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23.7.09

Walker remarks reminds Bossier ship of fools sails on

Some governments get saved from mistakes by fate. Others do not because they meet the enemies of good decision-making, and they are themselves.

Hope still exists for the one that apparently dodged a bullet through not fault of its own, the Caddo Parish School Board. The bullet it dodged came in the form of Monroe Superintendant of Schools James Dupree who now is less than a month from being fired from this post. Over a year ago, he almost was hired by Caddo. Offered the job, negotiations foundered because the district would not meet his salary demands.

Having endured a stormy history in five years for Monroe, Dupree is on his way out as a result of allegations of improper procedural actions as well as missing subjective outcome targets for performance. Not that the district’s academic performance helped his cause – the Monroe City School District according to the latest evaluation scored below the state’s average accountability score for all districts, was regarded as not making acceptable progress in sub-groups scores, and whose 76.8 accountability score among systems ranked 44th of the 61 assessed districts. (By contrast, Caddo with a score of 81.9 raked 35th.)

Whether the district did any better by hiring current Superintendant Gerald Dawkins remains an open question. Hired just over a year ago, to tackle low-performing schools he introduced a plan long on cosmetic but short on substantive changes and demonstrated some resistance to the implementation of the progressive educational strategy of charter schools when the state removed two underperforming schools from the district’s jurisdiction. Still, on the surface to date Caddo seems better off because of Dupree’s inflated sense of self-value and its ability to detect this.

Unfortunately, such self-awareness seems genetically removed and replaced with terminal self-congratulation among reelected Bossier City officials who gathered, with the one open seat winner on the City Council, at the end of June to be sworn in to another term. At least that was the impression made by Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker in remarks about the city government’s doings over the past four years, whose presented a laundry list of excuse-making for expensive mistakes made in that time period.

For example, Walker crowed about how the city was about to embark upon several transportation projects – neglecting to mention that these and others already finished could have been completed years earlier if the city had not wasted around $112 million on an arena that loses money, a private parking garage that will take decades to pay off, and the Cyber Innovation Center which probably never will recoup its investment. None of these had to be built with the people’s money and if they were needed would have been built by the private sector. Infrastructure improvements should have been a far bigger priority.

As part of these new projects, the city is about to expropriate and tear down the Provenza Building on Traffic Street that has housed for many years psychics willing to do readings on the future. With that gone, one wonders where Walker will now get his information about the prospects for the CIC which he insists will make a “ton of money” despite the $35 million (to the city) gamble that it would attract Air Force cyber operations to Barksdale Air Force Base that went to San Antonio.

It is bad enough that Walker and the incumbents were so blinded by needs to feed their egos that they took what clear-headed individuals realized was an impermissibly-risky gamble with money that wasn’t theirs. But it is unconscionable that he does not correct the mistake but instead in a bull-headed, ignorant manner on this issue continues to blow sunshine up the public’s collective skirts that makes the sun’s output look like a moonless night in the darkest graveyard. We neither are amused nor are buying it.

Walker also complimented the City Council on how pleasant its members were to work with – meaning their state of pliancy made them equally as derelict as he on these issues. But there seems to be no great desire to end this nonsense by the voters as witnessed by the paucity of candidates to the entrenched mandarins in the spring elections and the biggest issue during the campaign of the only new member was his participation in Airline High’s 1967 state football championship.

No doubt these kinds of things are what prompted Walker to assert that the city is “getting a reputation as a progressive city around the state.” Before you laugh, he’s actually right. “Progressive” is a term often appropriated by liberals to describe their big-spending ideology that stridently objects to smaller government, that does not believe that government should do only the necessary tasks rather than build monuments to themselves. Mayor Walker and returning members of the Bossier City Council, you have found yourselves.

22.7.09

Poll data may push Landrieu away from nationalized care

Another day, another poll and especially when it’s dealing with figures like Gov. Bobby Jindal, up for reelection in two years; Pres. Barack Obama, up for reelection in three years; and Sen. Mary Landrieu, up for reelection in five years; they usually don’t mean a whole lot. But this one might have some lessons given the attempt by Obama and his Democrat allies to consolidate government control over one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

The poll showed that Louisianans in general are not fond of Obama. He registered only a 44 percent approval rate, six points below his disapproval rate. He also is very polarizing, getting 74 percent support from Democrats but only 12 percent support from Republicans. Of that Democrat preference, about two-fifths of it is represented by the 91 percent of blacks approving; only 25 percent of whites in total do, far behind their massive 68 percent disapproval.

