as needed to send their child to the school of their choice including using the funds to purchase homeschooling supplies. Additionally, any unused portion of the money at the end of the year would rollover into the next year’s account. Any leftover amount after the child’s graduation from high school could be used for in-state College/University tuition and/or other related educational expenses. This account would remain attached to the child until his/her twenty-fifth birthday, at which time any remaining balance would be returned to the state. This program would provide competition and make private schools accessible to those who now cannot afford them. The competition would spur reform within our public school system as the administrators compete for funds. It would also further and would further expand post-graduation educational opportunities to the citizens of this state making Louisiana more competitive in a modern economy.
2) For the last several years our state has been playing a shell game; we use one time funds or temporary tax revenue from storm recovery to pay for long-term, recurring expenditures as we continue to expand Government. We have reached the tipping point; next year we will not have the additional revenue to cover up excessive state growth and as a result we now are facing a two billion dollar budget deficit. It is immoral to take on debt to be paid for by our children who cannot even vote for these programs and likely won’t even be able to benefit from them due to their long-term insolvency. The state is going to have to make the tough decisions just as you do at home: prioritize and make real spending cuts! In order to achieve this, I propose we start with the following: (a) simply not filling one third of the State job vacancies as they occur until we get down to the national average of 143 state jobs per 10,000 residents; this alone would save the state an estimated $500 million dollars, which is one quarter of the estimated deficit; (b) eliminate 10% of the State’s consultant contracts by value for a savings of $750 million dollars; (c) Audit our costs at the State’s charity hospitals. One recent audit by Alvarez & Marsal of Big Charity in New Orleans showed a savings of $72 million dollars annually. If we audited the other nine state charity hospitals we could save an additional $100 million annually. This is just a sample of a few things that need to be done. An honest breakdown of the state’s budget in full will result in the necessary savings; our elected officials just have to be willing to look.
3) I am of the same mindset as our Founding Fathers. I believe an active legislature is the antithesis of liberty. On August 10, 2010 alone, 660 new laws went into effect in Louisiana. And I’m sure we all remember the humiliating performance by Hurricane Chris on the House floor of “Halle Berry (She Fine).” These are the things our legislature occupy themselves with, while the real issues of putting together a state budget, taking care of our failing schools, and dealing with the crime epidemic are all put on the back burner. The legislature will come to session for thirty minutes on a Wednesday and not meet again until the following Monday, yet pay themselves per diem for the entire weekend! We must let them know we have had enough. I propose the legislature meet only on even numbered years and the sessions only last 54 days. During each regular session the first item of business must be passing the state’s budget before any other business is brought up. The Governor would retain the right to call the legislature back for emergency sessions for a period not to exceed thirty days. These moves, which would be passed via Constitutional Amendment, would ensure our elected officials prioritize their time and stop wasting our tax dollars on paid leave and frivolous activities.
4) It is reprehensible that during a time of economic downturn our working citizens have to make tough decisions and sacrifices while those living off of public assistance are not required to cut back their lifestyles. Public assistance needs to be completely overhauled in this state. Those living off of other people’s hard-earned money should not be driving cars with four-thousand dollar rims, watching the super bowl on their fifty inch HD TV, or going to the casino to play the slots. The first change that must be implemented is that all individuals that receive welfare should be mandated to have random drug screenings. Those who fail the test would either have to receive treatment or lose their benefits. Additionally as a requirement to receive this assistance, individuals would have to pursue a GED if they do not already have a diploma; such a mandate would provide the individuals better opportunities for receiving a good job and the ability to free themselves of this modern form of slavery to the Democratic Party. Second, cable and satellite television service as well as home internet service would be prohibited from being provided to any home that receives public assistance. Those are privileges and not rights; therefore, taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize these people’s entertainment. Lastly, the Louisiana Purchase program needs to be totally scrapped and replaced. The current program awards individuals with a card that can be used to make their purchases. The problem is that there are no limits to what can be bought using these cards. The way the program is set up now individuals can use the card to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. The card can even be used to debit cash from an ATM. In fact, there have been many cases in which the cards have been used to redeem cash from ATMs at casinos! The program needs to be replaced with a voucher system that will only allow those individuals receiving the assistance to purchase specific items from pre-approved stores. These series of changes would move the Louisiana’s welfare system from a long-term lifestyle to a temporary assistance program designed to give those in legitimate need a hand up.
5) Louisiana is home to two of the most dangerous cities in America: Baton Rouge and New Orleans, according to a study by the CQ Press. This is unacceptable and must be a top priority of our elected officials to rectify. This will not be a quick or easy problem to unravel, but it can and must be resolved. First, we must start with our youth. We must teach juveniles at a young age that crime will not go unpunished by investing in more Youth Boot Camps for delinquents and mentorship programs for at risk youths. The state currently spends $141,000 per juvenile it incarcerates, according to the Justice Policy Institute, whereas Arkansas only spends $34,000 per youth. If we make the proper adjustments in our juvenile prison system we could implement the aforementioned programs at no additional cost to the state. On the adult level, prisons need to become true places of punishment and reform. They should not include gyms and hot meals. I believe short-term prisoners should be forced to live in camps rather than air conditioned cells. Additionally, prisoners should be required to pursue a GED as a qualification for probation or parole if they do not already have a high school education; it is a proven statistic that those who are educated are less likely to perform a crime. Making these changes to our justice system, along with some other changes, will help reduce our state’s excessive recidivism rate making Louisiana a better, safer place to live.
Now I call on all of you to hold our elected public servants accountable; demanding that they make these changes. For those who are not willing to adopt real conservative reform, they must be challenged and defeated. Our state and our nation are on the verge of bankruptcy and our elected officials are in many cases approaching the realm of despotism. Making these changes happen will require you to sacrifice your time, energy, and finances. If we don’t, our children may not know freedom and economic security.