La. gov't streamlining group done with 1st report

AP News
Posted: Dec 09, 2009 10:06 AM

Cost-cutting recommendations that would shrink Louisiana's state work force, boost outside contracting and rework bureaucracy were offered by the Commission on Streamlining Government, which wrapped up its first report Tuesday.

In its four months of work, the commission, tasked with finding more than $800 million in budget reductions, set aside proposals that called for a sweeping reorganization of Louisiana government agencies. Instead, the panel combed through budgets looking for program duplications, wasteful spending and services that could be done cheaper.

Many of the ideas were offered by the agency chiefs, and most of those that didn't come from the department heads were altered to get their blessings.

The suggestions range from small ideas, like urging a department to hire an outside print shop for publication jobs, to proposals that reach across state government, like requiring a four-day furlough without pay for state workers next year.

The list of recommendations, which was due to lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal by next week, totals 236 proposals.

"Hopefully this will be a benefit to the state of Louisiana for years to come," said state Sen. Jack Donahue, commission chairman.

Cabinet secretaries already have begun using some of the ideas. But many of the proposals would require approval from lawmakers.

Donahue, R-Covington, estimates the list of recommendations could save the state more than $1 billion. An analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Office hasn't been completed, however, and initial savings estimates from that office for specific proposals often have differed sharply from commission projections.

Among the ideas embraced by the streamlining panel were proposals to: shrink the number of state-owned cars, reduce the number of managers in state agencies, close three state-run ferries in south Louisiana and to privatize some of the state-run institutions for the developmentally disabled and consolidate others.

A litany of suggestions to hire private contractors to do the work currently performed by state employees was approved, like hiring outside firms to process fingerprints for the state police, to spray pesticides against invasive aquatic plants and to provide health care and laundry services for juvenile prisoners.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, an outspoken commission member, proposed slashing state jobs by 15,000 employees. But that was rejected for a scaled-back approach that wouldn't mandate the number of job cuts.

The commission favored a recommendation that agencies "target" a 5 percent cut in their staffing each year for three years. If they can't reach the target, they must explain themselves.

Among the last suggestions approved were proposals to change the retirement plans for incoming state workers and to rework the state-run property insurance company.

Controversial recommendations propose a statewide voucher program that would give out tax breaks for sending children from failing public schools to private schools and propose a reworking of how the state construction budgeting process works.

Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, the governor's chief financial adviser and a member of the streamlining panel, said she expects Jindal to support many of the ideas.

"Many of your recommendations will appear in the governor's executive budget," Davis said.

The 10-member streamlining commission was created by Jindal and lawmakers to find ways to cut government spending amid years of projected budget shortfalls, including a $950 million gap estimated for the upcoming 2010-11 fiscal year.

A final version of the commission's report is due Jan. 4. Jindal will present his budget proposal in February. Lawmakers will craft the final spending plans in the legislative session that begins in March.