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20.4.17

Remarks indicate LSU chief getting restless

He might as well take out a full page advertisement announcing it: my singular uber-boss (although he serves under two collective entities), Louisiana State University Pres. F. King Alexander, apparently is on the market for a new job.

There seems no other way to explain comments he made yesterday during a symposium regarding the intersection of race and public policy. The main speaker, Baton Rouge Mayor-Pres. Sharon Broome, broached a number of topics.

But at one point, Alexander interjected something Broome hadn’t addressed: the 2015 petition by residents representing most of the unincorporated area of East Baton Rouge, styling themselves as creating “St. George,” to form their own municipality. Without prompting, Alexander volunteered that “We worked together successfully about a year and a half ago to make sure the city wasn't split in half” and then, by way of mentioning a documentary that alleged racist motives behind the incorporation drive, asked Broome how to prevent a similar future attempt. By law, no such try can occur prior to this summer, an effort past organizers have signaled they will resume.

19.4.17

Bill submission shows Edwards on the ropes

No doubt as an Army officer Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards loathed ordering his men to retreat. He must not be feeling all that great today.

Today, Democrat state Rep. Sam Jones filed HB 638, which would postpone the Jun. 30, 2018 sunset date for the one cent increase in sales taxes enacted just over a year ago for five years. Jones, who shared a desk with Edwards for eight years in the Legislature, alleges he received no marching orders from the Governor’s Office to do this but did it now because bill filing ends today.

We must take that assertion with a grain of salt. Dozens of bills already existed addressing sales tax, many by Democrats, who would not have minded an amendment like this if and when the need arose. Nor must a commander give a direct order for his subordinates to intuit a course of action. No; this comes precisely because Edwards has realized the need for it has arisen, in a form most easily controlled by him.

18.4.17

Politicized report elicits climate alarmist screed

This week the Louisiana Legislature begins review of the state’s politics-infused 2017 Coastal Master Plan, just in time for the state’s dotty old uncle of environmentalism, former newspaperman Bob Marshall, to go off the rails on related matters.

Marshall now has a gig at his old stomping grounds, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, apparently to pen opinion pieces now and then about environmental matters. His initial piece indicates that, if in his personal life he has the same intensity of religious faith as he does in the belief of significant anthropogenic climate change, when the time comes he’ll head to Heaven in record time.

The piece began by proclaiming recent moves by the Pres. Donald Trump Administration to reverse the draconian environmental policies of former Pres. Barack Obama would drown Louisiana, and it went downhill from there. Allegedly everyone living within 35 miles of the coast faced a “death sentence,” while those 15 miles more inland merely had to look forward to “soaring flood insurance rates.” He expressed this not just his “opinion,” but as the “judgment” rendered in the plan, approved a few months ago by the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

16.4.17

Easter Sunday, 2017

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

This Easter Sunday, I invite you to explore this link.

13.4.17

Bill should add taxis to rideshare state regulation

The Louisiana Legislature met me halfway. But I argue in the case of point-to-point passenger transportation it should go all the way.

Last year, this space recommended, as a number of local jurisdictions began to regulate transportation network companies (that is, rideshare arrangements), that the state move in to assume the regulatory role. At least one attempt now hasappeared, HB 527 by state Rep. Kenny Havard, which would have the state Department of Transportation and Development create standards and conduct permitting, kicking back 0.95 percent of gross receipts of the rides to the points of origins’ local governments (having taken out .05 percent for administrative expenses).

Complaints from local jurisdictions have come in two kinds. One, the language within the statute some consider not restrictive enough, in areas such as insurance, background checks, drug testing, surge pricing in case of emergencies, and determination of discrimination in provision. Local ordinances reflect some or all of these; for example, in New Orleans a detailed receipt must be generated at the end of a trip and the data reported to the city that could use it to assess whether some form of discrimination is occurring, while the proposed law allows for sending a receipt electronically with less information and no mandatory forwarding of the data to the state.

12.4.17

LA must combat populist impulses on waterworks

Lack of money only plays a small part in woes across many government-run water systems in Louisiana. Inability to keep adequate records and accounting has something to do with it as well. But the main cause of over $5 billion in maintenance needs statewide plaguing local government water utilities is the state’s populist heritage, which any corrective policy must address.

Thrown into sharp relief with the problems encountered by the town of St. Joseph – crumbling infrastructure eroded water quality that necessitated state intervention – the event spurred the Louisiana Legislative Auditor to include a look at systems run by local governments as part of its performance audit of private and nonprofit water works regulated by the Public Service Commission. The results revealed a potentially large-scale crisis ready to erupt statewide.

It turns out that over half of all systems have significantly aged infrastructures, creating larger pent-up demand for refurbishment or replacement. Relatively small systems, defined as serving 3,300 or fewer properties, comprise an even higher proportion of the total, which cannot enjoy economics of scale in operation. With these higher costs, a significant number of government systems operate in the red. Mainly among the smaller, some governments operate their systems poorly, with faulty collection practices and accounting lapses, the latter preventing them from applying for state-backed loans for repairs and upgrades, as legally a government must have a clean audit to do so. They also become prone to wasting water through seepage, theft, and laxity.

11.4.17

State must take taxpayers off hook of dubious deal

In the face of far more important priorities and much more cost effective venues, the time has come for Louisiana to end its experiment with Hodges Gardens State Park, located near Florien.

About a decade ago the state assumed control of the land, which a citizen had built and ran as a private facility. For a half-century, the family developed it as a botanical garden open to the public. But times changed and with the completion of Interstate 49, it became too expensive to run and began to deteriorate. Then, political connections brought it to the attention of the state, and a sweetheart deal to have the state operate it while the family’s foundation technically still owned it blossomed.

From the start controversy surrounded this transaction, as its transfer came along with a mysterious unrelated land swap clouded in intrigue. Then-House Speaker Joe Salter backed the bill, and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed it that, even without the dubious swap, would add forecast costs to the state of $1.5 million annually in the aftermath of the hurricane disasters of the year before.  Naturally, over the years the state learned the same truth as did the owners and now along with a few others parks the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism has signaled it might close these should the state’s revenue environment not improve significantly.

10.4.17

Politicized speech earns obstinate Edwards D-minus

With equal parts pugnaciousness and disingenuousness, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ highly-politicized 2017 State of the State speech laid out a truly flawed vision for Louisiana going forward.

One could gig Edwards – who appeared to need new contact lenses – for spreading a host of specific misperceptions and mendacious arguments in his address. For example, as if trying to bolster weaker arguments to come, he started by spreading the usual selective information about Medicaid expansion, concentrating on individual stories representing the several dozen of over 400,000 new enrollees who obtained medical treatment through the program, and alleged it would continue to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Of course, he ignored inconvenient truths about expansion. He did not mention that roughly half of the new enrollees likely dropped insurance from the private sector, socializing their costs onto taxpayers. Nor that “savings” come as a result of higher taxes on insurance and hospital visits passed down to people, nor that the escalating costs of the program – which may go much higher depending upon Medicaid reform coming out of Washington – that already increase on an annual basis each Louisianan’s share of the national debt by $500 (or, perhaps more precisely, for each federal income taxpaying filer in the state $1,200 each year) and will cost state taxpayers by 2020 hundreds of millions of dollars more extra, regardless of the hundreds of millions squeezed from them from those higher taxes that prop up current expansion spending.