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22.5.09

Democrat con job another try at embarrassing Jindal

In line with what Democrat plans appear to be in reference to HB 841, are they going to take another shot at Gov. Bobby Jindal or do something responsible?

HB 841 is an extension of Louisiana legislative Democrats’ mission to make Jindal look heartless by making him act against a bill that would allow more people to draw longer unemployment insurance and change its nature into a welfare entitlement program rather than insurance. They hope to get it to Jindal where he casts a veto on it, even as they know this will happen and will sacrifice other salutary parts of the bill and waste precious legislative time on it.

SB 335 by state Sen. Lydia Jackson has turned into a similar kind of vehicle. Democrats, pushed out of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee this bill which would prevent scheduled tax cuts that began this year for which roughly 20 percent of all tax filers (meaning more like a third of all taxpayers) of which the majority also are the biggest payers until 2012. It’s not like they didn’t have any help, however, because they actually are outnumbered by Republicans on this panel. While a couple of the GOP members were absent (and one such claims he would have voted against it), others of exceptional unreliability (such as Robert Adley, who until recently was a Democrat but had authored legislation to put these cuts into place) and of impeccable tax-cutting credentials (such as Buddy Shaw, who steered home a major income tax cut last year) all present went for the legislation which now goes to the Senate floor which has a Democrat majority.

21.5.09

Obstinate Caddo board must accept reality of its failure

It’s not as thick as with their East Baton Rouge counterparts, but nevertheless an air of unreality lies about the Caddo Parish School Board, unwilling or unable to understand that some major changes are coming to education in the parish because it couldn’t cut it.

Last year, the state could have taken over Bethune Middle School but chose instead to place special conditions on its operation. Another 10 schools in the parish, about 14 percent of the parish’s schools, this year were eligible for takeover of which the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education opted to take two and allow the other eight the potential to be operated like Bethune. The two, Linwood and Linear, scored above 50 only twice since the accountability rating system was implemented in 2002-03. In other words, many years of warnings and possibility of the Caddo Parish School District to change the situation have gone by.
Yet now that the state finally is intervening, from the rhetoric coming from some policy-makers in the district it seems only now do they seem to realize the implications – among those who aren’t living in a state of denial over where things are and how they got to this point. Whining has emanated from several board members about how the state gets to dictate certain expenditures and reimbursements regarding the eight schools, including extra costs associated with improvement plans and their monitoring coming out of Caddo’s coffers.

The district also clings to the fiction that the so-called “Caddo Plan” will be the basis of improvement plans for the schools and that the state should pony up for its additional expenditures. As noted previously, the idea calling for academic-themed schools, an opportunity to change personnel among schools, and increased technology expenditures only tangentially addresses the real problems hampering achievement at these schools and stands little chance of making any substantive improvement. In any event, the strictures of the memorandums of understanding the state has presented to the District indicate major modifications of the plan would be needed for it to be accepted by the state.

And even if some portion of the plan does get adopted, Caddo will have to pay for it. Even as school board members moan and complain about being on the hook for costs, the state showed it did not let go by the fact that the district (by 2007) had a general fund surplus of over $46 million, about a tenth of its yearly spending, in its general fund, and total fund balances of almost $115 million. These balances make the state’s question about why wasn’t money spent years ago to intervene in these schools pertinent, its implication that Caddo can pay the estimated $11 million this year for changes salient, and the excuse given by the District that it needed cash on hand for contingencies questionable.

It’s quite clear from some of the comments coming from some Board members that not only do they not get it, but that the attitudes behind these comments demonstrate why the District has been unable to improve these failing schools. District 12 member Dottie Bell screeches about how the state shouldn’t come in and tell “us how we're going to spend our money.” It’s lamentable that even after a few years on the board (and many as a teacher) that Bell doesn’t yet understand that the vast majority of operating funds of Caddo schools come from the state. And it’s never been the district’s or her money to spend, it’s been mostly state taxpayers’.

