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7.10.05

Stuck on stupid V: Whiners, ingrates, and opportunists

So the whining continues in Louisiana, that the state isn’t getting its handouts fast enough. After the hurricane disasters we’ve come to expect this from the likes of Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her minions such as Economic Development Secretary Michael Olivier, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and other local elected officials, but now a portion of the business community has joined in.
I know this is impossible to expect, but before I hear any more moaning about how it’s unfair that, to date, the vast majority of monies coming from the generosity of the American taxpayer to help reconstruct the state have gone to out-of-state employers and their employees, see if any of the following apply to explain why that may be the case:

  • Did your state government make much of an effort to accomplish anything on its own instead of waiting for the federal government to take care of it and the state? In Mississippi, the state is paying unemployed oystermen to clean up debris – better than having them collect unemployment checks and complain about how out-of-staters were taking all the jobs.
  • Did you price yourself out of the market? Nagin implies there ought to a minimum wage of sorts around the $10 level. But what if the marketplace supports far less? What if it’s cheaper for the federal government (read, the spender of the American people’s money) to hire concerns who can bring in people cheaper than to pay local workers who insist on higher wages because they have used political clout to gain them?
  • Did you forget that of the money coming into the state for reconstruction that hardly any of it is yours in the first place? Don’t forget about the Golden Rule: this money is a gift of the American taxpayers, 98.5 percent of whom are not Louisianans, and they, not you, decide how it will be spent. Thus it’s pathetic when Olivier complains that the federal government contracts to feed people with military MREs rather than use local caterers and restaurateurs. Has he bought so quickly and thoroughly into our particular and peculiar Louisiana liberalism/populism’s notion that the state government has first claim on all resources, regardless of who gives them, that he can’t understand that this money isn’t his government’s and, just maybe, the federal government is trying to be as parsimonious as possible with using the American people’s money?
  • Did you support politicians whose policies have been damaging to business in the state? Populist notions such as “profit equals theft” have sent too many people to the capital eager to pass laws extracting as much as they can from the business community, and to engineer other sweetheart deals where political connections rather than ability and doing the job to specification mattered, making for lazy enterprise. It has created a weaker business environment that frankly needs the help of outsiders in a crisis environment such as this. These attitudes are encapsulated in Blanco’s comment that Louisiana “needs” jobs from the federal spending. No; jobs aren’t given away, they are earned.

    All this griping and buck-passing from local and state governments to the federal government just continues to encourage the rest of the nation to think Louisianans enjoy nothing more than looking gift horses in the mouth, biting hands that feed us, and brings to mind any other cliché arguing that we are ingrates and opportunists. Criticism is fine when warranted, but we don’t have a divine right to any of this assistance and we’re lucky we’re getting what we are, and this carping going on conveys the opposite impression. Maybe a little less time spent bellyaching might translate into more time devoted to getting the reconstruction job done.
  • 5.10.05

    Stuck on stupid IV: Louisiana looters still don't get it

    How long will it take these people to get it? Various Louisiana elected officials of the liberal/populist school of thought bemoan the fact that the state isn’t getting what it “deserves,” when in fact it is they and their way of thinking that discourages the flow of monetary resources into the state.

    From the indirect cash grant side, several take issue with winners of federal contracts mostly being from outside the state and that less money than they think should from these rebuilding contracts go into the pockets of Louisiana subcontractors and workers. Part of this has to do with the fact that, given the subpar economic conditions in the state largely created by inferior government policy which penalizes business and the more productive and contributing members of society, that Louisiana disproportionately has smaller firms less capable of winning these larger contracts.

    But it also has to do with the greater expectation of a handout with lesser expectation of working epitomized by the power unions have in some industries in the state. We must never forget that the sole purpose of a union is to transfer as much money into the hands of its members in exchange for the least amount of work, regardless of the consequences to others.

    It turns out that these contractors find it cheaper to bring in their own employees from out of state than to hire unionized employees in Louisiana to do the same work (and maybe do it better). As federal taxpayers, we must applaud this wise use of our resources.

    But some of our elected officials can’t seem to get it through their heads that it’s the peoples’ money at stake, not theirs that they can toss to favored constituencies to get themselves reelected. Thus, you have the likes of Democrat state Rep. Juan LaFonta aghast that these contractors actually try to be efficient in their use of taxpayers’ money instead of spreading it around to those union members who have priced themselves out of the marketplace by their greed.

    Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco seems to express this attitude too, asking Pres. George W. Bush to rescind his waiver of the ridiculous, archaic Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law. It only reinforces in the minds of the public and national policy-makers that Louisiana is infested by people who want to grab as much as possible of the nation’s cash to spend how they want to, using the recent disasters as an excuse.

    This credibility problem continues with Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon’s companion legislation to Louisiana senators’ pork-laden win-the-lottery reconstruction bill, priced by the Congressional Budget Office at $241 billion. He complains that his Republican colleagues in the state delegation haven’t signed on to the bill, not even his Democrat colleague and looter Rep. William Jefferson.

