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5.5.05

Odom wins; Louisiana loses

Well, Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom wins the first round. The Senate Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee shot down state Sen. James David Cain’s SB 43 which would have forced the Louisiana Agriculture Finance Administration to follow the same law that every other government agency in Louisiana must, in terms of bids to perform public services.

This has allowed Odom to use public professional employees, some with advanced degrees and holding upper-level managerial slots, to perform unskilled construction work. In addition, this lets Odom award contracts to whomever the panel likes (read: him) without any oversight.

This arrangement has been criticized because of the injuries on the job that state employees not hired for construction work have sustained, costing the state millions in claims, as well as the fact that if such employees have time to perform such work in addition to their state-specified jobs, it raises the question whether the Department of Agriculture is overstaffed.

But the most serious problem was raised by panel member Sen. Jay Dardenne, who argued the ability of LAFA to unilaterally hire whoever they pleased opened up the potential for abuse of authority. Odom’s clever rejoinder: “But you have to show the abuse, and it's not there.”

OK, tell you what, why doesn’t Odom, and every other elected official in Louisiana hand over their power to Gov. Kathleen Blanco? We can’t point to any abuse she committed in office, so that means she deserves unlimited power without any oversight, because surely she would not commit any abuses? Of course, the idiotic fallacy in Odom’s retort is that, as James Madison showed long ago, unless you have a government providing proper oversight, with different power centers checking each other, abuse will occur whether we can detect it. It doesn’t matter if we had Pope John Paul II running LAFA, government still should have proper oversight in place, as Dardenne tried to argue.

Odom tried to explain away the exceptional treatment of this agency in other ways:

  • This authority was needed to expedite “emergency” situations – but what difference does it make if you waste the taxpayers’ money on a needless sugar mill in Lacassine sooner rather than later?
  • It also apparently allows him to use Louisiana labor, as evidenced by the lack of “foreign” license plates Odom cited at his construction sites – Bob, where might these foreign plates be from, Mexico? Canada? (Do I even have to point out the absurdity of the logic of this

    (Whoa! I’m sitting listening to the House of Representatives audio feed and on HB 789 representatives are questioning whether the bill, which allows contracts for certain water treatment facilities, will allow for the “Bob Odom treatment” of not having to let out public bids for contracts. Which makes this next statement even more disappointing to write:)

    Unfortunately, only Dardenne and Sen. Chris Ullo voted to send Cain’s bill on. Sen. Cleo Fields ducked the issue by saying more study was needed about “emergencies” (what is so crucial that it can go through a 30-day wait for LAFA but can’t go through a 90-day public bid process?) and Sen. Reggie Dupre said the current court case involving this authority needed to be resolved first (doesn’t the Legislature make the law, not the courts?). Sens. Charles Jones and Noble Ellington flat out voted against it without reservations. So this bill will not see the light of day barring a miracle.

    Maybe there will be better luck on HB 232 which essentially would restrict the powers of Odom. Don’t count on it, being that the bill got referred to the House Agriculture Committee chaired by Odom’s bootlicker Rep. Francis Thompson. With time expired for new bills to be introduced, maybe the best course simply is for Blanco to line item out money for LAFA if the Legislature doesn’t have the guts to remove this money itself.
  • 4.5.05

    PAR errs on the side of government, not the people on taxes

    The Public Affairs Research Council is of the opinion that almost all of the property tax-related bills in front of the Legislature should be rejected. The bills, almost all of which either create or raise exemptions or make it more difficult to raise such taxes, it argues would hamper local governments’ flexibilities in funding their own activities.

    In 2000, local governments in Louisiana raised a little over $2.5 billion from their own resources and forgoes approximately 30 percent of that because of property tax exemptions on individuals. Of that total, roughly 80 percent is from property taxes, which are even more valuable to local governments in that real property is one thing the state itself does not use as a revenue source. Thus, PAR’s concern is real.

    But also it is misplaced. A good case can be made that most of the requests to increase categories of exempt persons are not really necessary, but two definite changes that must be made are those proposed by SB 25 and HB 68.

    The former removes the income cap, now $56,744, on homesteaders of 65 or above, at which they could claim to have their property continued to be valued at the assessment when they turned that age. This is a good example of the class warfare often visited upon the state’s citizens. Expenses can be high for the elderly, particularly health care, regardless of their income and this break will help those against whom high costs do not discriminate but who are now are discriminated against on the basis of income. The latter would exempt disabled individuals under the same standard.

