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20.10.14

Policy-makers roll dice on factoring in bonus bucks



So the state lost track of around $320 million starting in 2002, and it’s out there available to be spent. Whether that means the state won’t need to reduce services over the next few months is another matter.



By Aug. 15, the state knows its funds inflows and outflows from the previous fiscal year ending Jun. 30, and reports these results in early October. Part of the revenue side of the picture is money taken from dedicated funds transferred to another agency for use and self-generated monies by agencies assigned to specified uses. But apparently since 2002 if any excesses existed after transfers or generation, unused for their intended purposes, they lay fallow. Now the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration wishes to put them to work, especially as without those leftovers fiscal year 2014 resulted in about $141.5 million of outflows over inflows.



Constitutionally, after Oct. 15 the administration reports to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on the status of the previous year’s actual figures. If a deficit is declared and the JLCB concurs, this allows the governor to impose mid-year budget cuts to make up the previous year’s difference. It’s something policy-makers rather would avoid, which has seen since 2008 $1.122 billion in such cuts, with FY 2014 being the first since then not to have any.

19.10.14

After court confirmation, take next education reform step

As expected, the Louisiana Supreme Court flushed home the slam dunk on the state’s 2012 revolutionary education reforms, and having resolved that leads to the next question of how to progress further in improving education in the state.



Last week, the Court essentially laughed away a challenge to the law. Its reforms addressed a number of different facets about education, and the suit was based upon the very fact of diversity in the law. Having already warned an obstinate lower court judge that the law should not be taken to violate the single object constitutional standard for legislation, only to have him stubbornly insist that it did, the Court conclusively decided otherwise unanimously. The legal tactic by the plaintiffs, a motley collection of American Federation of Teachers state and local units, was a cover to try to cancel policy they didn’t like, most controversially for them making teacher tenure more difficult to attain and basing that decision for about 35 percent of all teachers on a value-added measure anchored on standardized testing.



In the short term, this changes nothing. Given the wrenching changes from implementation of and the debate ongoing about the Common Core State Standards, the use of a VAM, defined as changes in student scores from one year to another on standardized tests, as an input into tenure and retention decisions was delayed for the last and this school year. Even as CCSS is expected to increase the profile of standardized testing and expand it to be able to include more teachers (assuming state policy-makers don’t pull the plug on it, as some will attempt next year), education leaders, including Louisiana’s, are wondering whether testing needs to be more selectively applied.

16.10.14

Democrats start negative onslaught against Cassidy

Likely dispirited from a debate that did nothing to change the race’s dynamics, and with panic rising after more and intense polling confirmation that Sen. Mary Landrieu’s campaign was on the ropes, expect now that Louisiana Democrats will engage in the most terrific mudslinging ever seen in the state in order to stop Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy from poaching her current seat.



With several recent polls all showing Cassidy having a heads-up lead, some beyond a poll’s margin of error, Democrats prayerfully hoped Cassidy would make some extremely controversial utterance in the course of the first of two candidate debates, held previously this week. He didn’t, perhaps because of the mundane mien of the gastroenterologist that some find a liability.



Which, in the reduced state Democrats find themselves in, suddenly has become an attack line. According to (the only Louisiana) Democrat Rep. Cedric Richmond, who nobody ever could mistake for being a medical doctor or even reasonably intelligent when making remarks like this, Cassidy is “weird,” and lacking the ability to say anything of substance about Cassidy falls back to playing the race card in the inane accusation that Cassidy’s campaign is all about “a picture of a black man [Pres. Barack Obama] and a white woman [Landrieu] up there in Louisiana to stoke fear and all the worst feelings in people.”

14.10.14

Inconsequential debate makes Cassidy its "winner"



The public television 2014 Senate election debate for Louisiana has come and gone, which served to reinforce existing support for the two major and one mid-major candidates, and really contributed nothing else.



