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Smaller LA government, higher taxes seem likely

With Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras’ admission that a fourth special session in 18 months of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ term seems inevitable, the endgame to the fiscal year 2018 budget has arrived.

As bills Edwards supported raising enough taxes to cover a “fiscal cliff” – $1.3 million in revenues from curtailing income and sales tax exceptions plus an extra penny in sales taxes that expire at the end of FY 2018 – never made it out of the cradle, legislative debate has focused on how much of the cliff mattered and how to compensate for it relative in the upcoming year’s budget. Even though expiration assured the money’s availability through that cycle, what to do about the cliff depends upon actions taken with this budget.

Edwards’ budget request so far as totaled about $677 million higher than the House’s version of HB 1 now in the hands of the Senate. He wanted an increase over this year of $440 million, while the House concocted a standstill overall plan then subtracted $237 million, or 2.5 percent, as a buffer in case of revenue disappointments during the year. That would mean the shortfall for FY 2019, given the House’s preferences that would become the baseline moving forward, would be in the neighborhood of just less than half of the cliff’s amount.


Leniency on criminal fines subverts crime reduction

Louisiana’s lawmakers can’t let money concerns overrule good sense when it comes to criminal justice reform, thus requiring compromise within bills such as state Rep. Tanner Magee’s HB 249.

As state policy-makers have made a concerted effort to reform the system that incarcerates more people per capita than any country in the world or than any state in the country, many have sold the effort as a means to save money. They have argued that smarter allocation of resources could result without impairing effectiveness of correctional policy.

But the package of bills to reflect changes to transform the system has faced scrutiny for introducing too much laxity in sentencing and carrying that out. Supporters have had to tone down measures that unwisely would have eroded the deterrent effects concerning the most serious crimes, which also served to erode savings promised.


Caddo-area officials struggling to get with program

Seems a job requirement for many elected officials around Caddo Parish is absolute thick-headedness, judging by their reactions to the evolving Elio Motors controversy and daydreaming about minor league basketball.

Caddo Parish commissioners have become increasingly nervous over Elio, which continues to give signals that it won’t last much longer. The firm desires to build a three-wheel automobile and begun taking reservations to distribute these years ago. To that end, an arm of parish government, the Caddo Industrial Development Board, used $7.5 million in parish money to purchase and lease to Elio two-fifths of the old General Motors plant on the southwest side of the parish.

In response, Elio has kept delaying production while burning through cash at a high rate. That includes proceeds worth millions of dollars from sales of equipment at the site technically under parish ownership, although IDB President Gard Wayt claims only outdated equipment remains. Another entity, Glovis America, said it would lease part of the property as well and had moved closer to launching there production of automobile parts.


Good trafficking bill hijacked for obscure motives

The next chapter in the strange mutation of SB 144 could continue later today in the Louisiana Senate, although more twists could lay ahead if the bill makes it to the House of Representatives.

This bill originally would have barred people from under 21 from performing as strippers in places that serve alcohol. The impetus came to combat human trafficking, which particularly plagues the youngest individuals, research reveals It actually passed last year in a slightly different form without a single dissenting vote, but then lost out on a court challenge that nonetheless demonstrated alterations that could make the law constitutional.

With that in mind, last year’s bill author Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns submitted this year’s more elaborate version, with no controversy expected regarding it. Even when Sen. Pres. John Alario assigned it to the Judiciary B Committee, unlike last year’s that went to Judiciary C – the two have identical jurisdictions – that didn’t seem so odd since Johns sat on the former.


HB 71 support consistent with conservative principles

My colleagues at the Baton Rouge Advocate raise an issue concerning appropriateness of state government intervention particularly according to conservatism, a concept easily understood if cognizant of the scope and purpose of government as defined in America and conservatives’ views on where in the act of governance optimal policy-making occurs.

Referring to HB 71 by state Rep. Thomas Carmody, which passed the House after two hours of contentious rhetoric, the editorial page shows confusion over the issue. Presently, state law mentions nothing about how local governments may deal with objects such as monuments related to military entities and events. In that vacuum, New Orleans through its representative institutions has removed three related to the Confederacy and has plans to cart off one more.

The bill would change the imputed process as it currently exists – the governing authority brings up the issue of removal or other alteration and may decide whether to make any changes – so that a local governing authority would bring up the issue in the form of a plebiscite where the voters in that jurisdiction decide. To this, the Advocate opines, “For the Legislature’s self-proclaimed conservatives, who are supposed to champion limited government, to meddle in how local communities manage their monuments is the height of hypocrisy.”


Costs of well-meaning IG bill more than benefits

While HB 443 by state Rep. Julie Stokes sounds good in principal, it actually serves as an example of unwise rigidity and duplication of government.

The bill would dedicate $2 million a year to the office of the Inspector General, then index the amount to inflation. This agency, whose head is appointed for a six-year term, investigates malfeasance and waste in government, created over a quarter-century ago spurred by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, whose checkered career in state government would end several years later with a corruption conviction.

Supporters pointed out that by giving the agency a stable source of funding then disgruntled elected officials subject to investigations by it could not yank its resources using the budget process. They noted the office had investigatory powers, unlike the other agency in state government with the task of analyzing actions of agencies and their people, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, which meant it had better capacity to root out corrupt activities than if it had to rely upon cooperation. The LLA also acts upon direction by law or the Legislature, while the IG can scrutinize on his own.


Panel refuses to halt LA inspection money grab

The handling of HB 597 provides an object lesson in how not to erase a bad statute from the books.

Earlier this week, the Louisiana House of Representatives’ Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee tossed aside the bill by state Rep. Larry Bagley that would have ended the necessity of vehicles, with the exception of those garaged in parishes – at present East Baton Rouge and four surrounding it – under federal clean air jurisdiction, to have inspections. As originally written, the state would have joined 42 others that do not have an annual or biannual requirement for all passenger vehicles.

Inspections meant something a half-century ago in an era of far less durable vehicles and without modern safety features. Data from about a decade ago when cars were significantly less safe than now show only a little over one percent of all accidents occur because of something wrong with the vehicle that would be part of an inspection – and involved items that easily could fail in between annual or biannual inspections with little warning, meaning it would be blind luck if an inspection happened to pick up on it right before failure.


Changing selection makes convention bill useful

Today the Louisiana House of Representatives Appropriations Committee takes up a measure to call a limited constitutional convention. With some tweaking, it’s an idea whose time perhaps has come.

HB 486 by state Rep. Neil Abramson would begin next year a process that could end up having a substantially revised governing document in place by the time of swearing in of the next governor and Legislature. A committee of 27 representing special interests, elected officials, and academia would meet in the first part of 2018 to determine the necessity of revisions and, if needed, to construct draft portions, followed by election later in the year of 105 others to join them in vetting the document. In 2019, the 132 would consider the changes through May 30, and, if deemed necessary, draft a revision to appear for statewide electoral approval at the time of the regular 2019 elections. Majority assent kicks in the new, revised document (and chooses among any alternatives, an option employed the last – actually in state history only ever – time the state undertook this utilizing a popular vote) at the beginning of 2020, just as new officials come into power.

Essentially, alterations could occur only to four areas of the present constitution: revenue and finance, local government finance, retirement systems, and higher education organization and finance. This deliberate attenuation of scope addresses areas over which a growing consensus has emerged that need change and assuages fears of some both within the public and among elected officials that this threatens to empower government too much and/or reduces their power and influence, as a means to rally support for the idea.