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7.7.06

Without better explanation, Blanco must veto HB 1281

Even though Gov. Kathleen Blanco yesterday signed the unusual bill noted previously, HB 658, there still is time to undo its at least some of its potentially negative effects to Louisiana’s taxpayers.

Originally, the bill was intended to transfer the failing Hodges Garden facility to the state, which now hopefully the state would close barring the appearance of some miraculous condition that could cause its financial resurrection or actually fulfill some need of the public which seems unlikely. The transfer certainly assists the present owner of the land in question. But a last-minute change to it added another questionable provision that could give a big assist to other private interests.

State Rep. John Alario presented the bill on the last day of the session. Even though he wasn’t its author (Speaker Joe Salter was, in whose district is Hodges Gardens), he got appointed to the conference committee and by the time it got out of conference the bill was more Alario’s than anybody else’s. The provision he got added constituted a swap of land between the state and an entity known as TCW/Firewall Ventures I, LLC, and then the bill instructs the state to turn around and give the land to Jefferson Parish.

Apparently, the swap allows the entity, which is owned by the New Orleans Firefighters and Pension Fund, to get land closer to the Tournament Players Championship Golf Course; the course has been receiving a subsidy from the state for several years now.(Public safety retirement funds involved with money-losing golf courses is, excuse the pun, par for the course in Louisiana; the Fund owns Lakewood among others.) The entity itself was created Apr. 14 of this year and has as members an LLC owned by the Fund (the name of which oddly does not appear in the Secretary of State’s records) and another LLC created last year by a Clearwater, FL real estate company, Coastal Realty, as its owners.

Unfortunately, the Legislature let this go by without asking for more details. Only state Rep. Mike Powell, and state Sens. Clo Fontenot and Max Malone voted against the bill. More interestingly, this property is part of the proposed tax increment financing district that represents a transfer of wealth from the state to existing private interests and to the parish, that bill with which Blanco has yet to deal.

It would have been nice to have some questions answered about this bill, either in the Legislature or by Blanco before she signed it:

  • Why did Alario wait until the last day of the session to attach these riders (the TIF district to HB 1281 and the land swap/donation to HB 658) to essentially unrelated bills, instead of introducing legislation concerning them (note that the entity was formed just before the bill introduction deadline for this session)?
  • Why was it so important to swap the land, which appears to have given land of greater value to the entity than what it gave up?
  • And then to have the state give its new land to Jefferson Parish?

    HB 1281, which is questionable itself, would magnify any advantage accruing to the interests related to the golf course as a result of land negotiations and sales now authorized by HB 568. Despite the fact the Legislature neglected its due diligence, that doesn’t mean that more sunshine cannot be provide to understand why these deals are a benefit to the state, and why the fruits of them to private and parish interests, at the expense of taxpayers, should be increased by making them part of the TIF. If Blanco does not have this information and/or cannot present satisfactory answers to the public, it is her duty to veto HB 1281 even if she let HB 568 get by.
  • 6.7.06

    Interesting stories lie behind golf course favoritism bill

    Finally, the implications of the recent legislative session’s HB 1281 are receiving mainstream media notice, but that still does not reveal the entire backstory.

    While the bill does many things, most notably it creates an unprecedented situation in Louisiana by creating a tax increment financing district mainly to help an existing business, not to generate new enterprises. This is the notorious Tournament Players Championship course which receives a state subsidy; if not enough rounds of golf booked a certain way are sold, the state must make up the difference.

    In essence, it creates a bit of a shell game. The state contractually may owe the course money that it would have to carve out of operating revenues. This bill would create a district empowered to pay off those expenses, as well as others, for the course. The catch is the money would come directly into the district, as the bill would allow funds to bypass those which otherwise would go into state sales tax collections.

    5.7.06

    Jindal says he's not decided, but he will and will win

    Of course U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal is going to give the required answer to speculation about his running for Louisiana governor in 2007, that for now he’s concentrating on his Congressional job and taking care of important federal issues for the state. Jindal has only participated in electoral politics as a candidate for three years, but, as everybody knows, he’s s fast learner.

    Everybody also knows that, barring incredible circumstances, Republican Jindal will stand for governor next year. Even as he said he presently hasn’t made up his mind about it, the things he said in a recent neighborhood group meeting in Shreveport (and even the fact he trecked way out of his district to speak at a meeting comprising of typical citizens) shows he knows that, given any opportunity, not only will he run, he’ll win.

    One reason is because he is right on so many issues. While his 2003 opponent and likely opposition next year incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco paid no attention to a bill from the recent legislative session that would have given preferential insurance access to the state’s part-time legislators and seemed likely to sign until, she claimed, an outcry of the citizenry pushed her to veto it, Jindal knew from the start it was bad bill and didn’t need to be awakened and goaded by the public to oppose it. Had Jindal won in 2003, that bill never would have gone anywhere in the legislature, if it ever even got introduced.

    A bill (weakly) strengthening ethics concerning disaster recovery contracts and state legislators and their families receiving them died in the Legislature with Blanco not lifting a finger to get it through. Jindal made clear by his remarks that he would have been a governor who would have pressed it to pass the bill.

