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GOP legislative leaders control deficit deal fate

Although a deal seems afoot to resolve Louisiana’s latest budgetary shortfall, what if it doesn’t come off?

The special session that ends legally tomorrow Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards called to close the gap. That came about beginning when on Jan. 27 the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget confirmed a $304 million general fund deficit existed.

At that point, according to the Constitution and fleshed out in statute, Edwards had the option (the word “may” features prominently in all language regarding procedures in this instance) of making cuts on his own, with JLCB blessing, of up to three percent per budget unit for most appropriated spending. If he can close the gap to seven-tenths of a percent – almost $63 million in this instance, he can ratchet that shaving of up to five percent in most instances.


Citizens deserve improved LA endowment metrics

It doesn’t help Louisiana’s higher education in general make the case that it should garner increased subsidization by taxpayers when in aggregate institutions’ endowments shrunk in a positive investing environment.

Disturbingly, a number of institutions’ academic foundations – legally separate fund-raising arms but controlled by their beneficiary institutions – reported not just losses for the past fiscal year, but in many cases these extended losses from prior years. This does not include athletic foundations. For example, the state’s largest endowment by far – the Louisiana State University Foundation – lost in the past two fiscal years 5.2 percent in investments, even as in this time span the total system funding eked out a small rise in total assets under the leadership of former Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret, who departed towards the end of the period.

That his investment acumen fell much short of his fundraising prowess seems shared across several other Louisiana universities that reported much similar losing results. Former Commissioner of Higher Education and present president of the University of Louisiana Lafayette Joseph Savoie, whose school’s foundation also suffered investment losses, inappropriately blamed fickle markets: “The endowment tends to follow the market. It goes up, and it goes down, depending on the overall performance of the market.”


Planetary partisan divide continues on LA budget

It bears repeating, in a little different way: the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration and Democrat legislators are from Mars, Republican legislators are from Venus.

That became painfully obvious in yesterday’s special session meeting of the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee in questioning and testimony by members of Edwards Administration officials. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne stumped for Edwards’ plan to use nearly $120 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund. He conceived this as a bridge to further fiscal reform that Legislature intends to investigate during its regular session in two months.

Dardenne bases this strategy on the recommendations forwarded by the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, which looks at how Louisiana collects revenues. To him, “structural deficit” describes the inability to gather as much revenue as necessary to fund what Edwards wants to spend.


State must expand school choice in Caddo

It’s time for Louisiana’s Department of Education to intervene more forcefully with struggling Caddo Parish schools.

After some period of treading water, CPSD as a whole took a step backwards last year as it slid solidly into ‘C’ territory (in absolute terms; for years "grading" of schools has occurred on a curve) according to the state’s district accountability measure. What comfort came from its overall performance as not absolutely dismal hides the fact that a majority of its schools rank as ‘D’ or ‘F’ and these enroll over half of all district students.

Yet despite a history of having a significant portion of its school performing below par, unlike the other two major metropolitan districts in the state little educational choice developed in the parish. The state oversees only one charter school there, Linwood, and only three charters operate independently (one with two campuses). Several other schools operate under a memorandum of understanding model that leaves the district in charge of these but having to meet certain objectives negotiated by the state.


Edwards, GOP legislators live on different planets

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards is from Mars, legislative Republicans are from Venus. I chose the ordering since Edwards once served as a professional warrior and some GOP legislators are women. I chose the metaphor to illustrate the completely incompatible mindset of the two that threatens to launch fireworks during the state’s whirlwind special session.

Edwards pulled the starting gun trigger on it last night by speaking mainly to the virtues of using Budget Stabilization Fund Money. As policy-makers grapple with a $304 million deficit fighting a ticking clock registering just four-and-a-half months remaining in the fiscal year, use of the Fund has emerged as the biggest point of contention between the governor and Republican-led Legislature to solve for the shortfall.

