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Congress polarization good unless too personal

Some Louisiana former members of Congress got together recently to whine about Congress. Analyzing past their carping, one can discern the real reasons triggering their views of increased divisiveness in the chambers and its larger meaning.

Rodney Alexander, John Breaux, and Billy Tauzin recently addressed the Council for a Better Louisiana on their perceptions of today’s Congress. All served in the House of Representatives and Breaux additionally in the Senate, which he departed in 2005. Tauzin also left then, and Alexander took off in 2013.

Thus, only Alexander’s experience is reasonably recent, although all have maintained somewhat close connections to the institutions, because they work as lobbyists. That fact clues us in to understanding the insularity of their observations. Nothing like hanging around the same clique, even if it refreshes it membership, for 35 years like Breaux to isolate yourself exceptionally from the rest of the country and the typical citizen.


LA public defense allocations deserve scrutiny

Lots of different sources receive blame for the chronic money shortages faced by Louisiana’s public defenders. And they all deserve it, including the public defenders themselves.

Last year, a new law mandated distribution of at least 65 percent of regular revenues flowing to state public defense go to individual districts. While this increased the total going to districts, controversy has broken out over these allocations.

Public defense funding in Louisiana always has had problems, because so much of the amount for each district derives from local court adjudication. This relies heavily on law enforcement activity; for example, greater diligence in writing traffic tickets means more money for public defense. Thus, defenders suffer the vagaries of enforcement decisions as well as growing attempts by prosecutors to divert that flow of money to defenders through court diversion programs.


Edwards spins to deflect from tax, spend agenda

Gov. John Bel Edwards depends upon the public missing the real story whenever investigating state finances, and he’ll do his best to deflect attention from it.

Last week, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released its annual report on money kept at the Department of the Treasury. It noted that the total amount bankrolled (which excludes certain funds like for pensions) came to around $6 billion, a decrease from $8.4 billion in fiscal year 2013. Most of that decrease came from state investment funds, some $2.2 billion. The amount available actually had gone down to $1.9 billion in FY 2016, but recovered by a half-billion this year mainly due to $600 million in increased tax revenues.

The Edwards Administration was ready, willing, and able to spin these numbers: “The Legislative Auditor’s report on the state treasury department findings further underscores what … Edwards has been saying about the state’s budget problems. Multiple funds sweeps and other irresponsible and deceptive practices that were used by the previous administration to artificially balance the budget with one-time funds created the state’s current fiscal crisis. Those types of decisions reduced state assets held in the treasury to the point where the state had to take out revenue anticipation notes to make sure its bills were paid on time.”


No, EBR can't stop St. George from incorporating

You can be sure that somebody’s argument operates from incredible weakness when they talk about how complicated is an issue. Case in point: the possibility of blocking creation of the city of St. George in regards to the contents of East Baton Rouge Parish’s Plan of Government.

On the surface, it might surprise observers that, during the protracted battle to incorporate St. George out of most of the southern unincorporated area of the parish, Sec. 1.05 of the document never came up. Its last sentence, after exempting Baker, Central, and Zachary, reads, “No additional city, town or village shall be incorporated in East Baton Rouge Parish.”

If enforced, that would have stopped St. George in its tracks. Indeed, Parish Attorney Lee Anne Batson said, decades ago when the Plan and metropolitan government came into existence, it explicitly wished to write in only the existing cities of Baton Rouge, Baker, and Zachary, prohibiting all others.


Scrap new N.O. personnel rules that discriminate

Although the problem may find proper resolution beforehand, when New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell assumes office in five months she may have the chance to prevent a flaw in city civil service rules from violating Louisiana’s Constitution if not individuals’ civil rights.

Last week, the city’s personnel director Lisa Hudson ruled a batch of Fire Department promotions were tainted by discrimination. In 2016, Chief Timothy McConnell promoted dozens of firefighters to captain’s rank, under revised rules stemming from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s “Great Place to Work” Initiative. The package’s promotion claims the effort is to “create a merit-based employment structure where decisions about hiring, promotion, and pay are made based on the individual employee’s abilities and performance” and it would “modernize – not eliminate – our civil service system.”

Civil service systems exist to ensure extraneous factors that don’t bear on doing the best job possible don’t influence decisions to hire, fire, promote, demote, or other reward or punish government employees. But changes made under the initiative’s aegis allowed precisely this.


Kennedy tactic questions Edwards' competence

Perhaps Republican Sen. John Kennedy’s attack on Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ criminal sentencing reform package contained more than one layer in a bid to challenge him in 2019.

In my most recent Baton Rouge Advocate column, I noted how criticisms Kennedy levied against measures championed by Edwards to reduce numbers and lengths of sentences of incarceration appealed to a law-and-order populist crowd. He did this in a way to suggest Edwards had put public safety at risk by reducing prison populations without putting in place enough resources to discourage recidivism, but more overtly by calling the Department of Corrections incompetent to handle the transition.

He made this charge by reminding of numerous black eyes suffered by DOC over the past few years. But he also lumped in the Department of Public Safety, increasingly in the spotlight for the nervy antics of its former commander Mike Edmonson. Apparently, investigators believe Edmonson engaged in corrupt behavior that escalated in brashness over time, ripping off taxpayers and winking at other favored individuals who did the same, even obstructing investigations.


Shreveport contracting process needs reform

As Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler enters a reelection year, changes she could galvanize City Council support to alter city’s contracting procedures, both giving voters a reason to return her to office and injecting greater confidence into city use of taxpayer dollars.

Shreveport sends deals exceeding $10,000 through its Architectural/Engineering Selection Committee for contracting in these areas. This fall, criticisms, particularly from City Councilman James Flurry, have come that its current structure and procedures in the city’s ordinances present too many opportunities for a mayor to enforce a pay-for-play regime that puts rewarding political allies first.

The committee has nine members, but the mayor in reality appoints six entirely controlled by her – four city department heads she can fire at will and two citizen appointees. Another she must appoint but does not employ is the director of the Metropolitan Planning Commission. The Shreveport City Council selects its chairman and clerk for the other two.


Abandonment highlights LA anti-competitive taxes

So, how’s that convoluted Louisiana corporate tax code that requires state-sanctioned bribery working out?

It appears Jefferson Parish-based Smoothie King will emulate a number of larger past Louisiana-headquartered corporations and head to greener pastures. All signs seem to indicate inevitable decampment to Texas by the franchiser with nearly 1,000 locations.

That could have happened 5 years ago, but the state stepped in with an incentive package for it to stay, that looks to end up costing taxpayers over $2 million. This figure could have gone a bit higher, except the firm did not hit all of its job and payroll numbers.