Let’s face it, on the whole “debates” (they aren’t really, more like forums where candidates try to answer as much as possible in the way the want to as much as possible regardless of the questions with little depth given to these) only cause any significant shifts in support that last any length of time when candidates say something controversial, if not stupid. Nothing of the sort happened; when the most outlandish thing said, by the Republican major candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy (a medical doctor) that he favored letting people hoot up for medical reasons while his mid-major GOP compatriot Rob Maness and the major Democrat involved incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu refused to join him, you know the needle won’t move as a result of this.



Little in the way of new details emerged in terms of policy preferences. Cassidy and Maness differed on little, while Landrieu skittishly tried to sidestep articulating any specific position on most of these items by both spinning general platitudes and trying to meld answers into touting experience. When asked for specifics, she almost imperceptibly glided to broad generalities. For his part, Cassidy used these to draw contrasts with Landrieu along the lines of tying unpopular policies she supports and the slightly-more-popular-than-Ebola-incinerated-waste Pres. Barack Obama around her neck, while Maness played up what few differences he had with Cassidy while noting the more numerous of those with Landrieu.

Bad news possibly good news for McAllister reelection


In Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District contest, a new poll shows it’s still a matter of pushmi-pullyu for Democrats relative to strategy, while for Republicans too many cooks threaten to spoil the broth – leaving the object of the bad news from this week perhaps better off as a result.



An Alabama-based group conducted this effort and in a sense confirmed the common wisdom that the only Democrat and black in the race in a district the registration of which is almost half Democrat and one-third black, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, leads the way with 19 percent, and embattled incumbent Republican Rep. Vance McAllister comes in second at 17 percent, and would hold down runoff spots. Apparently moving up and into third with 13 percent is salesman Zach Dasher, related to the Duck Commander family which had supported McAllister in his initial special election bid for the office but who now declare the incumbent anathema, while leader of the previous independent poll Dr. Ralph Abraham seemingly has slumped into fourth at 11 percent.



Mayo’s singular status and McAllister’s incumbency would make sensible that they lead, but with nobody getting endorsement of even a fifth of the sample shows the contest remains wide open. Most notably, McAllister continues to fall, now down ten points from the first such poll, consistent with the idea that the later the campaign proceeds, the less advantageous his default incumbent status becomes as voters learn more about the other options. That other candidates in the contest have not cracked double-digits shows they likely are to be left in the dust, although with 21 percent of the sample still undecided it’s not impossible one could emerge.

13.10.14

Even for coast, LA processing tax unneeded, bad idea

The idea of a processing tax on energy production in Louisiana is not new. Nor is its endorsement by one who sees energy producers as piƱatas waiting to be busted anything new. What’s new is when a usually-sensible tax-cutting advocate adds support to an inferior idea that will siphon out of Louisianans' wallets hundreds of millions of dollars for no good reason.



The leftist involved here is author John Barry, late of one of the state’s two regional flood protection authorities and prime instigator of a jackpot justice suit against nearly 100 companies that have produced petroleum over the decades around the state’s coast. He envisions billions of dollars sliced from them to be put towards coastal restoration.



On that matter he rightly is chastised by columnist Quin Hillyer, who lends the Baton Rouge Advocate his considerable writing and critical thinking talents, now housed at perhaps the country’s premier opinion journal National Review, on an episodic basis. But in an intellectual lapse, he joins Barry in promoting the processing tax idea, a revived Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy that would tax each barrel of oil or cubic foot of gas that comes into Louisiana’s processing pipeline from the coastal area, whether extracted, transported, or imported.

12.10.14

Decrease budget guessing by requiring modified accrual

Regardless of the explanation of how it got there, the asserted budget surplus for Louisiana to close Fiscal Year 2014 becomes real only through a political process that would benefit from some less ambiguous legal specifications.



Last week, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration declared FY 2014 ended with a surplus of about $178.5 million. But apparently $319 million of that came from an accounting change that caught Treasurer John Kennedy by surprise, leading him to muse whether there was a $141.5 million deficit as computed under some theoretically previous standard.



