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13.6.19

Make LA judiciary pay for unneeded salary hikes

The best job in Louisiana state government just got better, courtesy of some likely inhabitants of that kind of position in the future.

This past regular session, the Louisiana Legislature with Gov. John Bel Edwards created a framework to increase, yet again, judicial salaries. State judges – those on the Supreme Court, the five appellate courts, and 42 district courts, totaling 372 all in all – will receive a 2.5 percent pay hike starting this upcoming fiscal year. They could receive the same in the following four years, if the Supreme Court and the Judicial Budgetary Control Board – comprised mostly of judges at all levels of the judiciary – certify that the funding exists for another round of raises.

A pay raise next year, which includes 68 other local judges and a handful of administrators, would add $1.8 million. Supreme Court associate justices make around $159,000 annually and their appellate counterparts and district judges pull in about $149,000, while the chief justices of each earn an extra $8,000 or so.

12.6.19

LA criminal justice changes won't prompt savings

Even if delayed, the day of reckoning will come for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “Justice Reinvestment Initiative.”

That may be the ultimate outcome from what HB 551 started this just-concluded session of the Legislature. That bill, by Democrat state Rep. Katrina Jackson that Edwards should sign, bumps up the daily payment the state makes to local jail operators, typically sheriffs either directly or through a contractual arrangement.

Two years ago, Edwards cajoled the Legislature to provide bipartisan support into changing sentencing guidelines and lengths for a wide variety of crimes, with the effect of reducing the number of inmates imprisoned at any one time and thereby lowering direct costs. Seventy percent of the amount not spent as a result then would be plowed back into measures to reduce recidivism, with 80 percent of that going to the local facilities and community programs. With over half of all state prisoners housed at this level, the thinking was the program would let taxpayers get a bit of a break and money would go to activities discouraging recidivism.

11.6.19

TIMED 2.0 long on pork, short on flexibility

TIMED 2.0 has a lot of northeast Louisiana upset, in some ways for the wrong reason that if understood should perturb people statewide.

The recently-completed regular session of the Louisiana Legislature produced HB 578 by Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee, which shoots out almost $700 million worth of spending over the next 15 years on various infrastructure projects. It draws that money from the state’s settlement with BP over the 2010 Macondo blowout offshore the state, the $53.3 million annual payment of over that span should have gone to the Budget Stabilization Fund and two health care-related funds. Instead, from next year until the pact’s 2034 conclusion the payment goes to these projects.

The controversy has come because originally the bill allocated only around $275 million to two projects, one with a direct impact on the energy sector in south Louisiana and another as a sop to the Capitol Region. After 2026, all of the remaining payouts would have gone to a fund for infrastructure. But the Senate amended it to designate other projects and sent the product to the House two days before the session’s end, leaving little time for conference if the House rejected that.

10.6.19

LA likely insignificant for 2020 nomination

Louisiana seems set to go from an afterthought to an asterisk in the 2020 presidential preference primary season.

In 2016, the state conducted its primary elections for major party presidential nominations as, by law, the first Saturday in March. That came right after “Super Tuesday,” where voters in ten states plus a caucus state selected about a quarter of Republican convention delegates while Democrats in the same number of states voted along with caucus-goers in a state and territory chose about a fifth of their convention delegates.

Lumped in with caucuses in a few other states, Louisiana attracted little attention coming after the major effort by candidates for Super Tuesday. While candidate organizations proved active the candidates themselves with the exception of next-door Republican Sen. Ted Cruz ignored the state, and then controversy ensued when future GOP Pres. Donald Trump edged out Cruz in the primary results but the apportionment math and wishes of other candidates gave Cruz the majority of the state’s delegates.

9.6.19

Edwards misses to cap dismal tenure

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards not only aimed low with his 2019 legislative agenda, he also arguably missed to cap off a dismal term in the state’s top job.

With the Louisiana Legislature now out of session and pocketbooks finally safe again, we can compare Edwards’ aspirations with his achievements on this score. Spoiler alert: it’s not impressive.

What his agenda lacked in ambitiousness it made up for in unreality. Two of his top four items he has championed since the day he took office but had no chance of enactment: a watered-down minimum wage increase (because it would not have applied statewide but would have come by local option) and a watered-down “equal pay” bill (because it didn’t mandate comparable worth or similar schemes that would force artificially employers, public or private, to push annual compensation of women closer to that of men regardless of other factors, but instead would have prevented employers from keeping compensation arrangements secret). Naturally, both never made it out of their chamber of origin, the Edwards-friendlier Senate.

