Viewpoint: March 18, 2009

When corporations look for ways to economize, a common first step is placing limits on overtime. But that approach doesn't seem to apply to Louisiana state government. WAFB reporter Caroline Moses discovered last week that Governor Jindal's executive branch is spending millions on overtime. That finding surprised state lawmakers who are struggling to balance the budget. WAFB looked at overtime spending in 21 executive agencies.

The largest amount of OT went to state troopers. Much of their overtime expense is reimbursed by federal tax dollars. The man in charge, Col. Mike Edmonson, acknowledges that some of the numbers are excessive. One trooper logged more than 1800 hours of OT in one year. Edmonson says there's room for improvement. We applaud his courage to tackle this tough issue.

But perhaps most disturbing, and something lawmakers questioned in a budget meeting, is overtime in the department of health and hospitals. One worker averaged more than 70 overtime hours each week for the entire year. The head of DHH defends the OT, saying he can't fill hundreds of open positions and doesn't want people to go without care. He adds his OT spending is likely to get worse, not better. If that's the case, we think DHH has to look at the quality of care it gets from its overworked staff.

There has to be another way. Governor Jindal, with his background in health and hospitals, should step in and take some leadership. His commissioner of administration told the budget committee last week the governor's office has instructed all agencies to look at overtime. Perhaps the governor can take the lead and offer solutions.