He hypothesized that discovery of these surplus funds may have come because of a shift of basis of accounting from the modified accrual basis to a cash basis. In essence, that means that balances would be computed by cash inflows and outflows and what was physically on hand, not adjusted for some anticipated, with varying degrees of certainty, receipts and disbursements and disregarding others that would be off the books. That would be unusual for the state to head in that direction because of the 1999 pronouncement of the Government Accounting and Standards Board Statement #34 which said for most things governments should report using the modified accrual basis, so deviation from that in budgeting would complicate reporting, and also for complex organizations like state governments cash basis accounting provides more limited information for decision-making.

8.10.14

Priorities, not taxes or restructuring, to help LA roads



Did Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy, a potential 2015 gubernatorial candidate, recently give a green light to tax increases for transportation? If so, he’s off the more solid ground he occupies in his lectures of the virtues of prioritization.



Kennedy, in speaking to the Transportation Funding Task Force, noted that the public was wary of any additional funding requests for roads building and maintenance unless it was convinced these were carried out in a fashion that reflected true needs of the state, citing other spending uses of capital funds on construction projects that very few would call an important priority. The group is to meet four times prior to next year’s legislative session to give recommendations on how enable the state to eat into a roughly $10 billion backlog of roads requests.



If Kennedy meant he was open to a tax increase to do this, he would be joining for him unusual company. Also on the panel is a former secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development, Kam Movassaghi, who made it a habit during his tenure than encompassed the last six years of the former Gov. Mike Foster Administration to call for tax increases. Even now, one recommendation he wants the group to forward would be to replace the existing regular gasoline tax, the main source of funding for roads, of 16 cents per gallon with an 8 percent levy, which at present oil prices would work out to be around a 50 percent increase, arguing that the tax has less than half of its purchasing power when it was enacted three decades ago.

Can keg stand disguise far left record of Landrieu?

What has allowed Sen. Mary Landrieu to hang on in the U.S. Senate swimming against a stronger and stronger current is exactly the same thing that most likely will end her elected political career this year.



Consider Landrieu’s predicament. In the ex-Confederate states (Virginia, with its northern population tied with an umbilical cord to the big government liberalism of Washington, D.C. excepted), only four Democrats survive in the Senate (with two running for reelection also this year and endangered like Landrieu). Of the six times they have run, none has won by less than Landrieu’s biggest win ever in 2008. And while undoubtedly the presidential ticket of Democrats that won 52 percent of Louisiana’s vote in 1996 helped her win by an official count of fewer than 6,000 votes, in subsequent presidential elections Republicans would take the state with 53, 57, 59, and 58 percent of the vote. In her last election, she remarkably ran ahead of her own ticket some 12 percent.



Her last name does help; would anybody have paid attention to some 23-year-old sorority chick running for the Legislature without a famous last name in the world of state politics, much less have elected her? But the name only paid the entry fee to country club membership; as things transpired, she turned out more than capable of keeping up with the annual dues.

7.10.14

Fix sessions & blight, no on other LA amendments

If you like dealing with constitutional amendments, then you’ll love the Nov. 4 ballot with 14 of them. As a public service for Louisianans faced with making rational decisions on this, here we go with whirlwind recommendations:



#1 – no. This not only would lock in nursing home Medicaid reimbursement rates and put pressure on cutting rates for home- and community-based care, but have them automatically increase – even as legally the state must move people out of institutional care. The lack of budget flexibility introduced almost assuredly would lead to higher taxes, legal difficulties, and reduced funding for the only other significant area that would not be protected, higher education (more information is here).



#2 – no. This allows hospitals to increase prices to sock away in a special protected fund. Similar to #1, it also reduces budgetary flexibility, encouraging tax increases in addition to the indirect “sick tax” and cuts elsewhere (more information is here).