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10.2.05

Something tells me we're not in Louisiana anymore

So now it’s come to this? People so eager to leave this state that they do it for free land in Kansas? And it’s only poor schools and high crime that sent this family fleeing; the husband even had a job here ($90,000 for being a deputy sheriff -- what are they paying them in East Baton Rouge?) and they have to build their own house there.

From the tone of this article, it sounds like the Midwest is pursuing exactly the opposite of the strategy so many in this state, including the governor, are implementing. Is it working? (Note: oddly, or perhaps not so, this story was not in The Times).

In a related matter, C.B. Forgotston pokes fun at the use of multipliers to guesstimate how many jobs get created by relocating some business entity. Actually, I remembered from the dim days of my undergraduate degree (B.A. in public administration) something about this, so my curiosity got the best of me and through the magic of the Internet I found a thorough explanation of this subject.

Anybody who takes the time to go through the paces of the examples in the RIMS II booklet would see that the most multiplied jobs coming from a new concern would be perhaps twice as many (it all depends what new business is coming where and what it does). I’d like to do an analysis myself for Union Tank Car’s new Alexandria plant, but it costs $275 a pop for the tables to do this so I think I’ll pass. Nevertheless, with the 850 jobs guaranteed by the company, that means it will have to hire at least 300 full-time employees for even the most optimistic multiplier to supply the 850 total full-time jobs.

C.B writes we should steal what we want from his site, but I’ll give him due credit for the final words on this topic: “If we want to keep and grow our EXISTING businesses we must reduce business taxes, government red tape and political corruption. It is not possible to bring in enough new businesses to offset the losses of jobs at EXISTING businesses.”

9.2.05

It's 1984 in Shreveport's Mayor's Office

Will the arrogance never cease? With yet another legal question raised about the construction of the city-owned hotel to accompany its under-construction convention center, Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower resorted to a familiar tactic of blaming the legitimate questioners of the project.

This time, it’s about the city’s application for $12 million in capital outlay funds from the state to help construct the $52 million hotel (yes, state taxpayers, you’re on the hook, too). A lawsuit filed today impugns the legality of the city’s use of it to build the hotel, noting that according to the proposal, the money is needed to build two additional levels on a convention center parking garage, to relocate the Greyhound bus terminal, for landscaping and to "prepare the site for ancillary uses."

One obvious question is the building of two more levels and terminal relocation is going to take a lot of that $12 million. And also, is placement of a full-blown hotel really preparing the convention site for “ancillary” uses?

Actually, the choice of this phrase and word is consistent with Hightower’s style of governance: appearance becoming more important than substance. Policy is proclaimed to create a certain impression and image, while its execution is done in a way to favor special interests. Review the synonym “subsidiary” of “ancillary” et voila, there’s Hightower’s hidden agenda for the money, as a subsidy to his unwritten plans.

I’m no legal expert but on face the plaintiffs seem to have a pretty good case. At the very least, this will give state Sen. Max Malone more ammunition to use to attempt to have the state Bond Commission reverse it previous approval to allow the sale of $40 million to fund the project, a request Malone asked the Commission to consider at its Feb. 17 meeting.

Hightower’s reaction, naturally, is yet again to shoot the messenger (which he’s done so often now if this metaphoric person were to drink something he’d need to mop it up right afterwards):

We've been down this road before .... We need to be spending our time building a hotel and protecting the taxpayers' interest, not fighting desperate attempts to destroy the project …. We're tired of spending untold dollars defending frivolous attempts to stop this project.

If nothing else, this struggle has improved Hightower’s ability to use “newspeak” and “doublethink.” In his lexicon, FLEECING is PROTECTING, and LEGITIMATE is FRIVOLOUS. Thus speaks Big Brother Keith Hightower.

8.2.05

Louisiana Delegation Needs to Face Budget Reality on Subsidies

Usually every single member of Congress, regardless of affiliation, finds at least one part of a presidential budget at which to be displeased. President Bush’s fiscal 2006 proposal is no exception with Louisianans in Congress agreeing somewhat on what is the least liked, backed by a powerful constituency.

Parroting their party leadership’s talking points, the urban-based Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Bill Jefferson complained that it had misplaced priorities and hid its true costs. But coming from a pair of legislators who never met government spending they didn’t like (with the exception of national defense) and have consistently voted to disempower the citizenry, these objections rang rather hollow.