And District 2 member Eursula Hardy put money before children when she publicly stated that parents should not enroll their children in the new Linwood or Linear not because they are failing schools, but because Caddo would lose money to the Recovery School District as a result. It is these attitudes reminiscent of children playing with toys and refusing to share with others instead of focusing what’s best for children that has gotten education at the schools into its sorry situation.

No doubt unfortunate domestic situations make it tougher to educate effectively, that there are too many incompetent in knowledge and/or methods in these schools, and too many incapable administrators are in place in them, but the fact is the buck stops with the Board. It, and it alone, ultimately is responsible for the quality of education in the district, and any member who throws up his hands and says some kind of extraneous condition made success impossible with these schools needs to tender his resignation now because why else serve in a job where you don’t think you can succeed?

Clearly, the Board has failed in this regard, and throwing a Hail Mary pass called the Caddo Plan doesn’t change this fact. Given its record of non-accomplishment with these schools, it is comical even to suggest that unfettered local governance could do a better job that what the state offers in these desperate situations. Its obstinacy to the change serves it poorly, and it needs to settle down, take its medicine, and with state guidance get on with finally doing its job right.

20.5.09

Senate Democrats face responsibility or politics choice

A stark choice presents itself to the Louisiana Senate – do what’s in the interests of the state, or do what scores Democrats political points.

With the escape of HB 841 in amended form from the House, the Senate now deals with it. The bill, which originally made uncontroversial changes to workers’ compensation law, had on the House floor gotten an amendment by the author state Rep. Avon Honey to permit the state to spend money on expanded unemployment benefits and coverage that would change the nature of the program from insurance to welfare, to tap into the federal spending bill’s permitting of this. The state could do so with the legal changes now part of the bill.

Inattentive opponents, mainly Republicans, let the amendment on without objection and then voted unanimously to pass it. This was a bigger hurdle than the Senate, as Republicans have a working majority in the House while Democrats have a nearly two-thirds advantage in the Senate. Its presiding officer, state Sen. Joel Chaisson, also identifies as a Democrat in contrast to the House Speaker Jim Tucker whose confusion on HB 841 let it go through.

There’s only one chance that the bill in the Senate has to survive both houses, and that is to make no changes at all to it. This is because anything that creates a different version would allow the House to change it back, or to sit on it and not let it proceed in the process. That may be too difficult for Chaisson to achieve if this is his intent. While he has a majority, there are enough Senate Democrats with quibbles over the bill as is that enough of them may not support it for different reasons to get it through.

But if it does somehow make it unaltered, then it would go to the governor, where it awaits a sure veto by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal who has vowed not to let such bad public policy become law. There is next to no chance two-thirds of the Senate would override the veto, and there is no way that could be obtained in the House. Simply, this bill is dead in amended form, and in fact to allow it to continue is self-defeating for its original purpose.

Therefore, the only reason Democrats would pursue this bill with that amendment attached would be to try to score political points by forcing Jindal into vetoing the bill. This is done on behest of the national party, which fears Jindal’s stature as a national politician and competitor to them, and could use this to claim Jindal was against (with rich irony considering the source) workers in the hopes of reducing him as a threat. State Democrats, who until Jindal’s rise historically have run their agenda down the state’s throat, also would like to weaken Jindal with this to strengthen their own hand.

So the question to Senate Democrats as a whole is whether they are more interested in the original intent of HB 841 making into law, or that they would rather irresponsibly waste time, effort, and taxpayers’ resources in trying to play politics. GOP House members already have suffered embarrassment on this. Do Democrats want to add Jindal to that list?

19.5.09

Effect of bill sleight of hand only to cause embarrassment

Daydreaming Louisiana representatives suffered political embarrassment Monday afternoon when one of their colleagues put one over on them for a pyrrhic victory.

Of some controversy has been Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to accept money from the federal spending bill if the state would change its laws to expand the reach and definition of unemployment insurance. Democrats made noises about trying to pass legislation to force him to do so, but had those bills bottled up in committee – until now, when one sailed straight out of the House courtesy of many inattentive legislators who have argued in the past they needed substantial pay increases because they sacrificed so much for their legislative jobs.

