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3.5.07

Democrats take chance to rig elections by Bruneau quitting

Yesterday we witnessed state Democrats’ strategy to try to hold onto power in the fall state elections – create an enormously expensive, duplicative, and potentially-fraud-ridden election system. And to some degree, former Republican state Rep. Peppi Bruneau is to blame.

Perceptive observers knew what was going to happen when in 2006 Democrats during the first special session muscled through pieces of legislation that allowed for voting at satellite precincts, made the state send out unsolicited absentee/early voting materials, and allowed people whose identities could not be positively verified to vote. They did have expiration dates, but it was widely known that if blatant fraud and technical problems did not happen, that Democrats would be back again with this, using the previous episode to justify making these provisions permanent – even though existing provisions perfectly were adequate and far less costly.

It helped that they had an ally in Democrat stalwart Al Ater, then the appointed secretary of state. He drained state coffers to make this work for the New Orleans municipal elections, where the costs per voter utilizing these new methods was almost 40 times that of regular voters. But current elections boss Republican Jay Dardenne won the special election to fill the vacancy Ater had occupied temporarily, and Dardenne had been one of the most vocal opponents of that legislation when in the Senate at that time.

With Dardenne providing a good dose of reality in yesterday’s hearings by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee as opposed to Ater’s partisan cheerleading, had the committee that had sat the year before been present it might have been enough to stop the measure from passing. Then as now, the committee had six Democrats and five Republicans even as its Chairman state Rep. Charlie Lancaster was a Republican.

But last year, perhaps eyeing his eventual switch to the Republican Party in order to increase his chances of evading the three-term limit in the House and continuing his legislative career by getting elected to the Senate this fall, state Rep. Billy Montgomery, when not absenting himself from committee meetings at certain key intervals, proved an uncertain vote for the panel’s Democrats. In fact, some of the crucial legislation now being resurrected and expanded by Democrats got enacted because a Republican, state Rep. Loulan Pitre, voted in favor of it.

However, Democrats shored up their support on the committee courtesy of the actions of a reliable vote against them on it, former member Bruneau. They knew that Montgomery’s switch between terms would have given the panel a Republican majority and made him unlikely to support what he had in the past. But Bruneau’s early resignation this year before the session’s start in a failed attempt to facilitate his son’s election in his place gave Democrats the chance to appoint another of their own to replace him, newly-elected Patrick Williams, who joined four other black Democrats, three from urban areas, and the ever-reliable good-old-boy Orleans-area white Democrat Jeff Arnold to form a rock solid majority on the panel.

Thus, election-related measures that would cost the state three years out of four at least $20 million extra for elections, and probably at minimum two or three times that since the Legislative Fiscal Office could not estimate costs of satellite voting offices statewide, were approved on party-line votes (Pitre this time was absent, so his vote wouldn’t have mattered.) All because state Democrats want to make eligible to vote people who have not resided in the state for (when the elections are held) two years who do not have to demonstrate in any substantive way that they want to live in the state, and almost led by their noses to cast a ballot utilizing a process wide-open to fraud given the enormous taxation on election staff resources it will demand, because Democrats think it will help them win elections.

Lancaster vowed to fight this legislation on the House floor. There, we will see whether House Democrats are more interested in election integrity or trying to create conditions allowing for election rigging that could prevent their party’s loss of power.

2.5.07

Union greed shortchanges quality LA education

Louisiana gets another reminder today about how teachers’ unions in this state exist only to fatten the wallets of their members at the expense of trying to educate students.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers decided today would be a good day to ask its members to flee the classroom in favor of a political rally to urge support of pay raises. Enough responded so that several school systems will have to cancel classes today, leaving about 120,000 students in the lurch, and others will struggle to operate with a plethora of substitutes

Of course, this could have been done in June – the legislature will be in session well after the end of the school year and the appropriations bills that would contain language authorizing the salary increases won’t be finished until the very end. But that would miss the point: like petulant, spoiled children, they intentionally want to disrupt schooling in the state because they don’t really care about teaching but they are greedy enough to shirk their responsibilities in favor of making the biggest political statement possible.