But their compatriots with districts of a more rural nature were more specific and united in the major shortcoming they saw, a reduction of almost 10 percent in agricultural subsidies. Naturally, the state’s other federal Democrat official found fault here: Rep. Charlie Melancon, took exception to Bush's cuts to the agriculture industry. But his GOP colleagues also chimed in.

"I anticipated some ratcheting down, but this outlines a pretty good fight for those districts, like the Fifth, that rely so much on agriculture as an economic base," said Rep. Rodney Alexander. "It's necessary to get the deficit under control, but I'm not for doing it at the expense of our farmers. Our farmers are already going to be impacted this year by low commodity prices and high fuel and fertilizer prices. They're just getting by as it is."

Even the urban-based Sen. David Vitter expressed dismay: "I think this hits ag way too hard, and I can't support it as it is," Vitter said. "There will have to be some major discussions, and I know there are other senators who feel the same way."

No doubt he’s correct, which is why agriculture subsidies have been the most difficult vampire to kill in federal spending except for, well, reforming Social Security. The Senate gives overrepresentation to rural states, and some states that aren’t as rural but which are poorer like Louisiana or who have made a killing off subsidies such as Illinois will have senators sharing Vitter’s view.

Of course, it’s a view totally at odds with economic good sense and fiscal discipline. Not only does it deliberately distort the marketplace, but it’s a form of corporate welfare that benefits only a few with two-thirds of all subsidies paid to just 10 percent of all farms and agribusinesses. A Heritage Foundation report displays unambiguously that these subsidies prop up the incomes of earners wealthier than the typical American and, ultimately, distort production away from the “family farmer.”

But it’s the “family farmer” that special interests claim would be hurt by these subsidy reductions. "We'll fight it if it's just on us," said Morgan Smith, president of the North Louisiana Agri-Business Council. "There's not a crop you can plan to plant this year and show a profit. Without subsidies, we'll be in a negative situation."

The first thing to say in response to this statement is this guy doesn’t seem to know economics. The reason why one couldn’t, as he claims, make a profit growing anything is that too much of that thing is being grown. Get a few producers out of business and then everybody left is going to be making money without such a glut of that good. Subsidies only keep marginal producers in business to flood the market.

After noting this, throw in a “so what?” Get the marginal producers in a negative situation and we can be rid of them. Nobody has a right to be a farmer, especially when making others pay for the privilege, so it’s probably a good thing to let a few farms go out of business and allow that capital to be spent and its associated labor deployed for more productive purposes.

Now, the world agricultural marketplace is not free by any means (witness the European Union’s, driven by France, huge subsidies which comprise over 40 percent of its budget, more than anything else) but it’s not like Bush is proposing to end agriculture subsidies entirely. It’s too much to expect the Democrats to slow down nondefense discretionary spending by government, but at least Vitter, Alexander, and others on the Republican side can acknowledge reality and not to let 1.65 percent of the U.S. population (2.5 percent of Louisiana’s) make the rest of us subsidize their lifestyle choices.

7.2.05

Some Shreveporters Want to Throw Back Carnival

In Shreveport, Le Bon Temps Rouler may be coming to an end, or perhaps be substantially modified, maybe only in the short term, by a combination of residents’ concerns and city infrastructure needs regarding its Carnival parades.

Fax-Net Update reports that Shreveport’s Broadmoor Neighborhood Association may be joined by the Captain Shreve Neighborhood Association in asking very nicely that the two krewes (Centaur and Gemini) that parade around their neighborhoods relocate themselves. Each parade departs from downtown Shreveport on a Saturday at 4:00 PM and (assuming no dilatory events occur) reach the ramparts of the northern end of the Captain Shreve neighborhood around 6:30, makes a southern turn to bisect the neighborhoods at about 7:00, and finishes up in the middle edge of Broadmoor around 8:00.

The first two-thirds of the parade go along open roadways and through commercial zones, but the last third is almost exclusively residential. An increasing proportion of residents are beginning to feel that the tremendous traffic hassles lasting for hours on those Saturdays and the unsightliness of portable toilets left around for a two-week period detracts from their quality of life (Shreveport can’t win for losing on this issue – in other cities with Carnival parades such amenities generally are lacking leading to widespread outdoor irrigation by members of both sexes).

