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31.3.06

Stuck on stupid XV: LA politicians need to get over it

I had hoped the whining had stopped. Instead, it reached a new crescendo when the federal government announced its latest cost estimates showed rebuilding levees in southeast Louisiana to protect against hurricanes in the top percentile of strength would cost almost triple the original estimate.

Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who at this time last year didn’t indicate she cared one iota about flood protection, fumed the federal government “cannot ensure even the minimum safety of southeastern Louisiana. This is totally unacceptable.” A “visibly angry” Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, who in the past steered flood protection money to less vital projects, stormed out of the meeting where the news was being delivered. Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon said the federal government “really didn’t want to help” and Republican Sen. David Vitter accused Washington of “stonewalling.”

Their rhetoric obscured the bigger picture. Recovery liaison Donald Powell stressed that the additional improvements would be mainly for insurance, not safety reasons – in other words, without them, some areas that otherwise would not have received flooding would one time out of a hundred (and the effects of that flooding could be largely mitigated through other preventive measures). Further, the increased cost reflected the oft-stated desire of Louisiana politicians to build better protection than before, and Powell said recent science had shown older research had underestimated the potential threat – in other words, Louisiana was bring told in order to fulfill its desire, this was the additional money that would have to be taken from the American taxpayer.

29.3.06

Voter access demagoguery displays LA's backwardness

Most Louisianans missed the dramatic transformation that occurred yesterday in a tiny segment of Baton Rouge, a time vortex that flung the state back about 50 years forming in the John Hainkel Committee Room at the Louisiana Capitol, where the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee met to deal with a monstrous problem threatening our democracy.

Leading state luminaries such as Senate President Pro Tem Diana Bajoie, state Sen. Cleo Fields and state Rep. Cedric Richmond delivered powerful oratory, arguing how the Legislature could strike a blow against a massive disenfranchisement of voters and how it could protect liberty and democracy. Alongside them, the beatific Rev. Jesse Jackson added his hosannas, reminding everybody on numerous occasions that “The ‘whereas’ and ‘therefore’ do not correspond.”

What did they aim their righteous indignation against, leading them to recount stories of decades ago of the civil rights movement which they said were directly applicable today? What horrible things are going on in Louisiana democracy equivalent to poll taxes, literacy tests, and the symbolic letting police dogs loose to terrorize? Well, the facts that the state requires people voting absentee to first have to request a ballot before getting such ballot, and that the state has not set up out-of-state satellite voting.

GOP riches in SOS race makes party prospects good

An embarrassment of riches pervades the special election for secretary of state for Republicans, signaling bad news for Democrats and perhaps indicating a big GOP year in Louisiana in 2007.

With state Sen. Jay Dardenne announcing for the office, this gives Republicans two quality candidates for it as he joins former party head Mike Francis. Both are well-funded with good reform credentials that no doubt will resonate through the state after the current unelected occupant Al Ater has politicized his position.

At this point, the only high-profile Democrat that has expressed serious interest in (although not entrance into) the contest is state Rep. Carla Dartez. But she is underfunded relative to the Republicans and, as a more liberal Democrat, could not do a good job to try to shake off the perception that through Ater and the Democrat-controlled Legislature that Democrats are out to use electoral trickery, if not outright fraud, to maintain their tenuous grasp on power in the state.

If this is the contest that shapes up, given that perception and her underfunding, Dartez may not even make the general election. An early poll didn’t even register her (having Dardenne at 17 percent, Francis at 7, although with over 50 percent undecided, there’s not a lot to read into this other than Dardenne is known from politics and Francis has to work harder to become more known). Further, being a special election, a low-stimulus election of this nature disproportionately would disfavor a Democrat, especially one whose scattered base probably will mean she would have 50,000 fewer voters statewide to draw upon.

Perhaps the surest sign of GOP confidence is that the race has drawn two quality candidates. Except for races for the governor’s mansion (and not always even then), in the past Republicans seldom have fielded more than one (if even that) strong candidate for executive offices. If one of these wins later this year, and especially if both made the general election runoff, this would presage a big 2007 for the GOP.

28.3.06

Bossier City, Parish need to lead to solve road problem

Pay for an extension of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway, or give a gift to a private developer? Essentially the same people who ran Bossier City then as now opted for the latter, but a wiser decision then may have spared Bossier City traffic headaches for years to come.

Several years ago, Congress created the Red River National Wildlife Reserve, and the plan to get it up and running within a decade. This included the building of a headquarters a couple of miles south of the Jimmie Davis Bridge in Bossier Parish. Keep in mind this was public knowledge the past few years, and certainly something local elected officials should have known – that the federal government would be acquiring land that was part of the parish to comprise a portion of Refuge, it would be putting a headquarters complex there, and it would need access to that.

Suddenly, and belatedly, now that the development of the refuge is to the point where the access road needs to be decided, parish and city officials have come to realize that the only real choice is Sunflower Road, which runs east from Barksdale Boulevard and as far as access serves only as the entrance to five subdivisions, four of which have no other access. It has two lanes, no sidewalks, and a ridiculously-slow 25 miles per hour speed limit.