    Melancon shows he doesn’t get it when he moans, “All of a sudden, we have people in Washington who have a conscience about the federal deficit,” seeming to think that is the basis of criticism is the amount of money. If he had a clue, he would know that the problem is the bill to some degree amount to a laundry list of backdoor funding requests that really have nothing to do with the disasters (for example). Again, it makes Louisiana look like a bunch of looters using the catastrophes as an excuse; reconstruction requests to be successful must be realistic and must not tax the goodwill of the rest of the country and their elected representatives.

    At least House Republicans from the state seem to understand what’s going on. If only an assortment of state Democrats could understand that you need to drop the attitude that they deserve special advantages, and that through respect of taxpayers rather than through raw redistribution politics is the appropriate way to govern. Maybe the latter has worked in this state all too long, but most of the rest of the country left that behind – and Louisiana – long ago.

    4.10.05

    No more majority-black congressional districts in Louisiana?

    We’re now starting to get an idea of the impact that the recent hurricanes will have on Louisiana, particularly in terms of Congressional representation. It may mean it’s like déjà vu all over again.

    Estimates prior to the disasters had the state at the precipice of losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after 2010. There’s no more guesswork now – it’s gone. Louisiana had the third weakest population growth of all states from 2000-03, the weakest of the sunbelt states, at 0.6 percent far below America’s 3.3 percent.

    However, more importantly is how the partisan balance gets affected by all of this. It looks as if the Democrat base of poor blacks will be disproportionately reduced, as some of the more industrious of the bunch find better opportunity in their new locales, while some of the less motivated will not want to spend resources to return since they can just as easily can live off government assistance, perhaps even more lucratively, where they sit right now.

    No doubt this dynamic explains U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson’s prediction that as 2010 approaches New Orleans will only contain a population of 35-40 percent black. At his predicted level of 375,000 in the city, that means he thinks at the high end of his guess that less than half of the roughly 323,000 blacks living in the city will return.

    If 173,000 blacks disappear from the area, this has tremendous partisan consequences. That means one-eighth of the state’s black population goes away, and their proportion of the overall population falls to 27 percent. That would be enough to have a majority-black House district, but one that would have to be drawn in a very convoluted fashion. Orleans as a whole could only make up about half such a district, and it would have to draw in about 225,000 other blacks to make the majority black district.

    There’s only one way to accomplish that – draw a crazy-looking district that snakes through parts of Orleans Parish, runs up Interstate 10, dipping into certain parts of Jefferson Parish, which then curls around the edges of Baton Rouge to gulp in its northern part, somehow avoiding as many whites as possible. It’s the only way to get a large enough number of blacks.

    Yet I’m not sure it can even be done. Recall the Louisiana redistricting cases of the 1990s where the U.S. Supreme Court declared such bizarre-shaped districts drawn almost exclusively to form a majority-minority district were unconstitutional. Almost certainly such a district would run afoul of this jurisprudence, so even a legislature of majority Democrats and/or a Democrat governor may not wish to dare the Court.

    That being the case, this means the state would have no majority-black districts – a situation sure to draw immense criticism from blacks and especially Democrats, with blacks spread out among all districts leading to an anticipated Republican sweep of all six remaining House seats. The political firestorm over this will make Katrina and Rita look like nothing.

    3.10.05

    What BRAC recommendations? Katrina will save Louisiana jobs!

    If at first you don't succeed ...

    Right before the wicked sisters Katrina and Rita struck, rejoicing all around, from city, state and national elected officials occurred when the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) spared New Orleans part of planned activities (thus jobs) cuts as part of its task to align resources and military needs. But it really didn't serve as that much of a consolation prize for the state.

    The original proposal would have closed the Naval Support Activities center in Algiers entirely by taking some things out of state entirely (Navy) and moving other activities (Marines) to the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base. Instead, the Algiers center stays open and the Marines are intended to stay put. Further, the Algiers facility will be reshaped in the hope of attracting new federal clients.

    But, when all is said and done, from the state’s perspective it has lost with certainty almost 1,000 “jobs” (actually, military personnel for the most part). In addition, it has given away $92.3 million to have been pumped into the area economy by the expansion that would have occurred at Belle Chasse to suit the transfer of around 1,500 Marines, instead promising to spend in the neighborhood of $65 million in bonds (perhaps up to $100 million) to rebuild the Algiers facility and hoping to find the private sector willing to pitch in around another $100-135 million for the project. If all goes right, that means the state will forgo possibly as much as $200 million to save 200 jobs for sure and to hope to attract a few hundred, maybe a couple of thousand jobs sometime in the next several years.

    These million-dollar jobs might turn out to be one-sixth that price if the state can talk the federal government into letting the Navy jobs stay and that actually was part of the state’s request. But only slight hope remains that BRAC would come back and change its mind on that account. Further, none of the “federal city” plan even is certain to happen. BRAC gave the state a Sep. 30, 2008 deadline to have funding in place for the conversion. The state says it will not proceed on the project unless it has tenants lined up. If it doesn’t, the Marine transfer happens anyway.

