SADOW: Edwards Wastes A Governing Opportunity With His Politicized Census Panel

While Louisiana’s state government should strive for as accurate a census count as possible, state taxpayers shouldn’t have their money wasted on a matter infused with partisanship that is best left to local governments.

This week, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order creating a complete census count committee. These, urged by the federal government, strive to engage in activities that maximize citizen participation in the census for 2020, and almost every state plus many local governments have established these.

Census data serve many purposes, although three have implications far beyond the rest. These determine the number of House of Representatives seats for each state, create the baselines through which state and local government reapportionment take place, and underpin the distribution of $675 billion in federal grants.

But only the reapportionment items affect the state. Louisiana shouldn’t come to close to a change in the number of representatives, and reapportionment at others levels really starts first with local governments, the aggregate upon which the state may build upon for its own boundary drawing. Further, the vast majority of federal dollars distributed eventually end up based upon local statistics. The one huge exception, Medicaid, uses census data only tangentially. Even the somewhat smaller (if you can call programs spending in the tens of billions of dollars annually “small”) programs typically primarily aim for local government assistance (if passed through by the state), leaving only a couple – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and highway funds – as large programs more state-based.

In short, it’s local governments that really benefit from accurate census counts and they can pass those gains on to the state. Louisiana has a history (short, since the CCC concept didn’t come about until the 2010 census) of its local governments stepping up, often in partnership with nongovernment organizations, to do this in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport. As it is, in any event federal funding questions almost exclusively pertain to urban areas.

Thus, if anything beyond a coordinating body that uses only nongovernment dollars and implements only essentially nonintrusive actions (such as have state government agency automated telephone answering or on hold messages remind about census participation), that promotes wasteful if not duplicative government. Unfortunately, the Edwards panel does that, with its potential needless use of state tax dollars and having a partisan flavoring to it.

As noted elsewhere, almost without exception appointees to it are Democrat partisans, and/or have expressed public support for Edwards, and/or represent organizations that favor parts of all of Edwards’ political agenda. This violates the spirit of the CCC concept. Even Edwards unguardedly admitted the politicization of it, when he conceded that he didn’t create this until after the election as he thought it would become an election issue.

The duties listed can be confined largely to coordination, but do have one glaring exception: “distribute and share census information with traditionally hard-to-count areas and populations.” This raises the specter of using state resources for political activity, especially as the Governor’s Office will make employees available for staff and administrative support, and for committee members with government jobs they can seek reimbursement for panel-related expenses through their agencies.

Regrettably, cost-conscious policy-makers can do little about this. Its activities will peak right at the beginning of April (the count day of course being Apr. 1, 2020) and it will have wrapped everything up by the start of the next fiscal year. At best, they could send a message by cutting from the nearly $13 million given to the Governor’s Office in fiscal year 2020 (which increased over 10 percent from FY 2019) a chunk of money, if Edwards seems insistent of wasting money on an enterprise that seems designed more to serve a partisan agenda than all of the state.

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