By contrast, Republican Jindal’s 55 percent overall approval rating is 17 points higher than his disapproval number. Scarier for Democrats than his 80-14 percent distribution in favor of approval among Republicans, 59-20 percent margin for independents, and less than 2:1 disapproval among themselves (32-60 percent), is his support differentiated by race: his numbers among whites are just about the opposite of Obama’s (one point higher in approval than disapproval of Obama), but almost as many blacks (21 percent) approve of Jindal as whites do of Obama (70 percent of blacks disapprove of Jindal). This means among white Democrats Jindal is running about even.

The policy nexus between these two is Obama’s plan to complete the process of nationalization of health care by socializing its provision. There are so many bad aspects present in and falsehoods perpetrated by the current bill’s supporters that Louisiana, so often a follower, has by the efforts of its people turned into a leader opposing this horrendous policy (flacks from the Obama Administration on several occasions were gustily booed for their answers at a meeting designed to propagandize it). Which only complements and is reflected by Jindal’s (who started his federal career in the area of health care policy) own strong reservations he has publicized about it.

So Jindal and Louisiana may rally enough opposition nationwide to alter the most obnoxious aspects of the plan, perhaps even to derail it. Yet more important than the publicity they may bring against it is that a crucial vote concerning it will be Landrieu’s. To overcome a sure filibuster by opponents, Democrats must have every single one of themselves ready to slavishly follow Obama’s liberal line. Democrat Landrieu may not be willing to do so.

The poll data showed dead-even numbers of approval/disapproval at 43 percent for her. Particularly worrying for her is that while predictably among Democrats her approval leads disapproval 66-19 percent and is the opposite for Republicans by 18-71 percent, for independents she has approval trailing disapproval 39-44 percent. The trend in the state to 2014 and beyond is for more Republicans and independents and fewer Democrats.

Five years is almost an eternity in politics, but how she votes on this matter, given the magnitude of its importance, is something that will be remembered for a long time. Which probably explains why she has not given any commitment to supporting what current Obama is pushing, despite some heavy-handed Democrat tactics against her. Seeing the way the wind is blowing now may make her even more hesitant to support Obama on this, and thereby save the state and nation a lot of agony.

21.7.09

Spat started by deposed illustrates hypocrisy, paranoia

Perhaps for political reasons, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser and Baton Rouge Advocate editorial pages are letting a spat between the husband of former Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Raymond “Coach” Blanco, and Republican Louisiana House Speaker Jim Tucker foment. It showcases a struggle between old and new politics in the state, and the hypocritical ranting of a tired old man who fortunately has been ejected from the political scene and the power that went with it.

Blanco, who retired six months ago from a high-paid, cushy job in charge of facilities and students at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette that he held throughout his wife’s political career, started things off with a critical letter to the editor in the Advertiser, reprinted in the Advocate, about Tucker’s leadership in the budgetary dealings in the just-completed regular session of the Legislature that saw higher education having to absorb a several percentage-point hit to its funding. He accused Tucker of being too negative in attitude to give more money to higher education.

Tucker fired back (which followed the same Advertiser-to-Advocate pipeline), writing it was more important to prevent tax hikes and to achieve savings that no doubt could be realized in examining higher education through his authorship and passage of a bill that would so exactly that. He opined that Blanco’s comments were rooted in petty politics of the past, and that he opposed a tax hike to accomplish increased funding that Blanco presumably supported. Blanco then responded (again, utilizing the same pipeline), writing he never suggested a tax hike in his letter, but argued that increased spending in other areas sanctioned by Tucker sapped money from higher education, and asserted that was more reminiscent of politics of the past.

Typically, opinion pages allow a subject to go forth, allow one response, and move on. They also typically don’t reprint something fairly similar from another newspaper. So this calls into question the political motives of the two newspapers, neither of whom like Tucker, and whether Tucker will be allowed, if he wants, to be published on the subject. Even if he does, for reasons of political niceties Tucker is unlikely to expand upon the motives of Blanco, which reveal the real reasons behind the initial letter.

They being, unless there is a level of cognitive dissonance and tolerance in the Blanco household that makes those dynamics present in the marriage of the conservative Republican Mary Matalin and liberal Democrat James Carville look puny, then according to Blanco the conversations in the bedroom with this wife must have been very interesting and contentious. If Raymond Blanco thinks Tucker is a big-spender of the old school type, he apparently either knows nothing about his wife of some four decades or he was very skilled in hiding the violent disagreements they must have had over her free-spending ways. With even the faintest whiff of a budget surplus she hankered to spend it all, and strove time and again to raise taxes to allow for increased spending when there wasn’t one.