State Rep. Avon Honey’s HB 841 seemed innocuous enough when it came out of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee he heads, dealing with workers’ compensation issues. But on the floor without any opponents realizing it, without opposition he amended onto it the substance of the bills that would force Jindal’s hand, and then got all 98 other members present to pass the bill. Only after did chastened opponents, mostly Republicans, figure this out and express indignation.

Honey, not known as a mover and shaker in the House, did slightly violate protocol in not bringing up the matter at all in his committee, but now only a major protocol violation can prevent the bill from causing a lot of extra work. A member of the voting majority – practically any member – could ask for bill reconsideration so the amendment could be undone and then it could be passed again to head over to the Senate, but reconsideration traditionally is considered the province of the author and is seldom used and just in the case of defeated bills. If there is no willingness to undertake this essentially unprecedented move, the Senate will have to strip the amendment, pass the bill, then send it back to the House which could concur.

In a way, the matter is self-defeating for Honey because the majority that opposes the sentiment of the amendment could choose to defeat it on return regardless of whether it is stripped. In fact, it might be a strategy that shamed opponents might consider to save face.

Caught napping as they were makes them look like either or both of they were not doing their jobs and/or supported those sentiments. For those whose constituents are not dead set against the expansion of welfare the amendment would provide, their Senate confederates could strip the provision, and then they could vote not to concur, making flowery speeches about how they were trying to help the less fortunate, etc. while making sure there are enough votes for concurrence. It could be a way to work against bad public policy but politically look like all those things the emotive, as opposed to thinking, voters look for: caring, compassionate, ad naseum, and make them look less like they were asleep at the switch.

The bill in its present form has no chance to become law, and the only long-term impact that may result of this incident is in a few years some opponents to the reelection of some of the surprised presumed detractors of the amendment will remind voters of the lack of quality of such an incumbent to fail to do their jobs to this extent. And the legislative hijinks continue.

18.5.09

Political tantrum will not alter shape of LA budget

When analyzed particular in the light of recent history, the temporary defeat of HB 3 in the Louisiana House represents nothing more than a short-term lack of organization by legislative forces loyal to Gov. Bobby Jindal.

This bill, requiring a two-thirds majority of the seated membership for approval, enables debt to be incurred for capital spending projects of the capital outlay bill HB 2 (and any others that might come by if they are calculated into it). Until 2007 it typically was a formality that this would pass. But late that session, Republicans rallied by then-caucus leader state Rep. Jim Tucker defeated an attempt to pass a similar bill during a special session to spend a large surplus. Eventually, however, enough Republicans defected to let the bill through.

Almost two years later, now Speaker Tucker saw the same tactic used against his majority. Where the complaint two years past was against an operating budget viewed as too excessive, many of those in the Democrat majority then successfully deployed this last week against an operating budget they think is too small, while a few Republicans seemed perturbed at the actual distribution of capital outlay funds, dealing the Speaker’s forces a 62-24 setback.

While the shoe may be on the other foot for now, the situations are markedly different in cause and the result will end the same. Back then, only a few members missed the original vote and would not have made the difference. What made the difference eventually was enough Republicans (as their legislative histories showed, in name only) defected. This time, 19 absences of almost all supporters of the bill were the key. As long as Tucker has the foresight to make sure they are in the chamber at the appropriate time, there should be no problem here.

Tucker’s tactics in 2007 garnered some minor concessions because that peeled off enough defectors. Expect little in the way of these on this occasion, as the muscle is there to obviate their need. While those who have temporarily blockade the bill may make grandiose, if not wholly ignorant, statements about the governor running the state roughshod over the Legislature, the reality is they sadly are out of touch with the vast majority in the state, and other elected officials know it. This is why this tactic, essentially a political tantrum, will make no appreciable alteration to the budget nor to the philosophy behind it of proper priorities being structured within the parameters of more efficiency, less politics.