This situation triggered a notice authored by local elected officials and distributed by the South Bossier Citizens Assembly to area residents, urging them to contact the office of Rep. Jim McCrery (who also introduced the bill in 2000 to create the RRNWR) to convince the Fish and Wildlife Service not to make Sunflower Road the access point. All of this is well and good and should be pursued, but the fact of the matter is, Sunflower Road is the only potential access to the Refuge for the next five years and, unless the federal government decides it wants to wait that long to open the headquarters complex, that is going to be the access road to it. And it doesn’t seem likely that Fish and Wildlife will want to wait that long – the federal government has envisioned opening the center by 2008.

The Mar. 27 informational session sponsored by the SBCA revealed the parish could have something in place by Sep. 2007. Well, what is everybody waiting for?

Unfortunately, the latest capital plans by the city and parish don’t intend for southern expansion of the Parkway until 2010. Here, things get a bit tricky because virtually all of the land on which the extension would be built is under parish jurisdiction, yet it’s Bossier City that would benefit much more by it. So, the project essentially must be completed by the parish, and one reason why it has not been done more expeditiously is because the parish has had much more high-priority items like courthouses to build with the limited funds it has available. It would have to have a bond issue passed to complete the $15 million project.

But to Bossier City, this has become a crisis because it will suffer from heightened use of Sunflower Road and because the building of infrastructure for the Refuge probably will increase eventual costs and time needed for the Parkway extension. Thus, the impetus to solve this problem must come from Bossier City, even if it has to get others to do it on its behalf.

The problem is the federal government needs to know that work will begin on some kind of extension in time for the Refuge’s complex to have access when it opens, otherwise it will use Sunflower Road. The solution is to have Bossier City to get Bossier Parish to start on that right away; specifically, if the parish needs the money to get cracking, for the city to give it the money, in the form of a loan.

The city could easily pull a few million dollars out of its Riverboat Trust Fund to lend to the Parish for this purpose. Or, it could delay some other capital projects to do the same. The point is, immediately a two-lane road a mile or two long could be started upon and finished in time to placate the federal government.

Of course, the full extension could be well under way had the city lent the parish the entire $15 million years ago, and we’d have the completed project much sooner (with Bossier City’s citizens also reaping the benefit of a good rate of return on that investment). Instead, by way of example, the typically short-sighted, bauble-loving Bossier City Council and its then-mayor decided a couple of years ago to hand $21 million to private developers to pay for a parking garage the developers would have paid for on their own whose rate of return to the city probably is negative.

With all due respect, complaining to the federal government is not going to solve the problem, and if that’s all local elected officials support they are derelict. What will is Bossier Parish politicians using some foresight and willpower cooperating with Bossier City politicians expanding their thinking from its usual parochial quality to give the federal government a better choice. Bossier governments need to cooperate to start on the extension, right now.

27.3.06

Queen Bee gets a C

The 2005 hurricane disasters may have changed the face of Louisiana, but the have not altered Gov. Kathleen Blanco, if her address to open the 2006 regular session of the Legislature indicates anything. She still is the hesitant leader with fuzzy vision who would rather tinker at the margins and get along to go along, all the while insisting the opposite.

According to Blanco, Louisiana is powerless to control its own fate, captive to the whims of the federal government, the educational marketplace, and the economic environment. She insists the state had to wait on the federal government on money to fund housing recovery, to approve of a housing plan, and to produce flood maps – when in fact she did nothing about creating a housing recovery plan until recently, relying upon the problematic, failed “Baker bill” as her “plan” and gift of money, and that waiting on flood maps is not at all required to initiate rebuilding efforts.

She claims educational excellence will come as soon as the Legislature supports her plan to give educators pay raises – ignoring the fact that throwing money at teachers does not produce lasting, meaningful improvement in the system, assuming the system even deserves it. And the money to provide those increases comes from one-time federal grants to reduce the state’s health care tab – but Blanco claims the money is permanent in nature because she is negotiating with the federal government for a “long-term commitment” for a “redesigned health care system.” As well, “confidence that our economy will stay strong” does not make her additional spending plans “fiscally sound.”

To Blanco, economic development still remains a game where government spends the state into prosperity with new programs or through bribery by dangling targeted economic incentives or outright gifts in front of business, not a function of creating a more-hospitable economic climate through reduction of costs on economic activity in general through lower taxes, reduced regulation, and in presenting a government that is efficient and ethically unchallenged.

These priorities show Blanco continues to provide poor leadership, while she hypocritically denies she is a follower. She congratulated herself and the Legislature on flood control reform, even as she initially did little for it and only later jumped on the bandwagon. She mentioned consolidation of Orleans government as the next great task even as just weeks ago she barely lifted a finger to make it a reality.

Nor can she prove to us she leads with the proper vision by trying to project force when she clearly has none. Her asserting that she would object to oil lease sales for drilling offshore Louisiana unless Louisiana got a bigger cut from production, that “this is not an idle threat” was pathetic precisely because it is.

The hurricane disasters merely made the state’s myriad long-term problems more evident and pressing than ever, requiring bold leadership with a vision bent on turning around Louisiana’s liberal/populist past. Blanco’s address shows she is not the one to provide it.