Also of concern is that starting next year public works projects in and around parade routes with cause further congestion. Some neighborhood activists are calling for future routes to head straight down the broad Clyde Fant Parkway than runs along the river, which has plenty of open space – but little in the way of room to park cars containing a couple of hundred thousand people and necessitating long walks to any food or drink, whether in the form of commercial establishments or private house parties.

A little comparative perspective is in order here. Such concerns would be greeted with silence, if not outright laughter, by the vast majority of Garden District, Uptown and Midcity residents in New Orleans, Lakeview residents in Metairie, and other denizens along routes in St. Bernard Parish and on the West Bank in Orleans. Many bought their properties precisely because of close access to historic parade routes. The East Kings Highway route in Shreveport that is of most concern is a little different because it is all residential which generally only short stretches of parade routes down south are.

Still, only one side of the route (west side or Broadmoor) is really residential. The other side is taken up by a bayou which does tend to cut down on people flowing into the area. The Captain Shreve neighborhood does suffer in that two sides of it gets wrapped by the parade but there is some insulation (businesses to the north, the bayou to its west).

It’s also worth noting that the Shreveport area is an odd place for there to have developed a Carnival tradition. Like it or not, Carnival has become associated with (for most, at least a restrained kind of) excess which doesn’t fit well with North Louisiana’s more prim and proper demeanor in contrast to its wilder relatives in the southern part of the state. Only in Shreveport is there a going out of the way to promote Carnival parades as “family” events (indeed, the city even creates a “family zone” along the route where boozing is prohibited). In some ways, this controversy harkens back to this fundamental disjointedness of attitude and purpose.

In the final analysis, it’s up to the city to decide where to grant a parade route. And while a growing number of residents indeed may be growing disenchanted, the area is represented by only one of seven city council members and the political lobbying by the commercial interests who do incredible business along the Shreveport-Barksdale Highway corridor during the two parades are factors auguring strongly against any change being forced upon the two krewes.

However, this does not mean that the city can’t do a better job of things. Perhaps improved traffic control, or speedier removal of waste and the containers of it, or even slight route and time changes, will placate residents’ concerns. And greater tolerance, both of residents of a few disruptive hours once a year and of visitors to their neighborhoods to respect the privacy and property of residents, will have without dissension the good times rolling again.

6.2.05

I Could Get a Pay Raise if I Could Get Elected to the Legislature

Legally, a review of compensation of state employees including elected officials must occur soon. Each of the past two years, the board responsible for this report, the Compensation Review Commission, has recommended a raise for Louisiana officials.

Last year, the Commission called for an increase to a flat $41,000 a year salary plus per diem for legislators who are not among the top leaders of each chamber. Currently, including only the base annual salary of $16,800, the per diem of $113 a day (for 2005) and 145 days in session per two years, and the $6,000 a year in unvouchered office expenses, a legislator will make $30,992.50 a year.

Note that this does not include any extra per diem for committee meetings outside the regular sessions, nor any special session renumeration, nor any mileage expenses (40.5 cents a mile). Throw in those things and a typical Shreveport-area legislator can expect to make $35,000 a year.

However, this level is not out of line with what is being done in other states. The National Conference of State Legislatures classifies Louisiana in the middle category of state legislatures in terms of demands made upon them. It reports a Louisiana legislator’s job as 70 percent equivalent of a full-time job, so at the basic case that is the equivalent to $44,275. That’s not bad pay. While many of our legislators do have other, real occupations to supplement this, others do live off their legislative salaries (although some of these also are enjoying retirement benefits simultaneously from other careers).

The Commission’s latest proposal would create a basic package worth, at a full-time equivalent, $70,275 a year (its actual number being $49,192.50). The NCSL average for states in Louisiana’s category is only $35,326 (in 2003). In short, the Commission wishes to pay Louisiana legislators about 40 percent higher than the average for like legislators.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco threatened to veto any pay increases last year but as left the door open this year for them by saying she’d want to see teacher salary increases before one for state elected officials. Considering that Louisiana ranks so poorly in so many indicators and faces a deficit next year in the $500 million range, neither the money is there, nor has the Legislature earned, any increase in compensation whatsoever.