1.5.07

Landrieu blame GOP strategy shredded by Democrats

While Louisiana seems unlikely to provide any electoral relief for Democrats in terms of this year’s governor’s contest and in delivering electoral votes in next year’s presidential square-off, the one statewide tilt where their chances are close to even is in the retention of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s seat. But Landrieu now finds her Senate partisan colleagues are doing her no favors in this quest.

Ever since the levees broke in New Orleans in tragic 2005, Landrieu has recognized that, with the hollowing of her New Orleans base accelerated, she would have to attract different supporters. Following her Democrat cohort Gov. Kathleen Blanco, she adopted the strategy of attracting future votes by blaming the federal government, then entirely controlled by Republicans, for any and every thing no matter how little it had to do with whatever or how much culpability Landrieu herself had.

But now that strategy is starting to backfire since Democrats took control of Congress. Landrieu still can try to rail against the GOP White House, but now she finds Democrats’ pursuit of their agenda largely to blame for a lack of advancement of her causes which she needs to desperately to succeed to have any chance for reelection.

It is a committee led by a Democrat who is stalling some of her legislation. It is the Democrat leadership who shoved her legislation into the Iraq surrender bill that will go nowhere. While other parts of her bringing bacon to the state are being held up by Republicans (since the Democrats cling to the barest of majorities in the Senate), Senate Democrats can solve those problems procedurally, such as moving the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project to the general Water Resources Development Act reauthorization. Since that bill has been delayed for years and Republicans are interested in its passage, it is only Democrats failing to act on it (as they prefer to spend resources trying to score political points over war funding) that prevents it from becoming reality.

Landrieu continues to bleat about how Republicans thwart her, but informed observers know the truth – Democrat leaders don’t see Louisiana as a political ally and look down on the state that increasingly rejects their liberalism which is wrong for the American people. They want to help Landrieu retain her seat because it will help them retain Senatorial power, but if that clashes with promoting their own narrow, misbegotten agenda, they’ll throw her overboard – confident that most of the time her loyalty to them still will get her to hew the party line.

It’s a lesson Louisiana voters hopefully will recognize to cut through Landrieu and state Democrat propaganda during the 2008 election season.

30.4.07

Blanco pleads to invest in government rather than in people

In yesterday’s posting, I lamented how Gov. Kathleen Blanco would not feel the need to act responsibly, in the sense that it counters her ideology, with her 2007-08 budget for Louisiana. Instead, as her State of the State address to start the 2007 regular session of the Legislature, she is more interested in convey the impression of a positive “legacy” of her tenure in office than any lasting, meaningful policies.

Faced with a budget surplus that could be over $3 billion, yet at the same time because state spending has grown so much during her just four years almost in office (over 50 percent according to this budget, which is why one had to laugh when she said she and the state had engaged in “fiscal discipline” to produce this surplus), her requests have outstripped the Constitution’s stricture that the rate of government growth not exceed that of the private sector, Blanco kept referring to “investments” in the state. But the context of her usage of that term shows she really does not understand it.

For example, she asks to “invest” in education with a pay raise for teachers. This would represent a significant recurring expense of over $100 million a year. Yet the surplus is mostly a product of a bonanza of federal dollars coming into the state for reconstruction purposes which will end within a couple of years. There’s no guarantee this kind of expenditure will be affordable over the long haul, so if salaries are going to be raised past cost-of-living increases, at least another year should go by to assess the affordability of this.

(Another unintended moment of humor came when Blanco, by way of example to make a comparison with a high-achieving educational state, mentioned Massachusetts – which a few years ago introduced teacher evaluations and accountability into its education system which Louisiana doesn’t have and Blanco has never backed. What she doesn’t understand and made her statement the object of ridicule is that more spending on personnel is just one part of the equation for improving education; regular evaluations including testing of teachers for knowledge in areas they are certified to teach must occur or little change in performance will ensue no matter how high the salaries.)

