Search This Blog

Loading...

28.2.07

Economic development by government does not work

The latest news on Shreveport’s convention center’s finances contained more bad news than boosters of it imagined. Brought to fruition along with its associated hotel by former mayor Keith Hightower, with legislative assistance by current Mayor Cedric Glover, it ran up a larger deficit for the past year than predicted, nearly $2 million – despite the fact it did more business than predicted.

City and operating officials naturally found a number of extraneous factors to try to explain this away, but in doing so ignored the reality that the benefits brought about by the center and its accompanying hotel never will bring greater benefits than costs to the city. Even the simplest analysis of the numbers, using just rough estimates of debt repayment, operating expenses, and generous guesses about tax revenues generated, show only the most unrealistic assumptions forecast anything but annual losses from significant to staggering.

Meanwhile, the city carries a huge debt approaching $1 billion thanks in part to the approximately $150 million spent on these items, while simultaneously it needs hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure repairs with little left on its debt ceiling to take care of them in the near future. Spending the amounts the city blew on these items, combined with the extra borrowing capacity that would have been freed up could have taken care of about half of the infrastructure problems, and the $1 million annually the center is expected to lose (within a decade; officials admit losses will exceed that for now) could have paid for things like improved crime-fighting and athletic conference headquarters with plenty left over.

Policy-makers knew these things, yet built the center and hotel (when the private sector refused to do so) anyway, because of reasons of ego, political gain, and to put more money at the trough so that their friends and special interests could benefit at the public’s expense. But, most importantly of all, they tried to justify this with the ridiculous notion that it is government, not people, who provide the spark for economic development.

Unfortunately, this behavior is not limited to the west bank of the Red River. Bossier City’s leaders also have committed follies of this sort, spending about half of what Shreveport did on an arena and parking garage that also never will have the benefits of their operations exceed their costs without similar wildly optimistic and unrealistic assumptions. Their stupidity is only slightly less because they did it with cash rather than debt – but cash that could have been used to make Bossier City an economic development dream rather than a home for revenue-draining monuments to elected officials.

Both cases should provide ample warning to the citizenry and the prospective voters among them to beware politicians who say economic development comes from spending the people’s money in building buildings rather than allowing citizens to keep it and getting government out of their way.

27.2.07

Judge's actions usurp authority, deny Odom speedy justice

Nowhere yesterday were the disadvantages of judge-made law more evident than in the actions concerning the corruption trial of Louisiana Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom, risking a just conclusion to the affair and complicating voters’ task in his upcoming reelection bid..

First, Judge Donald Johnson of the 19th state District threw out two of the six counts by substituting his own interpretation of the law. These regarded money laundering, over a technicality where state law appeared only to make illegal such schemes involving cash rather than checks.

Disregarding the fact that legally checks act as cash if they don’t overdraw and are signed by someone with the legal power to do so, and that it was extremely unlikely that the Legislature intended to make money laundering by cash illegal but not that by check, Johnson decided these charges had to be severed from the case. Properly, if he had any doubts at all, Johnson should have investigated legislative intent, which is appropriate for judges to use in gray areas such as this, rather than substitute his own opinion about what he thought the statute meant, which is inappropriate.

The severing of the two counts itself was controversial. Johnson had done the same in an earlier phase of the trial but was overruled by the Louisiana Supreme Court, saying the case had to go together as a package. Prosecutors argued Louisiana law permits only they to decide whether to sever so the entire case should be heard by a higher court. Because prosecutors did not want to go along with Johnson once again taking the law into his own hands, he dismissed the entire case. Fortunately, prosecutors will appeal the action.

Johnson (who has a history of playing fast and loose with judicial interpretation) based his usurpation on a belief that the case, after four years had to “move forward.” But in taking these actions, he actually is slowing down the process by forcing more appeals that, if previous rulings are a guide, will serve only to mandate restarting the process in the first place. (In fact, it has been going on so long that there was question whether Johnson had jurisdiction in the case any more.)

If Odom truly is innocent, he should welcome expeditious efforts to clear his name. Instead, his legal team has seemed to care more about filing motions and trying to stop the trial than to get it over with so he can show his innocence, if he is, to the world

And voters deserve this as well. Already Democrat Odom has drawn Republican state Rep. Mike Strain as an opponent. Dragging out the trial by questionable rulings from Johnson only serves to interject the case squarely into the election itself. Speedy completion of the entire trial, which is what the prosecutors argue will happen if, as they contend, their motion to appeal removes it from Johnson and send it to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, for these reasons is highly desirable.

26.2.07

Likely GOP LA success may foreshadow 2008 elections

Louisiana Republicans, both candidates and supporters, should take heart that an observer of politics in the state who often displays poor judgment in its analysis has written the Democrats might do well in the 2007 state elections. Such a Pollyanna attitude in the face of present evidence only will serve to make his party’s state fate more miserable in the fall while ignoring that Louisiana GOP gains may signal future national electoral fortunes.