6.6.19

Hollywood, don't fling LA in that briar patch

Please Hollywood, please, don’t fling Louisiana in that briar patch.

In the Uncle Remus story “The Tar-Baby,” Br’er Rabbit escapes the clutches of Br’er Fox by tricking him through exhortation to throw him into a briar patch, into which Br’er Fox can’t follow. Similarly, Louisianans tired of wasteful government spending should hope the prejudices of film makers allow them to save big.

Recently, the state joined a growing list of state passing much greater restrictions on abortion, if U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence changes to allow their constitutionality. Act 184 prohibits abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which generally occurs around six weeks of gestation, unless the physical health of the mother is at grave risk.

5.6.19

Budget debate highlights dense LA Democrats

If you want to know what’s wrong with Democrats, nationally and through a Louisiana lens, look no further than debate over the state’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

As the failure of liberalism’s economic bromides of divide, take, and redistribute became increasingly clear through their application under Democrat Pres. Barack Obama (and, except for wild deficit spending throughout, most of foundational damage happened in just his first two years when Democrats controlled Congress), the far left that has captured the national party simply refuses delivery of these facts. Instead of discarding their discredited theories, they wish to double down on them, such as through infatuation with the “Green New Deal” with its ruinous costs that would do next to nothing to (theoretically) reduce alleged catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

Simultaneously, those elites have embraced identity politics with a vengeance, believing that creating a myth of oppression against numerous groups – principally women, racial minorities, those who act differently than their physical sex suggests, and non-Christians – with coercive policies supposedly to remand would construct a majority electoral coalition. The 2016 election results showed the jury out on that strategy, but they responded to that in the same fashion as they did on the economy by engaging in escalating shrillness.

4.6.19

Skittish conservatives empower minority govt

While Louisiana’s screwy dalliance with minority government bears some blame, the halt to public policy progress in the state also falls on the shoulders of conservative Republicans too skittish to try to change that.

A small coterie of Senate committees has spiked a passel of legislation that brings cheer to conservatives. Efforts to roll back a sales tax hike early, bring down insurance rates, increase efforts to root out fraud in benefits programs, allow enforcement of the death penalty, and stabilize state finances have fizzled when encountering panels comprised of a majority of Democrats and/or big government Republicans.

This arrangement where the larger Senate has a majority of fiscally conservative Republicans that likely would have approved all of these measures has occurred because of Louisiana’s personalistic political culture, which overemphasizes and magnifies the ability of politicians to distribute resources to favored constituencies. Power that accumulated into the hands of Republican Sen. Pres. John Alario, who has spent nearly half a century seeking power and privilege in the Legislature, was put into the service of Democrat Gov.  John Bel Edwards to stack the committees on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, Senate and Government Affairs, and the three Judiciary ones with these fellow travelers who don’t represent the Senate majority nor the state’s people as a whole.

3.6.19

Imperfect rideshare bill merits becoming law

A couple of clich├ęs summarize the impending approval of statewide rideshare regulations in Louisiana: the third time is the charm and sometimes it’s necessary to take a step backwards to take two steps forward.

HB 575 by Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee will come before the House of Representatives for concurrence, having passed its major hurdle in the Senate. The bill would create a mostly statewide regulatory framework for transportation network companies (TNC), largely replacing a patchwork system with a few local governments regulating and the remainder of the state without any framework, leaving legally ambiguous whether a rideshare concern could operate in those areas.

But not entirely comprehensively. The first iteration of the legislation in 2017 essentially disregarded local regulation, and it foundered for that reason. New Orleans in particular had regulations more financially lucrative than the proposed law would have allowed. And as that wasn’t much less onerous than on traditional taxicab service, this also reflected the interests of cab companies, who wanted a similar degree of regulation on their competitor.

2.6.19

Change law to eliminate payment shortfalls

It’s not exactly a case of breaking out the violins when considering the finances of Louisiana’s state partner hospitals.

The giant maw of health care in Louisiana, supercharged by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ ill-advised decision to expand Medicaid, continues to consume all tax dollars in its path. It’s budgeted up over $700 million from this year, with almost $100 million more in state-sourced money. This means it now takes up just about half of the state’s operating budget.

But the nine hospitals contracted with the state to provide indigent care find themselves having to do with not enough for the state. Last month, these reported overall paying out more money to service qualifying residents than received from the state. To make matters worse for them, because of auditing complexities the state chronically runs behind in making payments owed.