In other words, Blanco is asking the state to behave like somebody to take out a mortgage on a house they can only afford at their current level of income – even knowing it is temporary and will end soon with no guarantee of continuing to earn at that level. The only way for that level to be reacquired is to cut taxes and create a more productive economy that will fatten both the wallets of the citizenry and state tax coffers.

But Blanco doesn’t want to do this, except a few “targeted” tax cuts that will shovel money to the day care industry and create a credit to families with children. The latter is not a bad idea but it won’t do what’s necessary: reducing the state’s high, and in per capita terms absurdly high, tax burden on its citizenry, which discourages both growth and attracting business to that state to help provide it.

Still, she exhorted the Legislature to bypass common sense here to spend more and not give it back to the people where it will be more productively used and instead to chase after a label which may make them, and her, feel good but not really do anything: the “education Legislature.” Much better it will be if the Legislature rejects that and rather takes the historic opportunity to be known as the “reform Legislature” that seeks to invest in people, not government as Blanco wants.

While her arguments to use nonrecurring funds weren’t bad on roads and coastal restoration, and to restructure the way insurance is regulated in the state, assignments like hers that weigh heavily on style but not much on logical or informed substance on the main issue don’t do well in my classes. For her last State of the State address, Blanco earns a C-.

29.4.07

Legislature needs to force Blanco to do right on taxes, spending

When those in the know saw Gov. Kathleen Blanco runs towards the center in her 2003 bid for governor, they knew this was a conversion only of political convenience. Since then, she has acted consistently liberal on taxing and spending issues, overseeing a 50 percent growth in the size of government in just four years while offering crumbs in tax cuts and attempting to tax things from cigarettes to sick people.

Had she stayed in the 2007 race for reelection, we might have expected to see this year a mirroring of the 2003 promises, in the form of a budget that veered away from big government and for empowering people by allowing them to keep more of what they earn. But she didn’t do that and we didn’t see such a budget.

By contrast, increasingly recognized by legislators of both parties is a conservative/reformist surge ready to sweep the state in the fall elections. For some, especially those who wish to perpetuate their legislative careers by jumping from one chamber to another to circumvent the three-term limit, they will emulate Blanco’s move of political opportunism by distancing themselves from their records of supporting big government to become evangelists for tax cuts and reducing the size of government. Along with genuine small government, low tax advocates, this puts them on a collision course with Blanco.

Regardless of their motives, they need to prevail. Louisiana is already one of the most heavily taxed states (in state and local taxes) in the union even with having one of the lowest per capita incomes of all, and, despite a surplus largely derived from temporary causes, Blanco wants to provide just the most tepid and uneven of tax reductions (indeed one of her ideas, subsidizing day care with tax credits, actually would expand government’s role). Only legislators are expressing a desire for meaningful tax cuts and reduction in the size of government.

In fact, Blanco continues to have enormous faith in government to do things and singularly lacks it in the people of Louisiana. Her over-10 percent per annum spending increase request calls for all sorts of new recurring spending that is unlikely to be sustained under the current fiscal structure of the state. Instead, she should be holding off of new commitments and cut taxes to allow the economy to grow to support revenue growth exceeding that of current expenditure growth to enable such spending in the future.

This is common sense, it has gripped the Louisiana public more than usual this year, and legislators, even those who have demonstrated in the past they share Blanco’s view, are jumping on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, Blanco is too blind to see this, witness her ridiculous statement: “If the Legislature wants to do excessive tax cuts, it could throw everything off … I am trying to be responsible for future administrations. I would rather not pass on financial struggles. Any massive tax cuts will mess with the next administration.” As one might elaborate on the sentiment expressed in a Garbage tune, she’s too dense to understand her very proposed actions are the ones that will imperil the state’s financial health and leave massive problems for the next governor.

Unfortunately, she has a veto pen but regardless the Legislature should send her a reduced budget and tax decreases. If so, she can’t jack up the spending so maybe she’ll go along with the cuts. Otherwise, the state misses a golden, perhaps once-in-a-generation chance to improve its quality of life.