    Another reason Jindal is a strong favorite to win is while Blanco and others talk, he produces for the state, the best example being his continuing successful push to get the state a greater share of extraction revenues dedicated to ameliorating coastal degradation. Contrast this to Blanco’s powerless, ineffective strategy of objecting to lease sales which is designed to garner maximum attention while producing no results. Compared to Jindal’s success, her efforts truly verify the old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

    Even Jindal’s reelection bid for Congress will set him up nicely for a 2007 run. His district is such that advertising for the contest means saturation of New Orleans and Baton Rouge metropolitan area markets – over a third of the state’s population. He’ll probably use some of his large congressional campaign warchest to remind this part of the state of his preference for issues that resonate with Louisiana’s majority – even if he has no competition at all for his House seat (at best, it will be token).

    Whoever Jindal’s opponents may be, they must fervently be hoping that Jindal means that he’s still mulling the contest, because they stand little chance of winning unless there is a possibility he won’t run.

    4.7.06

    Independence Day, 2006

    This column publishes 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 by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

    With Tuesday, Jul. 4 being Independence Day, I invite you to explore the link above.

    3.7.06

    McCrery, Boustany should fend off announced challengers

    Hope springs eternal, and it’s always nice to see optimism springing from longshot candidates for office, but that doesn’t change the fact that such announced Congressional hopefuls to date for Louisiana this fall have a better chance of winning the lottery than a seat in the House of Representatives.

    A month ago, Democrat the Rev. Artis Cash announced his bid for the 4th District seat held by the incumbent Republican Rep. Jim McCrery. Cash is best known for his accusations that racism lies behind some actions of Shreveport police and city government, as well as personal financial problems. Added to his checkered past, this creates a virtual impossibility for Cash to win against McCrery, against whom even any well-known, less-controversial Democrat politician would have a hard time defeating. Ever since the election after the 1992 redistricting (which threw him into a race against another sitting congressman), McCrery has cruised to victory and remains very popular in the district.

    Perhaps more realistic would be the chances of Democrat Mike Stagg against 7th District Republican incumbent Rep. Charles Boustany. Until Boustany won two years ago, except for a brief interlude caused by the party-switching of former Rep. Jimmy Hayes, the area comprising this district always had been represented by a Democrat. Freshmen representatives also are the most vulnerable, and Stagg even has a little experience running a campaign for a high office as he sought the governorship in 2003.

    However, his campaign was, to say the least, underwhelming as he finished with about two-fifths of a vote per precinct in the state. This does not deter him, for now he says he’s ready to run a more focused campaign. He cites the example of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone from Minnesota in his initial 1990 campaign, where Democrat Wellstone was outspent seven-to-one by incumbent Republican Rudy Boschwitz but who won regardless.

    I hate to burst any illusions, but Stagg’s situation and Wellstone’s are very different. Wellstone had run competitively in 1982 in a statewide contest, and for the next eight years built a network of activists statewide. He also won a party primary giving him the entire state party machine to help him; no comparable help exists for a Democrat in this contest. And, unlike Louisiana, Minnesota has a rich tradition of political independence (perhaps even better exemplified by Jesse Ventura’s successful independent candidacy for governor a few years later) that provides much more for support for political underdogs/outsiders.

    Stagg’s only chance of winning outside of incredible bad fortune for Boustany is to mount a serious campaign with resources. All indications are that he expects not to do that, so both he and Cash should expect not to win. On the other side of the coin, McCrery looks unbeatable against any challenger, and it’s going to take a well-funded, well-connected Democrat to get more than 40 percent of the vote against Boustany.

    2.7.06

    LA-supported political correctness causing suffering

    While the concept of political correctness contributes far more snickers about than brings any serious debate to public policy, sometimes we get another reminder about how the trendy liberalism it represents has real-world consequences that brings misery to people’s lives.

    Just such a Louisiana example is afforded by the almost-unheard of decision by the world’s largest retailer, WalMart, to close a store, in Homer. The town, and all of Claiborne Parish, is suffering through economic decline.

    But it didn’t have to be this way. Over a decade ago, a consortium offered to build a uranium enrichment plan near Homer. Many jobs and a tremendous economic boost would have developed by its citing in the area.

    Instead, a few activists decided to stoke the fears of area residents in service of their political agenda. They declared that to locate the plant there (which, by its nature would involve hazardous, radioactive material) would cause “environmental racism,” the silly notion that firms which could engage in environmental despoliation of one kind or the other intentionally would locate their firms in areas with higher proportions of racial minorities.

    Studies have consistently affirmed that there is no evidence of this. Companies locate for a number of reasons, but not because they disregard the lives of non-whites. But, unfortunately, with the political administration of Pres. Bill Clinton, a then-Democratic Congress, and a compliant, activist judiciary, facts and logic were cast aside in the pursuit of a political agenda and federal laws and judicial actions were used by these activists and needlessly-scared residents to force away eventually the plant.

    And now who suffers? Just as in another Louisiana case involving claims of “environmental racism,” it’s the residents themselves who have suffered. Claiborne Parish may well be much better off economically had the plant been built.

    Almost a decade had passed, but the nonsense continues. Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality may have changed the name from the “Office of Environmental Justice” to its Community/Industrial Relations Group within its Division of Environmental Assistance, but one of its jobs remains the pursuit of the invalid “environmental justice” notion. It’s under the umbrella of the department’s Environmental Services Program whose activities as a whole are being funded to the tune of over $15 million in 2006-07.

    Gov. Kathleen Blanco isn’t in the position to stop the waste of taxpayers’ money squandered by this politically-correct mission in this budget because its activities are not put in a separate line, but she and the Legislature have the elimination of this stupidity to work on in 2007.