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Regional transportation idea faces too many hurdles

In all of the clutter expressed about Louisiana transportation needs and funding options that almost always focus on raising gasoline excise taxes at the pump, gubernatorial candidate Sen. David Vitter came up with something different. Unfortunately, in this case, “different” does not mean “better.”

It’s not that Vitter’s idea for a taxation regime at the local level that could come from a variety of sources was worse than tacking on more cents to the gallon – it actually could turn out better by presenting more options – but that in his idea was to make it regional. Employed in a few isolated instances in the country – perhaps the best examples being the Metro government in and around Portland, OR, and the Metropolitan Council in the area containing and around Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN – the idea is that greater efficiency in use of tax dollars and better planning come from subgovernments working together instead of in uncoordinated fashion or even at cross-purposes.

Transportation systems provide a key input into how metropolitan areas grow and the economic development that comes from that. Haphazard structuring resulting from discrete units deciding independently would come substantially less often through chance if some kind of regional government made decisions about building roads, mandating that this unit takes care of collecting the revenues to finance building and executing that task.


Obamacare keeps costing Louisianans needlessly

Thanks to the ill-conceived Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Louisianans face some of the highest health insurance costs and premiums in the country, and the bad effects of the law promise to keep on giving this gift that only those interested in wealth redistribution want.

As rates are being proposed for the 2016 year for the health exchanges ordered under law, Louisiana suffers through a 12 percent average increase for this year, tied for fourth-highest among the states and District of Columbia, which set the average premium for a “silver” plan at $359 a month, sixth-highest in the country and well above the national average of $314, for a state whose per capita income ranks only 30th. But, guess what, for those receiving subsidies, the price is expected to go up hardly at all – which means, of course, that taxpayers get billed for almost all of these increases.

This is one reason why Louisiana’s rates are so high and promise to go higher and more intensely so – given the relatively poor lifestyle choices made by a large number of qualifiers for subsidies (Louisiana as a whole ranks near the bottom of states on a number of key health indicators reflective of habits in the areas of eating, drinking, smoking, and exercise), their health is worse, but with them not having to pay much if anything for health care (either through Obamacare or Medicaid), they have reduced incentive to make the effort to live healthier lives that would cut down on costs. However, another reason is that the health insurance market nationally has become more and more concentrated, reflected particularly in Louisiana.


Caldwell actions merited Landry GOP endorsement

It’s not that it’s rare; it’s that it’s never happened before. Until the Louisiana Republican Party endorsed former Rep. Jeff Landry against incumbent Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell for the latter’s job this fall, no statewide office incumbent ever elected as a Republican had faced a challenger endorsed by the party. And it had good reason to make this historical move.

Of course, having been no statewide office GOP incumbents in the post-Reconstruction era until former Gov. Dave Treen’s win in 1979, it’s only been in the 21st century where there has been any real opportunities to have Republicans elected to these offices, much less run for reelection and have a strong challenger from the party emerge. The only other time this has happened was in 2011 when Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne fended off former Plaquemines Parish Pres. Billy Nungesser, with the party issuing no endorsement on that occasion.

Nonetheless, to pick a challenger of the party over one of its incumbents should raise eyebrows regardless of how many opportunities have existed for that to happen. Yet if you happen to be a conservative, there’s no real mystery to why it happened this time.


Edwards campaign can't obscure disappointing truth

With three months to go, the gubernatorial campaign of state Rep. John Bel Edwards has increased the vigor of its whistling into the wind as more adverse information comes in about the state of all the candidates’ campaigns.

The Democrat faces three well-funded Republicans for the state’s top offices, Sen. David Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. In the most recent fundraising period, he raised much less than these GOP adversaries, and at around a million bucks has one-fifth Vitter’s total banked, about half of Dardenne’s, and is even with Angelle, who did outraise him by a factor of seven in the latest period. Add in affiliated political action committee funds, and his disparity with all becomes even greater.

That’s not necessarily the end of the world. As the only Democrat in the contest and with his base disproportionately of the yellow dog variety, just having that singular “D” by his name on the ballot means he doesn’t need to spend a penny to get a quarter of the votes cast. The problem is having that “D” also repels at least a quarter of the vote and as for the other half makes them skeptical, and only vigorous campaigning that requires lots of cash can hope to flip a majority of that half open enough to voting for a Democrat in a statewide contest to do exactly that.