In the speech, Edwards noted the short time frame and his belief that a straitjacketed fiscal structure begging for reform presented few options other than use of $119.6 million in Fund money. Citing its creation as a means to address short-term budgetary crunches and past use in what he saw as less critical times, failure to dip into it he alleged would force undesirable cuts into areas his current plan using Fund money to close the gap would avoid. He argued that, past this hurdle, soon the state could start attending to fiscal reform that should alleviate such problems in the future.


Shoddy opinion writing fuels T-P liberal bias

A day after my last post came out, which analyzed a column written by Mark Lorando that discussed and denied the presence of liberal bias at the newspaper he edits, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, he followed up with another on the topic that in some ways addressed points I had made. Yet accompanying his that day was a piece that served to subvert his mission.

My post pointed out the ways that the T-P transmitted liberal bias, largely in story selection, while Lorando defended against that mainly along the lines that content remained neutral, at least on the news pages. I demonstrated that’s not necessarily the case, more because of the liberal smog enveloping the industry of journalism than in any intent. He also pledged for greater balance in the opinion pages, where one may expect biased commentary.

But the one thing that he did not, and could not, promise in trying to divest the T-P of liberal bias that he at least conceded was perceived was to provide more informed commentary. Liberalism often festers and grows because its adherents tend to be less informed about politics (which carries over into partisan differences as well with the typical Republican more informed and open-minded than his Democrat counterpart). Liberals also more likely mythologize and caricature conservatism than vice versa, a logical consequence as liberalism relies more on emotive referents to sustain belief in it while conservativism places greater emphasis on fact and logic.


Editor can't fix problem unless acknowledging it

Last week, in a futile gesture, the New Orleans Times-Picayune (or, or whatever Advance Digital calls the outlet now) suffered a defensive wound regarding the publication’s ideological leanings.

Its editor Mark Lorando had written a column inviting reader comment about the newspaper’s performance. He followed it up with one addressing the comment, by far, most commonly made: that the paper has a liberal bias. Predictably, the headline read “Yes, we have an agenda. But it's not a liberal one.

It’s always humorous to see newspapers try to deny the elephant in the room for most of them. A few actually have some balance, and a few others such as the New York Times admit they come off, if not actually, having a liberal bias to them. But the vast majority like Lorando insist over and over that they don’t – even when it’s painfully obvious that they do.


Bradberry letter adds to troubling report questions

If belatedly, the biggest scalded dog of them all, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Johnny Bradberry, wrote a letter to the editor regarding my Jan. 29 column in the Baton Rouge Advocate that noted apparently politicized decision-making in constructing scenarios for the agency’s draft 2017 Coastal Master Plan. Rather than refute the column, it only raises more troubling questions about the quality of the decision-making process.

Bradberry’s letter largely stayed away from the inadequate argumentation, as already noted, made by previous letter writers defending the change in scenarios regarding sea level rise (SLR). In 2012, the team responsible for calculating SLR came up with essentially the 2017 range (31 to 198 cm), yet the CPRA postulated scenarios (100, 150, and 200 cm) where the highest SLR level of 2012 (100 cm) became the lowest of 2017 and the highest of 2017 doubled the highest of 2012. The science (as unreliable as SLR calculations are historically) had not changed, yet the CPRA chose dramatically higher SLR assumptions, which would indicate politics interceded to explain the change.

Instead, Bradberry’s effort started off with a straw man, incorrectly claiming the column said that “increased sea-level rise predictions for Louisiana’s coast are somehow motivated by election of Gov. John Bel Edwards and not by science.” He either needs to work on his reading comprehension or take off his partisan blinders: the column only stated that the Edwards Administration brought an ethos more supportive of big government that would lend itself to a more alarmist view on significant anthropogenic climate change and that Edwards had appointed the majority of members to the CPRA (among them Bradberry). It never stated that SLR forecasts used did not have a basis in science, as unreliable as those have been.