In politics, the biggest sin isn't lying — it's telling too much of the truth, especially at election time. That's why candidates for governor offer mostly general ideas about how to deal with Louisiana's daunting fiscal challenges. They're afraid if they offer too much honesty and/or too many specifics it will cost them the election. They're right.
Don't blame the candidates. They do what they do because voters demand it. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's famous rant, the vast majority of voters can't handle the truth. Or, as French philosopher Joseph de Maistre observed, "In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve."
If you want hard truths about Louisiana's future, as well as some specific proposals for dealing with our state's challenges, check out an outfit called Blueprint Louisiana (www.blueprintlouisiana.org), a nonpartisan group of community and business leaders that was founded in 2006.
I'm not necessarily endorsing all of Blueprint's ideas, but I do think the organization's observations and suggestions are a good place to start an honest conversation about Louisiana's future.
Some of Blueprint's earlier proposals were adopted by Gov. Bobby Jindal and state lawmakers after the group issued its first report in 2007. Others were watered down ("ethics reform," e.g.), while still others were ignored. Blueprint followed up in 2011, but by then Jindal was already looking to get out of Louisiana.
Blueprint is back this year with recommendations in four major problem areas: transportation (particularly the role that infrastructure plays in economic growth), higher education, health care financing and Louisiana's structural deficit.
Blueprint's recommendations go farther into the policy weeds than any of the candidates, and they don't pull punches. For example, in the area of health care financing, Blueprint flat-out says Louisiana needs to expand Medicaid coverage. Yes, it's Obamacare, but it's also $7 billion in federal dollars (over time) to offer health insurance coverage to Louisiana people who already are working. It's worth noting that Blueprint's leaders are mostly business people — conservatives — not bleeding-heart liberals, academics or (dare I whisper) Democrats.
For some reason, anti-Obamacare ideologues (particularly Bobby Jindal) put forth the idea that expanding Medicaid would put more loafers on the public dole. That is more than a lie; it is a cruel hoax that demonizes the poor, blaming them for a fate that most of them were born into. The truth is this: Expanding Medicaid would actually encourage people to work because it would offer them a chance to get health insurance without penalizing them for earning slightly more than poverty-level wages. Blueprint accurately notes that there are moral as well as financial reasons for supporting this position.
Try getting a "conservative" candidate for governor or the Legislature to admit that.
In the other three main areas of focus, Blueprint proposes sensible, structural reforms that others have pushed in recent years: protecting the Transportation Trust Fund against budget raids and increasing annual investments in the fund; preserving higher admission standards at public universities and reforming TOPS to make it sustainable; and building "honest" state budgets while raising recurring revenue and streamlining Louisiana's tax code.
There's much more at Blueprint's website. Let's hope it starts more than just a conversation.