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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Senator Vitter is right

Vitter says La. needs unified plan
Consolidation urged for N.O. government
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- The state has taken steps to shore up its image in Washington, D.C., but more changes should be enacted at the upcoming legislative session to give Congress more comfort that New Orleans and Louisiana are on the same page on hurricane recovery, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said Monday.

Speaking to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Vitter said that the state "needs to a have a single, unified, clear plan" on how it will help communities bounce back from the hits of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"There has been great progress in developing a plan," he said, "but we all need to keep pushing. We need to go further and do better" especially with greater cooperation between the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency overseeing recovery efforts, and groups in the New Orleans area that have come up with their own rebuilding plans.

Vitter said that elected officials "on the ground" need to adopt more changes like the legislation pushed by Sen. Walter Boasso, R-Arabi, and adopted by the Legislature in the February special session to consolidate levee boards in southeast Louisiana to better coordinate flood protection.

He said the bill will go a long way to proving the state is "getting away from cronyism and politics. . . . We need bold reforms to prove to the nation . . . we are getting our act together in Louisiana government."

Merging offices is called key

The next step should be the consolidation of government in the New Orleans area, Vitter said, especially consolidating the jobs of seven assessors into one, and merging the civil and criminal courts, combining the jobs of the civil and criminal clerks of courts into one, and combining the civil and criminal sheriffs' jobs into one.

"That would be at the top of the list" of things Congress may be eyeing when the Legislature meets in its general session starting next week, he said.

Vitter said the defeat of bills merging the assessors, courts and court officials at the February special session "got noticed" in the nation's capital, almost as much as the passage of the consolidated levee boards.

"They (federal officials) perceive that seven assessors (and other overlapping offices) are a waste of taxpayer money," Vitter said.

He said Washington also wants to see "more forceful leadership on the ground in New Orleans" on deciding how the city is rebuilt. He said city officials have to quickly decide "where people can build or not rebuild" because of the possibility of flooding in the future. "That is necessary to build confidence," the state's junior senator said.

"There is a concern (in Washington) that there is no consensus on rebuilding and how to redevelop New Orleans," Vitter said.

Targeting 'enormous waste'

The state also needs to show fiscal restraint in how it spends money, such as by using more than $400 million in one-time federal Medicaid money to plug budget holes, Vitter said.

The federal government also needs to change the way it spends money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency such as by issuing major contracts for debris removal and roof-patching to large corporations, which then hire multilayers of subcontractors who actually do the roof work and debris-hauling, he said.

"There is enormous waste and inefficiency on the federal level," he said. Vitter proposed that FEMA hire one major corporation as a project manager, which would hire one or two firms of subcontractors to get the work done faster, saving money on various contractors overseeing one another.

"That money (spent on roof-patching and debris removal) still gets counted against us" as a state by federal officials, he said.

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Ed Anderson can be reached at eanderson@timespicayune.com or (225) 342-5810.


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