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24.11.05

Thanksgiving Day, 2005

This column publishes usually every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed bu the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are five of these: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Thursday, Nov. 24 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

23.11.05

Session results further dig Blanco's political grave

Perhaps it was her governance from the left in her first two regular sessions of the Legislature which attracted too much criticism for her liking. Or maybe it was the gravity of the situation after the hurricane disasters – reality predictably and reliably turns liberals into conservatives. But as Gov. Kathleen Blanco moved towards the ideological center, partly by her own volition, partly by others’, in her managing of the special Legislative session she endangered her political future even as she did many, if lukewarm, necessary things to help the state.

In this session, Blanco let the reins loose on Republican/conservative/good government impulses while pulling back on Democrat/liberal/populist ones. But, as has been her wont, she did so very inexpertly. She supported ethics reform – weak reform. She supported reducing taxes – barely and/or temporarily reducing. She supported budget reductions – but at the margins, not the real structural changes needed except by getting rid of the urban and rural (slush) funds.

By contrast, she did not stop efforts to make minor changes in the election code that if mishandled could promote fraud, or to redefine the nature and purpose of the Budget Stabilization Fund to allow more spending rather than encouraging increased, necessary budget cutting and, worst of all, backed a tepid marginal change in flood control policy in the state instead of throwing her weight also behind a comprehensive, vital overhaul. In short, she grudgingly adopted watered-down versions of the conservative/reform agenda, and allowed her allies on the populist left to have some small victories that left them wanting more.

22.11.05

Last legislative session moments produce troubling results

Two bad things happened on the last day of the Louisiana Legislature’s special session, when attention spans of legislators wane and time constraints make some of them do things they ordinarily shouldn’t.

One was allowing the Senate to hijack HB 140 that would have the effect of preventing the full amount of money that should go into the Budget Stabilization Fund from doing so. The idea originally had been in another Senate bill but when that seemed to go nowhere in the House the Senate seized upon this bill and it easily passed both houses – even its Senate opponents in the Senate bill voted for it. However, this may be because of the contention by many Republicans that the bill is unconstitutional in its attempt to amend the Constitution by statute, and they passed it out simply to be able to challenge it in court if Gov. Kathleen Blanco signs it.

If it holds up or the challenge never comes after Blanco’s expected signature, this doesn’t necessarily mean the state will go hog-wild in spending when cuts may make better sense and to show the federal government that the state is serious about bringing more sanity to its fiscal affairs. Still, it’s best not to have the temptation present.

21.11.05

Stuck on stupid IX: Protecting patronage, not people

On the Louisiana Senate floor, not long after receiving the bad news, Sen. Walter Boasso lamented the coma into which his SB 95 had slipped, as a result of the House’s decision not to fast-track the bill which would consolidate most levee district functions for most levee districts in southeastern Louisiana: “It’s politics as usual.”

He got that right. Unless heroic resuscitation efforts occur immediately, this necessary bill’s (which passed the Senate unanimously) life ends at 6 PM Nov. 22. News reports last week underscored more than ever the importance of such a move in their reporting that evidence of weakened levees in Orleans Parish had surfaced months before the fatal onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, but the bureaucratic maze surrounding the administration of levees stymied efforts to fix the problems.

It’s true that the Army Corps of Engineers’ designs for the levees may have underestimated their strength and were possibly archaic. It’s true that federal officials such as Sen. Mary Landrieu gave flood protection a low priority. It’s true that New Orleans and state officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco and previous mayors, city council majorities, and governors paid insufficient attention to the political ramifications of their appointees to the Orleans Levee District board. It’s true that the Board itself neglected flood control duties in favor of more glamorous pursuits or the absurd. Still, perhaps all of these obstacles could have been overcome had the lines of authority over the levees been clear – a view endorsed by experts studying the problem.

Boasso’s bill would do that. Unfortunately, it also would interfere with carefully built networks of political patronage and power certain elected officials such as state Rep. Ken Odinet (Boasso's opposite number in the House) have built in their backyards. The House’s decision not to send the bill to committee shows a majority in the House, mostly Democrats and/or members of the Legislative Black Caucus, care more about their own and their allies’ power and privilege than protecting the public and their property from ravaging floods. Blanco also must shoulder some of the blame for not pushing harder for the bill, likely fearful it would steal the spotlight from the bill she supports (SB 71) which is far less reaching and would do little to solve this problem.

Time’s about up in this session for the bill, but if Blanco is serious about flood control she’ll include the item in her January special session call and this time she’ll crack the whip for it on the good old boys who once again have done the things that keep this state in the rear and, as always, will use their points of personal privilege on their chamber’s floor to moan about how they’re being treated “unfairly” in the media when it reports these things. It just goes to show yet again how they’re stuck on stupid.

20.11.05

Stuck on stupid VIII: Louisiana in need of tough love

While it well may be true that the vast bulk of federal emergency monies given to states has been forgiven, neither should Louisiana expect this nor should it be any surprise that it won’t happen given state leaders’ past and present behavior.

Even as Sen. David Vitter has hinted that payback provisions for federal aid would be waived by the Republicans who control the federal government (just in time for 2008 elections), behind this unspoken clemency is the expectation that Louisiana shows it’s trying to help itself by making fiscally prudent choices in the aftermath of the hurricane disasters.

Instead, the Democrat good-old-boy network in the Legislature and its good-old-girl equivalent in the executive branch keep sending absolutely the wrong signals to Washington. The state owes about $30 million on its first “installment,” leaving the Gov. Kathleen Blanco Administration to fret how to meet it. Well, why weren’t they thinking about that when they, through the Blanco-controlled State Bond Commission, authorized some $45 million in capital outlay expenses to go ahead, despite the fact that $17 million of them were peripheral, if not even really necessary, especially in light of what should have been adjusted budget priorities?