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23.4.14

Kennedy's hypocrisy shouldn't distract budgeting debate


It doesn’t mean necessarily he was entirely wrong, just that he was entirely a hypocrite when Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy voted against a recent State Bond Commission action for the reason he stated.



Last week, the SBC took up a proposal to pay off $210 million in debt prior to the end of this fiscal year Jun. 30. By doing so, in essence it could forward that amount of money into next fiscal year to pay for operating expenses, which is incorporated in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget. This passed 13-1 with only Kennedy, by law the chairman of the SBC, dissenting.



His public remarks explained his vote: he claimed the money did not come from unencumbered, recurring sources but rather from unpredictable, bonus kinds of money that more properly should not be recycled in a way that they could be spent on future, recurring items. While entirely legal, he decried the move violated the spirit of wise budgeting practice and likened it to using a credit card to pay off a monthly bill that only will reappear a month later.

22.4.14

Stuck on stupid XXVI: Putting unions before taxpayers



Yes, Louisiana continues to be stuck on stupid, as evidenced by the failure of its House of Representatives to refuse a special carve-out favoring teacher unions that could put taxpayers on the hook for an undetermined sum of money.



HB 45 by Republican state Rep. Alan Seabaugh would have closed the privilege afforded to officers (and employees of one) of four teachers unions and other associations that allowed teachers on leave that took these jobs, whether on temporary or permanent leave, to have the state continue to pay its share of retirement, and also those who worked for certain federal health care clinics (only one in the state has it employees in the appropriate state retirement system), for those hired after Sep. 1, 2014. The logic was very simple: people not employed by the state should not be members of any retirement system to which the state and its taxpayers were responsible for contributions, both regular contributions and those to wipe out unfunded accrued liabilities.



A no-brainer if there ever was one, for by treating non-state employees as state employees it not only costs money, but makes taxpayers liable for indeterminate costs well into the future that has nothing to do with service delivery or policy choices. In the case of the two unions involved, this saves them tens of thousands of dollars a year that they then can turn around and use to influence government. The whole idea that taxpayers should subsidize a special interest that brings zero benefits to the state and could use its saved resources to try to use the state to create further advantages for itself should insult any free human being.

21.4.14

Bills make needed changes to LA flood control authorities


That the opposition to flood protection authority reform now has focused on legislation not even started in the process of becoming law shows its fear that what has looked like a political defeat will intensify into a rout, but quite a necessary one.



Spurred by a politicized decision by one of the two regional authorities to pursue (if somewhat hypocritically) jackpot justice against alleged oil company practices that at best rests on dubious claims, a number of bills were filed in the session of the Louisiana Legislature to bring more accountability to entities that otherwise have few constraints to act politically rather than in the best interests of the people. What particularly galled those against these suits was contingency fees that appear to have been negotiated against state law that could reward trial lawyers with fees in the billions of dollars.



Most of these filed by state Sen. Robert Adley, who until his retirement in 2012 ran a gas management company, they represent various and disparate approaches to injecting accountability into these boards, some focusing on appointments to them, removals from them, powers exercisable, and organizational questions. Other bills would negate in essence the questionable suit or would force it to be more specific and redirect any proceeds.

17.4.14

Obtuseness may overwhelm McAllister's electoral skills

In the final analysis, the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington meme that played in the media early on about Rep. Vance McAllister was at least half correct, and the inaccurate part may explain why he could retain the job should he stay the course and run for a full term.



The fictional Sen. Jefferson Smith and McAllister parallel more than in the fact neither visited Washington, D.C. before assuming their offices. Smith was a complete rube about the ways Congress worked. He inherited a staff of cynics and manipulators, trying to keep him from interfering with the agenda they shared with powerful Members. He let the media use his story in ways to suit their needs to sell papers, even as this raised ire among his fellow Members of Congress. At one point he let his affections for a female distract him from doing a good job.



That McAllister shares the similarity on the last account has become obvious to anyone perusing a politics headline in the past week, except that in Smith’s case it only caused him to nearly miss being able to blow the whistle on a crooked scheme, while McAllister’s game of tongue hockey with a married aide, captured on video released to the media, makes him appear less than upstanding and has far greater ramifications. But the other two instances both expose less obvious yet crucial mistakes as to why he took a job-for-life gig and put it up for grabs.

16.4.14

Jindal, lawmakers already symbolic winners over PARCC


So eight legislators snap their fingers and Gov. Bobby Jindal overturns educational policy just like that? Well, it’s not quite that simple to summarize a series of events performed by all parties more to impact perceptions than substance.

At the beginning of the week, the legislators fired off a note asserting that, by their reading of a memorandum of understanding relevant to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, that Jindal unilaterally could withdraw the state from the program. PARCC is one of four of the testing regimes related to the Common Core for State Standards, of which Louisiana has joined along with 15 other states and the District of Columbia.

After a brief interval, Jindal announced that, if the Legislature did not do that on its own through legislation, he thought he could. To which the state’s superintendent of education John White said Jindal was just one of three entities that had to approve of this, the other being him and his employer, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, represented by its current President Chas Roemer. Neither White nor Roemer favor this, as with the first PARCC-based testing already underway in the state, with their thinking that PARCC was more than adequate to do the job, perhaps because it was based in large part on what Louisiana already was doing, and that starting over would cost both in tangible terms and in nonpecuniary ways, such as the confusion it would sow within schools.

15.4.14

New data reaffirm wisdom of rejecting Medicaid expansion



Since the Louisiana Legislature last reviewed the issue last year, the case for Medicaid expansion in the state, recently advocated by Sen. Mary Landrieu, if anything has gotten weaker.