Actually, columnist Wiley Hilburn’s miscalculation at least does not rise to the level of imbecility shown in some of previous efforts – here, it’s just bad judgment. Hilburn argues that Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco shouldn’t do so badly against Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal because (1) Jindal is so closely tied to an “unpopular” Pres. George W. Bush, (2) that Blanco is potentially popular in northern Louisiana which could spread across the state, and (3) the other Democrat candidate Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell can be popular enough to detach votes from Jindal.

None of this is true. Bush may be having troubles in other states, but not Louisiana. The last poll done of his job approval in the state, November, 2006, showed just a narrow 51-47 disapproval of Bush – and as his numbers have gone up nationally in the past three months, he well may have moved into positive territory in the state.

In the only nonpartisan statewide poll of the governor’s race to date (which itself is over a month old), Jindal was cleaning Blanco’s clock by over 25 points. Campbell, as it turns out, essentially takes away just a few percentage points from Blanco only. Interestingly, Jindal’s lead is narrowest in north Louisiana – but it’s still a lead, and this in the least populated region of the state with (using Campbell’s district as a proxy for north Louisiana) over 38 percent of the population being black, means Jindal is pulling 76 percent of the white vote to Blanco’s 13 percent in the region. And, to remind, only six percent in the statewide poll were undecided at this point, meaning Blanco has little room to improve. (Hilburn’s scientific way of countering this evidence – Blanco got what he thought was an enthusiastic reception at two engagements.)

To confirm the absurdity of Hilburn’s supposition, in the past three special election contests with any partisan competition, the insurance commissioner’s race did not even feature a Democrat, for the secretary of state’s contest a Democrat barely made the general election runoff and promptly withdrew, and in the District 1 House race, a Republican swamped the field in a district previously held by a Democrat. A lot can happen over the next nine months, but all signs indicate decent, perhaps spectacular, GOP gains in Louisiana; any Democrat operative lacking cognizance of this to incorporate into his electoral strategy endangers his party’s chances later this year.

And it would not be an accident for the state to be a bellwether for the rest of the country. Witness the GOP mayoral and statehouse wins in 1993 right after Democrat wins the previous year, foreshadowing the big Republican gains of 1994. Or check out the 2005 statehouse gains made by the Democrats preceding last year’s Congressional change in power. With this anticipated result, if also the GOP continues to consolidate power in Mississippi and Republicans retain the Kentucky statehouse, more than likely, rather than a laggard of Democrat national forces as Hilburn muses, Louisiana will turn out to be the leading indicator for 2008 demonstrating recent national Democrat gains were idiosyncratic and temporary.

25.2.07

LSU system charges of others' bias appears hypocritical

A favorite tactic of those losing an argument is to try to impugn the proponents of the prevailing side. Academicians properly trained particularly try to refute opposing views by pointing to problems of data, research method, and logic in interpretation. Thus, it is sad to see the top academic official in Louisiana’s most prestigious university system trying to discredit study results by trying to shoot the messenger.

Louisiana State University system President Bill Jenkins had harsh words for a study soon to be released by the Public Affairs Research Council, whose contents remain unknown in detail precisely because PAR is circulating its contents to interested parties before making public a final version. It deals with health care redesign in Louisiana.

This is a highly unusual, pre-emptive step, to make public this discontent before report contents even are known. As such, we can speculate that PAR finds the current indigent health care system in the state, largely overseen by LSU hospitals, to be inferior to redesign arguments to move it away from a money-goes-to-the-institution (used only by Louisiana) to a money-follows-the-person regime because that will produce better overall patient outcomes with money being more efficiently spent.

We don’t know this, but from Jenkins’ criticism, that would be the implication, as Jenkins publicly terms it “inaccurate, incomplete, unrealistic and biased.” Whether so is best left to analyzing the report after its release, but Jenkins destroys the credibility of his statement in advance when he then argues the conclusions are tainted as PAR's research was at least partially funded by private health care providers that, as Jenkins contends, “will profit from dismantling the state's existing health care delivery system.”

Never mind that PAR has strict procedures that guard against such bias being introduced into work, much less that any such bias should be obvious in any issued report thus meaning Jenkins’ criticisms at this time are unnecessary and premature. But most laughable is the kettle-calling-the-pot-black situation here, as LSU and the state are just as easily charged with lack of objectivity on this matter.

Let’s think about this, who is Jenkins employed by? That’s right, the LSU Board of Supervisors who have consistently knocked any change in policy that would take hundreds of millions of dollars out of their pockets and reduce their number of employees by thousands. Let’s face it, by their own definition of who is “unbiased” to study the policy, Jenkins and LSU are hypocrites.

Unfortunately, academia in Louisiana often is seen as overly-politicized, and Jenkins’ (and no doubt therefore the Board’s, his employer’s) remarks and actions in this situation do nothing to suggest otherwise. (As an employee of the LSU system of whom technically Jenkins is my boss, the views expressed here obviously are mine and not those of the LSU system or of my direct employer LSUS … but I wish on the matter of health care redesign we agreed.)