Unshackle Harrah's to maintain state revenues

As the culture in Louisiana changes, partial adaptation to that by policy-makers is as bad as not adapting to it at all, as the nexus of nonsmoking and casino revenues demonstrates.

Once may be a coincidence, but twice looks like a trend: monthly revenues are down year-over-year at Harrah’s New Orleans’ land-based casino twice in a row, just after the city banned smoking almost everywhere indoors making it the only casino in the state so circumscribed. It’s likely that a good portion of the $9.2 million fall, or about three-tenths of June, 2014 revenues, came because those who gamble and smoke don’t like to hover outside when lighting up and either don’t patronize the place or use time they would have gambled to puff away outside.

This has consequences for the bottom line of all of state and local governments. The state is required to receive the greater of 18.5 percent of gross revenues or $60 million a year from Harrah’s. Lopping off $110 million a year makes it rather difficult for Harrah’s to meet this expense and thereby stay in business; in fiscal year 2014 it paid just over $72 million to the state. Until 2001, the state demanded $100 million a year.



LA defending right Constitutional principles priceless

Louisiana spent a lot of money defending its Constitution for something overturned by federal judicial fiat. It was worth it.

Last month’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that protected from prohibition by states a product of homosexual activity, same sex marriage, ended up costing the state at least $330,000 in fees it paid outside counsel for that defense; these dollars might have been lower in terms of manpower had state attorneys handled the case that Louisiana’s constitutional ban, approved by over three-quarters of voters over a decade ago, was within powers granted by the states that should not be abrogated by including practices not already listed in the Constitution as protected as in the case of free speech and religious exercise. That figure probably will end up half again higher when court costs and reimbursement of the plaintiffs’ legal fees are figured in. Ironically, because Louisiana’s case presented the best exposition against the plaintiffs’ claims, that probably increased the costs.

Of course, a half a million dollars is relative. After all, Louisiana wasted, net, around $170 million in motion picture investor tax credits in the last year for which there is calculated data, and probably will waste around $50 million this year in the earned income tax credit that discourages working to maximal effort. Still, anything is better for use than having nothing available.


Resign-to-run would cost LA more than benefit it

So, New Jersey legislators want to indulge in pique, soothe bruised egos, and half bake concern over state governance by forcing officeholders to resign for office if they declare candidacy for another. While experiencing a similar dynamic in Louisiana with Gov. Bobby Jindal running for president, such a move brings more costs than benefits.

These kinds of laws exist in a handful of states, varying in their scope. A couple are absolute, negating running for anything at any time without resignation. A couple more limit the resignation imperative only up to the last year or so in that office, and still others apply any resignation requirement to only a circumscribed range of offices.

Just looking at the 2015 governor’s race here, depending upon the kind of law, all, some, or none of the current candidates would be able to run. Under the most stringent law, not a single one could have declared a candidacy, or in another couple of instances upon qualifying, unless resigning their current offices. Under more relaxed scenarios, as their terms in other state offices end at the beginning of next year, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. John Bel Edwards could have avoided resigning by making a declaration as late as early this year, but in no instance could have Sen. David Vitter or Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.


LA should end deal with combative hospital operator

The best defense is a good offense, and so the private-public partnership for charity hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe has descended into farce as the state claims breach of contract and the operator sues its presumed opposition, providing so far the only real blemish on a largely successful transition into this model.

You knew trouble might develop when the state made the decision to turn over operations at all but one of its ten state-run general hospitals to nongovernment entities with the eventual deal almost two years ago for Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center – historically managed together – going to the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana. The nonprofit established nearly three decades earlier had no experience in managing health care except for operation of a PET scanner and had subsisted mainly off of taxpayer dollars (renewed only recently).

Until then, all of the hospitals were run directly by the Louisiana State University System which still officially oversees the operators, and all but the north Louisiana hospitals ended up under the management of nonprofit entities that run hospitals, although one partner in central Louisiana was a for-profit company. For its part, the BRF created a subsidiary to manage the hospitals, now called University Health Systems, past a startup period.