Complementary to Landrieu’s call, varied legislative Democrat co-partisans of hers have filed several bills that would, in various ways and to various degrees, force the state into expansion.  Yet since similar bills floundered in 2013, three important developments have occurred that degrade the already insufficient case for it even further.



One is that the forecast costs of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), which is related to expansion continue to spiral out of control. Now the net cost of $1.5 trillion through 2019 is estimated at almost double the figure at which it was sold. This only increases the pressure to cost blend the states’ contributions for Medicaid, which for most programs under this umbrella is computed on a yearly formula that most recently was spit out for Louisiana at 62.26 percent.

14.4.14

Charters by other name bill may reach best compromise



Sometimes politics makes one too clever by half, as is the case with a bill to alter the governance structure of the East Baton Rouge Parish School District. But also sometimes the limits of politics forces very imperfect solutions.



While several bills to address the troubled district, which as of the latest data ranked in the 23rd percentile in performance, got introduced into the Louisiana Legislature this session with actions such as carving out a new community school district and dividing the EBRPSD into four zones, the one with most traction so far is SB 636 by state Sen. Bodi White. It would decentralize many governance decisions to the school level, where principals would be responsible for recruiting and hiring personnel, would oversee curriculum, instruction methods, and professional development, and with district oversight be responsible for food services, transportation, custodial, health and a wide range of other services. Principals would operate under management contracts of up to five years and be subject to dismissal if they fail to meet performance goals spelled out in the written agreement. A community council would provide parental input.



It’s clear that, left to its own devices in its current form, the EBRPSD will continue to underserve children. Over the last several years, it has continued to hemorrhage students even as the parish population has grown and its performance has been stagnant, even as its per pupil spending (as of the latest data) has increased nearly 50 percent since the hurricane disasters of 2005, or the ninth highest of all, while having the twelfth highest per pupil spending. Despite these facts, the past and present leadership has taken a bifurcated approach as the district continues to sink: blame its ills on a lack of money but try to build political support among advantaged families by a “two Baton Rouges” tactic of creating programs to attract high performing students to make a few strong schools while ghettoizing the remainder.

13.4.14

Claims of hypocrisy in GOP resignation calls inaccurate


With the sexual indiscretion of Republican Rep. Vance McAllister has come calls from some prominent Republicans for him to resign, which has spawned charges of hypocrisy from prominent Democrats. But going beneath the surface of the matter blunts, if not invalidates, the latter’s claim.



The Democrats’ assertion stems from comparing McAllister’s kissing of a married aide revealed last week to the admission in 2007 by Republican Sen. David Vitter of committing a “serious sin,” widely believed to involve his utilizing a few years earlier prostitution services. Two prominent Republicans, organizational party leader Roger Villere and political leader Gov. Bobby Jindal, have called for McAllister’s resignation, but neither asked the same of Vitter at the time those years ago. Democrats hope this charge can convey a (tiny) advantage in its upcoming fall campaigns and perhaps spill over to Vitter’s run for governor next year.



The political rationale should be obvious as to the differential treatment by Republicans. McAllister just won a special election to fill the seat a few months ago, and is best known for complaining about being a congressman and bucking the party on the high-profile issue of government involvement in health care. His taking a powder would make for a wide open race in the fall but heavily favoring Republicans in a year, the midterm during a president’s second term, they are advantaged, while his staying in, because of lingering knowledge of the incident of just a few months earlier, would decrease the chances (even if they still would be favored) of their holding the position if he were forced into a runoff with a Democrat. The state party also wants nothing to distract voters from the unfavorable reelection climate for Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, now an underdog to retain her seat.

10.4.14

Elective superintendent bad on historical, policy grounds



Having both an elected state superintendent of education and a mostly-elected board overseeing education remains a bad idea that Louisiana got rid of only a little more than a quarter-century ago.



Two bills by state Rep. Joe Harrison would resurrect the notion, which would make Louisiana the only state in the union to have both an elected top education official and state school board with elected members. The Constitution actually provides for an elective superintendent, but in the Legislature’s wisdom in 1986 it took advantage of the provision to make the office appointive by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education staring in 1988. Harrison’s bills would amend away that possibility or reverse the previous statute.



While the movement for states to fragment executive power swept the country in the latter part of the nineteenth century, in Louisiana it went into overdrive, especially as inculcated into the 1921 Constitution, which the 1974 version was supposed to correct. Even the 1921 version had an appointive superintendent by a board constituted just like today’s BESE, but in short order that was amended to accommodate the political popularity of long-time existing superintendent T.H. Harris, and the office remained elective until the idea was transferred to the 1974 version, a period which featured plenty of pro-segregation sentiment, after Harris failed reelection in the reform 1940 election use often as a stepping stone for (failed) attempts at higher office, and oversight of a school system that developed into one of the, if not the, worst in the country.

9.4.14

King Ben asks to deny right of self-government by some

It’s hard to tell whether state Sen. Ben Nevers is an automaton ideologue, or simply slept through his history and civics classes in school, by his sponsoring of the half-baked SB 674.



The bill would place a moratorium on any legal petition for incorporation in Louisiana for two years while the issue gets studied. The process it seeks to investigate requires that a formal petition be forwarded to the state identifying incorporation leaders, then they have an unlimited amount of time to gather signatures of at least 25 percent of electors in the area defined where if successful brings the matter to a vote at the next scheduled election. A majority of affirmative electors creates the new municipality.



The bill is worded so that if it were to pass, it would negate the current effort to incorporate much of the unincorporated area of East Baton Rouge Parish. The area under consideration, provisionally named St. George, disproportionately generates revenues for the combined City of Baton Rouge/East Baton Rouge Parish, which has sent howls of protest from some elements of Baton Rouge. Nevers has suggested that one outcome of his legislation would be to change the process to give non-residents of the area under consideration power to decide on the issue.