    Yet even more necessary are measures to curtail local governing bodies’ abilities to allow increases in property values as a result of quadrennial reassessments. This protection against automatic roll-forwards is essential because, unlike something like a sales tax which is precisely measured and based on active economic transactions, property taxes are measured infrequently, not terribly precisely, and are valued on the basis of passive, even no (if the property doesn’t change hands or gets improved), activity.

    PAR’s reasoning here is that:

    Taxpayers are already protected from unreasonable property tax increases in two ways. First, most tax increases or renewals require voter approval. Second, after each reassessment, millages are automatically rolled back to prevent increased collections due to the higher property assessments. The taxing body may roll the millages back up to their former level only after a public hearing and by a two-thirds vote. Thus, higher assessments will not always translate into higher taxes.

    Thus, since protections already are in place, PAR argues that things such as limiting increases or making it harder for authorities to roll forward are too restrictive. But whoever wrote this report missed their own internal contradiction: the citizenry itself can choose to override anything the authorities do by permitting tax increases itself!

    In other words, it does not matter how stringent such requirements may be on the authorities, public votes always can raise property taxes. For some reason, PAR would rather err on the side of government, even though it has a coercive, unlimited power to tax, by not making it harder for it to raise taxes, than on the side of the people, helpless to resist this onslaught other than by periodic elections and recall power. The goal then should be to make the exercise of this power by authorities as difficult as possible, while still allowing the people to retain it.

    By this logic, the best of these bills, being the most restrictive on government, is HB 335 which removes roll-forward power completely from local authorities. If additional property taxes are needed, then government can make a case to the people by asking them to pass a new tax with more mills. If it’s a reasonable one, the people will pass it.

    In its analyses on this issue, PAR needs to realize it is the power of the people, not government that should be enhanced.

    3.5.05

    Where's there's smoke, there's Hightower

    The questioning became quite noticeable when Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower began a maniacal pursuit of funding to build a public hotel. Despite legislative, popular, and researched rebuffs, Hightower’s persistence continues to drive the project forward, even as it is shown the legislative delegation is mostly against it, the public doesn’t support it, and the numbers show it can’t support itself. Why?

    The noise level grew further when it came out that associates of Hightower were receiving some fairly favorable treatment when it came to paying back loans guaranteed by the city for community development purposes. Hightower said he’d shut the program down, but it had been going like that for years. Why?

    The buzz got louder when, most recently, Councilman Thomas Carmody questioned the curious timing and series of transactions regarding operation of the city landfill, its operator BFI, renewal of its contract, a middleman company called River Cities Disposal who counts as officers and directors Hightower’s associates, and the company’s connection with a real estate deal involving a partnership of Hightower’s and some associates, all in the context of pointing out that the deal was costing the city money.

    2.5.05

    Benedict's accession to bring good things to Louisiana

    So we’ve got a new Holy Father; what does that mean for Louisiana? Perhaps no place in America will be affected more than here, given its higher proportion of Catholics and the fact it has by far the most black Catholics of any state.

    Because of his role heading up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German cardinal earned a reputation as a strict traditionalist, sometimes aggressively defending the church. It was a reputation that has those who call themselves Catholics, as well as those outside of the Church, who disagree with those views, nervous that their modernist agendas will suffer setbacks. As a result, comments from these people include things along the lines of “being a pope is different from being a cardinal” or “he’s a transitional pope because of his age” or “he may well surprise people.”

    All true. Then again, many thought John XXIII would be transitional yet he lived long enough to launch the reforms of Vatican II. And Benedict XVI leaves a long track record of scholarly publications and actions demonstrating the unlikelihood of his wavering from defending the Church against the excesses of the modernist spirit.

    1.5.05

    Bernhard moves to makes Democrat dinosaurs DINOs

    Is the Louisiana Democratic Party edging closer to reality? Party Chairman Jim Bernhard looks to be getting his footing after a rocky start not only by endorsing state Rep. Yvonne Dorsey’s HB 694, but putting his money where his mouth is by calling Democrat households to stump for the measure, favored by Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The bill creates requirements similar to those concerning the governor, some legislators already covered by other laws, and those required to be followed by Congress.

    Yet just because many others do something positive doesn’t mean Louisiana legislators have to, according to Democrat state Rep. Charlie DeWitt, who took offense to the campaign. He said such meddling would drive people out of the party and into the GOP column or into dealigned independence.

    I see, so to the likes of the dinosaur DeWitt, the Democrats are the party of as little disclosure as possible and thus weak ethics? He’s probably right, but that’s a version of the party Blanco and Bernhard seem to want to see go to the way of the dinosaur. And at this point, this action seems to show that Blanco has gained considerable control over the party apparatus (in all likelihood much to the chagrin of its erstwhile puppeteer and dinosaur Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom).