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Legislators resisting obvious LA budget course

If the Louisiana Legislature insists on playing a con game on taxes, then at least Gov. Bobby Jindal can play a shell game on them to produce a balanced budget for fiscal year 2016, which altogether does not abuse people’s property and liberty.

As the 2015 regular session lumbers closer towards its close, at first glance a great collision seems in the offing. In order to manufacture a balanced budget as required constitutionally, Jindal has said he will accept no tax increases without offsets of these, while the Legislature has insisted on building a budget dependent upon several such hikes that don’t appear to have enough commensurate tax cuts elsewhere. Thus, it looks as if the grand bargain would not materialize and one faction would have to overpower politically the other in order to stave off large spending reductions that no one, for no well-defined reason, seems to want.

But taking another glance, perhaps maybe things aren’t so conflicted. It turns out that the Jindal Administration generously defines, and appropriately as it imposed the condition in the first place, the idea of an “offset” as a multi-year concept. Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield has stated that the period in question constitutes not a single year, but five years. Thus, a measure that raises taxes immediately, such as HCR 8 that would suspend into Aug., 2016 business utility sales tax exemptions partially to the tune of $103 million in additional revenue, could be offset and then some by the impact of HB 828, which erases the corporate franchise tax over five years that by then would grow to a forecast $912.5 million, even though the next year’s forgone revenue totals only $36.5 million.


No LA higher education reform this year, maybe ever

The overall theme evident in this year’s regular session of the Louisiana Legislature, jerry-rigging the faulty fiscal system rather than changing it, has trickled down to the budgetary subset of higher education. If it’s election-year politics and time constraints in action, then relief may come as early as next year – if it’s not sabotaged this year.

Dealing with the budget, so far legislators have shown a marked preference for accepting agency spending demands and then seeking revenues to match, rather than taking the more sensible approach of systemic restructuring focusing on efficiency of spending tax dollars. No category has reflected this approach more faithfully than higher education, where the path of least resistance to lawmakers but of most injury to the citizenry, thoughtless tax increases, has become almost reflexive even among even some Republicans who insist they are conservatives that profess belief in right-sizing government – apparently not just right now nor right here.

In part this instinct has emerged because of elections scheduled this fall. Many politicians who claim to be principled really have feet of clay, whose core beliefs are inherently weak thus rather than lead and persuade voters of the rectitude of these instead these get treated as flags of convenience, lowered out of fear of vocal special interests amplified in a hostile media environment. From a reformer’s perspective, the good news is these spineless posers, when the winds change that make them perceive themselves out of danger of losing their offices (if they manage reelection despite their tax-friendly attitudes), will rediscover their courage and raise their flags to catch this breeze of fiscal responsibility, at least until the next time courage is needed.


Lawmakers should say no on NWLA tax increase

If you think you’ve seen this bad movie before, you’re right: northwest Louisiana may face another vote on a measure defeated last year that would cost jobs and create other negative spillover effects.

HB 216 by state Rep. Alan Seabaugh resurrects an additional occupancy tax for hotel rooms and camping sites that voters thought they buried last year. Despite the mumblings of policy-makers and their shills that this bill is “different,” if there is any difference, it is in degree rather than kind: instead of the two percent additional tax in last year’s Act 674, this time it’s just 1.5 percent, split equally among the same three entities, for a few years shorter. Kind of like getting stabbed five times rather than shot six times.

Its proponents offer the same failing argument as heard last time, that by pumping roughly half a million bucks a year each into the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission, the Independence Bowl Foundation, and the Ark-La-Tex Regional Air Service Alliance, they will get funds to promote the area as a place for sporting events, principally the Independence Bowl, and facilitate this by having more flight choices, while few residents (only the ones that for whatever reason rent rooms or go camping) will pay for this with the costs almost exclusively foisted on outsiders. And it suffers from the same weakness, asking local voters to believe that there is a free lunch and to disregard that the increased cost of rooms will act as a disincentive to attracting events or travelers, with the consequential loss of area jobs directly and indirectly.


Memorial Day, 2015

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

With Monday, May 25 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore this link.


GOP hope for Democrat split vote unlikely to happen

Rumors of a black Democrat Louisiana gubernatorial candidate that could be competitive continue to swirl, but in the end they would make a significant difference in the dynamics of the contest only if black party leaders saw their interests diverging from the white powerbrokers in their party.

Recent speculation offers up attorney Tony Clayton, long-time appointee of Gov. Bobby Jindal on the Southern University Board of Supervisors during which time he has served as its chairman, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Russel Honore, famed in the past for crisis leadership during the hurricane disasters of about a decade past and more recently working to lead on pro-, even extremist, environmental concerns. On the part of Democrats, this continued chatter even after the state party officially endorsed state Rep. John Bel Edwards connotes uneasiness that Edwards, whose polling and demographic numbers give him little chance to win, can serve as an adequate placeholder to gather funds and support down-ballot candidates.

However, it also could signal machinations on the part of some Republican interests. While Edwards’ polling numbers have fallen below expectations, Sen. David Vitter’s have exceeded these, leaving the other two Republican candidates, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, at risk for not advancing to a runoff. The thinking goes that if a black face could enter the contest, this would peel off the majority of the black vote that Edwards should be expected to receive otherwise, and this split would ace both Edwards and the black candidate out of the runoff to allow another Republican to join Vitter.


Poison pill threatens beneficial higher education reform

The seemingly contradictory actions within the Louisiana House of Representatives continue a disappointing session for higher education reform, highlighting a poison pill that threatens to negate otherwise far-reaching beneficial changes.

This week, the House turned down state Rep. Thomas Carmody’s HB 66, the companion legislation to a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed different higher education systems to set their own tuition rates and to delink these from Taylor Opportunity Program for Students awards. With the amendment, these would have allowed schools to increase tuition without requiring two-thirds approval of both chambers of the Legislature, wiping away the ability of system to increase it for each school as much as 10 percent a year if these individually met performance targets, without requiring the state to pay out more in TOPS money.

Enacting these into law and the Constitution would address a higher education delivery system that is overbuilt and inefficient. While alarmist rhetoric incessantly issues forth from higher education policy-makers and sympathizers inside and outside the Legislature that crisis would erupt if taxpayer funding levels for it this upcoming year at least do not match this year’s, the truth is in a comparative sense state subsidies should be more than adequate to meet genuine needs. If funded around last year’s level, that would put the state compared to its peers (plus the District of Columbia) all the way down to 28th in per capita taxpayer spending on higher education. Which is appropriate, being that the state’s personal per capita income is ranked 30th.


Jindal order protecting liberty good policy, politics

Producing both good politics and policy, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive order essentially promulgating the contents of HB 707, the Marriage and Conscience Act, also leaves some legislators a bit exposed and less comfortable in this fall’s elections.

It’s odd how a bill that prevents the state from taking punitive actions against individuals and non-public corporations in the conduct of business who refuse to engage in commerce where that action would violate their sincere religious beliefs on the subject of marriage could strike such terror that it does not even get a full hearing and up-or-down vote. State Rep. Mike Johnson’s bill got some discussion and proponents and opponents got a chance to testify, but before he even could ask to have some amendments put on it, the House’s Civil Law and Procedure Committee voted to return it to the calendar. Only Johnson and fellow Republican state Rep. Ray Garafalo objected to short-circuiting the debate (another, state Rep. Cameron Henry, did not show up for the vote).

But it’s common in human history when an oppressive majority, finding compelling argumentation lacking against an idea, suppresses that idea as it cannot defeat it in debate, and the committee’s action only echoes that sad history. No doubt the motivating force for this almost unheard-of maneuver stemmed from the nature of the amendments, which placated any remote chance that the law could be twisted to allow discrimination for constitutionally-unjustifiable reasons.


Common Core supporters win in LA by TKO

In the parlance of the recent fight between Evander Holyfield and Mitt Romney, in Louisiana the winner by technical knockout was pro-Common Core State Standards Initiatives advocates, creating two distinct losers in the bargain.

Last week, after two years of wrangling, legislators from both chambers and both sides of the issue agreed to a set of bills establishing a framework by which the set of standards meets with review, and even possible elimination. Essentially, a large group of people appointed by the various factions involved through three panels will forward, as part of the slightly-accelerated periodic review of curricula by the Department of Education, recommendations about changing what exists to a committee, which then sends it to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which then sends it to each of the two education committees in the Legislature’s separate chambers, which then sends it to the governor. All must agree to the changes or nothing happens.

Importantly, the present CCSSI standards stay in effect if there is not agreement on changes, if any, or on their scrapping. Being as at this time all of BESE and each chamber have majorities supportive of the set of standards, that means no substantial move away from these would be expected at this time. However, it would not be until 2016 that these chances to vet occur, and possibly elections in the interim could send anti-Common Core BESE members and legislators into majorities in their respective bodies.


End special union privilege with paycheck protection

As there is no intellectually defensible reason why labor unions should receive special privileges from taxpayers, hopefully enough legislators will come to see why paycheck protection promotes the public good over non-public greed and to act accordingly.

The bill, HB 418 by Rep. Stuart Bishop, replicates laws in many other states by simply removes a unique advantage given to unions that no other entity in Louisiana that is not a charity, financial institution with government employees as members, or government agency has: the ability to have siphoned money from employees’ paychecks directly to their own coffers, not using their resources to do so but governments’. Unions also have the unique advantage in that for school districts this is the only kind of deduction permitted under state law, and the union dues collected do not even have to go to organizations recognized as bargaining units with the local authority in question. At present, the bill appears to lack a majority in the House of Representative to move forward.

Argumentation in favor of retaining the practice typically involves heaping servings of red herrings and straw men. For state employees, payroll deduction at taxpayer expense in addition to union dues includes mandated federal or state income withholdings, credit unions, garnishments, liens, savings bonds programs, qualified United Way entities, health and life insurance products offered through the Office of Group Benefits, and products having state participating contributions, sponsored by the Office of Group Benefits, as part of a cafeteria plan.


Democrat tactical voting appearing in race for gov

Presented with a quandary about whether to support their party in this year’s gubernatorial contest, Democrats are responding in a way forecasting that if the front-runner doesn’t win there won’t be a Democrat winner either in 2015.

Previous polls made Republican Sen. David Vitter the favorite, followed not too far away by Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards, with Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne somewhat farther back, and Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle lagging the field in the single digits. The most recent of the bunch confirmed this pecking order but gave Vitter a larger lead at 38 percent, with Edwards at 25 percent falling back towards Dardenne’s 16 percent, and Angelle still dragging the rear considerably with 5 percent.

Those older ones raised some questions about their sampling frames and the relatively low number of undecided votes. This one, by Southern Media and Opinion Research, had a better sampling frame and came up with roughly the same proportion undecided. Given that it happened two months later, that roughly equivalent proportion appears more reasonably valid and thereby shows a firming of support driven not so much by party label and name recognition.