    Economically speaking, the private sector continues to send a loud and clear message by its reluctance to locate in Louisiana in tandem with its showing no compunction to cut back work forces in the state (leading to ferocious spin control from the state), so the only reason we could expect the federal government to be any more bullish on locating activities in the state would be for political reasons. As it is, the “federal city” is in a district held by a Democrat whose state has a Democrat governor. Only its freshman Republican senator could get much in the way of political mileage out of this, but so would its senior Democrat senator (provided she can win reelection in 2008). The only nearby Republican House member also is a freshman.

    In short, the facility, even with tens of millions of state dollars pumped into it, may employ only a fraction of the jobs lost. Even with the state putting in as much as $100 million and refusing another almost $100 million shot into the economy, even with a couple of thousand jobs created (making the total loss only a thousand) these are pretty expensive jobs indeed. And, they won’t be coming our way for many years while the thousand gone leave soon.

    And all of this was prior to damage of facilities as a result of the hurricanes but, worse, the long-term consequences of which in terms of lost area population and productive capacity and future hurricane risk could doom any relocations to make the concept a reality.

    But, wait ... riding to the rescue in both the Republican senator's bill and the Democrat senator's bill (yes, Sens. David Vitter and Mary Landrieu proposed basically the same bill) is the federal government and the generosity of the taxpayers who support it, in the form of giving the state for the porject $160 million! This is pork barreling at its finest. BRAC said the state had to pay to even have a chance at these jobs, and now its senators want to shift the costs away from it entirely and have it ahead $60 million – a nice consolation prize if those jobs don’t show up.

    With the project less attractive than ever before, these senators are using Katrina as an excuse to make it happen anyway. And it’s another reason, besides their miserable performance before, during, and after Katrina and Rita’s vicissitudes, why Louisiana politicians’ credibility continues to erode faster than an Orleans Parish levee.

    2.10.05

    Stuck on stupid III: Landrieu's hypocrisy

    One always can count on Sen. Mary Landrieu to try to make the ridiculous look sublime. The trouble is, she generally fails, and does so again in her weak defense of criticism the Louisiana congressional delegation got concerning its over-the-top $250 billion request for hurricane damage reconstruction.

    The old injunction that we shouldn’t be “afraid to climb those golden stairs” certainly operates here. If you ask for the sun, moon, and stars, maybe you’ll end up with one out of three which will win you a batting title many years, so a huge request in and of itself does not connote poor political judgment. But consider:

  • Louisiana’s reputation for honesty in politics doesn’t exactly stand out, and this has suffered even during Hurricane Katrina relief efforts
  • This compounds the fact that the bill, S. 1765, is larded up with pork barrel and spending items barely related to the disaster – making it look like Katrina is just being used as an excuse to impose on the rest of the country’s goodwill, exacerbating the credibility problem

  • Aid money flowing into the state in the bill would head to a Louisiana-controlled commission, whose state and local officials haven’t exactly distinguished themselves during the crisis

  • Into this environment Landrieu attempts to quell critics of the bill with her name attached to it. Her thesis: “It's that an entire region vital to our national energy supply, security and commerce has been devastated,” and thus needs the full weight of the bill.

    But leopards do not change their spots, and Landrieu’s liberalism and free-spending ways begin to get in the way of this message. Thus, when she writes, “rebuilding this region will take more than just higher levees. We must also build a better education system in the region,” she means the federal government should pick up the tab to improve an abysmal state educational system, one which only recently has gotten serious about improving education, and still makes the mistake of thinking teachers should be rewarded with higher salaries without any direct accountability measures.

    And when she writes “We must provide the infrastructure and appropriate incentives [emphasis added] for businesses and industry that are positioned to accept the risk of reopening their doors,” one must ask, is this the same Mary Landrieu who, in the past couple of years, has voted against tax cuts, against tax cuts for investment, to rescind tax cuts, to raise taxes on many business owners, and who supported changing Senate rules to make it harder to cut taxes, interfering with employers ability to negotiate benefits with workers, and hampering employers ability to deal with pay issues, twice. So she suddenly gets religion when it’s convenient with a huge pot of money at stake? A kind of indirect hypocrisy?

    But she ventures off into direct hypocrisy when she asserts she and others from the Louisiana delegation had made “years of requests to stem the repeated cuts to our flood and hurricane protection programs.” Louisiana recently has gotten more Army Corps of Engineers dollars than any other state, but only a fraction of which went to flood control. In this time period Landrieu made active efforts to steer money away from more useful flood protection towards more questionable projects.

    What the Louisiana delegation needs more now that ever in credibility in their requests and proposed administration of relief monies. S. 1765 lacks that, and Landrieu’s missive does nothing to change it.