June 28th, 2007
Who really holds the keys?
I had to wonder whether it was with deliberate irony that yesterday’s Times Picayune placed the article N.O.’s plan for rebuilding passes Muster with LRA immediately beneath LRA feeds Road Home kitty, with it’s handy inset showing of the approximately $1 billion the state is adding to the Road Home program, $577.5 million is coming from CDBG funds previously slated for infrastructure repairs, and another $50 million was “carved out of other recovery spending areas” by the LRA. (The amount to be doled out for New Orleans rebuilding is $117 million – of the $1.1 billion that “officials” (whoever they are these days) say we need.) Oh, and that doesn’t count the $513 million the LRA now has access to since the 10% match of federal funds requirement was waived – $513 million the LRA had earmarked for parish recovery projects, of which New Orleans was to receive $324 million – so they can sit on it in case the state needs to ante up even more cash to help close the Road Home gap.
Today’s TP editorial, A good faith effort, claims that “repairs to storm-damaged state buildings and construction of a replacement for Charity Hospital in New Orleans,” which were to be paid out of the $577.5 million would be paid out of the state’s budget, but forgive me if I’m skeptical.
What really infuriates me is the nearly blind eye being turned to the source of a sizable chunk of the Road Home gap: insurance underpayment, to the estimate tune of $2.7 billion. To be fair, in May Blanco and Walter Leger recommended that the state pursue claims on the behalf of cheated policyholders – after all, what hope can individuals have suing the colossi piecemeal (the insurance industry is the only other field besides Major League Baseball exempt from antitrust regulation, making the combined insurers a pretty daunting monolith). But it looks like, yet again, insurers have passed the buck to taxpayers, and worse, the state and federal governments have chosen to bleed the programs that are underfunded already. Big surprise.
This is yet another instance of why the entire state and nation should be taking heed of Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s situation. Insurers – property, health, auto, etc. – are as consequence free everywhere as they are here. The number of ways in which the system is scandalously broken is too great for me to digest, but PLEASE check out the Insurance Transparency Project for much more – inspired by, but not exclusive to, Katrina’s insurance aftermath.
August 10th, 2006
Reading Karen’s Who Elected the LRA? post and following its links today, I was surprised to find out (where have I been?) that just as the UNOP is supposed to be administered by the CSO, which is overseen by the NOCSF, which was in turn established by the GNOF to manage $4.5 million in grants to create a planning process (acronym and abbreviation help); the information-gathering and planning of LRA‘s long-term recovery planning initiative, “Louisiana Speaks,” is being funded significantly by the LRA Fund, which was established by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF), and will be administered by the LRA Support Foundation (created separately from the LRA Fund) once it gets its IRS qualification as a charity. (Gasp. I wish I had a flowchart) For now, as far as I can tell, the LRA Fund Committee is holding the purse-strings.
I shouldn’t be surprised, really. A plan is required to release federal relief funding, but little or no funding is given to the creation of a detailed and comprehensive plan. The city/state/parish is left with no alternative but to look to private donors.
What really surprises me (and maybe this shouldn’t either) is that at the bottom of its home page, the LRASF site declares: “The LRA Fund Committee has voluntarily decided to act in a manner consistent with the spirit of Louisiana Open Meetings Laws.” Kudos to the LRAFC for choosing to be open. I mean that. What concerns me though, is that a private organization that holds the linchpin to the disbursement of billions in public funds (and we’ve been seeing how much the planning of the plan can matter with the UNOP) could chose not to. To be fair, Blanco’s executive order establishing the LRA requires “a mechanism for public input and modifications based on such input,” but the UNOP’s “mechanisms for public input” to date have shown how little and dry a bone the public can be thrown.
I don’t want to suggest at all that private foundations with influence on public spending are all necessarily nefarious evil-doers intent on selling the public lock, stock and barrel to their cronies. But they’re not necessarily saints either, any more than politicians are. Our democracy doesn’t survive by the vote alone; it’s founded on checks and balances and public accountability because it’s just plain bad policy to expect people, even good people, to deny their personal interests for the sake of public interest. Whether it’s willful corruption or the slippery slope of “I have a buddy whose company can do that,” it’s just too easy to drift away from the job you’re entrusted to do when no one is watching how you do it.
It’s an awful lot of responsibility without much obligation I can see that’s not self-imposed. We can hope that personal integrity and/or PR help keep things relatively open (or at least “consistent with the spirit of openness”), but I’m a bit shocked that it would be legal not to.