Perhaps the most prominent example of this came when, after a big surplus was determined in 2006 to exist because of federal recovery dollars pouring into the state in the aftermath of the hurricane disaster of 2005, Blanco tried to spend it all on various projects. But the Legislature denied her, in part because the minority Republicans in the House rallied to prevent it. Even though she overcame that opposition during the next regular session, the political defeat more than anything else other than her disastrous handling of the disaster response, sealed her fate that led her to decline running for another term.

Oh, and, by the way, the leader of that opposition that sank her spending plan temporarily was Tucker. That and now Tucker’s leadership to prompt examination higher education, where Raymond Blanco still has friends and influence that will be threatened through a greater emphasis on efficiency and value in higher education, it what sticks in his craw about Tucker (prompting Tucker to write obliquely about his “petty personal attacks”). This is why Blanco spends his days in retirement penning poisonous diatribes, because Tucker was instrumental in driving his wife out of power, and thereby perhaps him into premature retirement, and now threatens his bailiwick of nearly a half century.

I can understand Blanco wanting to have something to do now that he no longer gets to strut around his little fiefdom, but to keep himself occupied by railing against somebody as not being sufficiently fiscally conservative when he apparently did nothing to influence his wife to stop the runaway spending of her term in office shows a unique mixture of hypocrisy and selective memory (not to mention paranoia if he truly thinks that four percent cuts in higher education equals means it is “being crippled to the point that it will be derided nationally and unable to produce a well-educated, well-trained work force”). Bitterness, not honesty, typifies his contribution to this yawp of his, and disqualifies it from being taken seriously.

20.7.09

Statements challenge Blanco, suggest refurbishment

Concerned about her image from the day she entered the state’s highest office, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco suffered another blow to her credibility and Louisiana another obstacle to getting money for a brand-spanking new state-owned hospital when a widely-praised figure contradicted their claims about Hurricane Katrina damage.

Perhaps the person in any position of authority who came out of events leading up to and the aftermath of the storm that struck the New Orleans area in 2005 was Russell Honore, then a lieutenant general in charge of the military’s efforts at damage control in the days immediately after the storm triggered the breaching of the city’s levees. Although he had a decorated military career, Honore maybe is best known for popularizing the phrase in his initial days on this job “stuck on stupid” that characterizes those who don’t see mistakes of the past and are unwilling to move forward in new and positive ways.

His bluntness recently probably was not appreciated by Blanco or by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration when he made comments about the situation at New Orleans’ “Big Charity” hospital that formerly existed in Mid-City. During Katrina, winds whipped the building and it flooded. Not long after, Blanco declared the building a total loss and began to pursue nearly $500 million in federal dollars to build a new facility as the federal Veterans Administration proposed a hospital of their own adjacent to it. Jindal scaled back Blanco’s palatial plans somewhat but still seeks a new building.

To date, the federal government has not seen the matter exactly the way Blanco proclaimed and Jindal endorsed. It has argued that the building might not have been as bad off as Blanco claimed, and further contends that some portion of the “damage” was caused by decades of neglect and has proposed a figure of less than a third of that for which Blanco originally petitioned. Simultaneously, a wide spectrum of community interests have asserted that the original hospital was not as badly damaged by the storm as Blanco claimed and have pushed for scrapping the new facility in favor of rebuilding the old.

Contacted about the issue as these groups try to build a case to get the federal government to intervene through various to stop work on a new facility, now retired Honore said after the military thoroughly reconstituted the place in a couple of weeks, Blanco ordered it not to be reopened and indicated something else was going to happen. Others have confirmed the medical readiness of the facility at the time, most notably most of its medical staff. Instead, the state got the federal government to spend over $100 million in direct costs to provide health care from temporary facilities, and private providers an unknown amount, to take up the slack since. Honore and others involved in the effort have called Blanco’s action politically-motivated to get new facilities.

Blanco denies this, but she has a track record on the subject of Katrina that erodes her credibility. From her confused explanations about inaction to grudging yet incomplete release of documents transmitted during the crisis, on numerous occasions she and her staff have contradicted themselves on issues connected to Katrina. By contrast, Honore’s straight talking made him a minor celebrity in the months he spent overseeing rebuilding.

So who would the reasonable person believe? More importantly, who will the federal government believe, for if it’s Honore, that erodes the state’s case for more money even more. Which is yet another reason why this effort should be abandoned and the almost-four years now unused existing structure be refurbished to vase hundreds of millions of bucks.

19.7.09

Amend LA Constitution to allow proper use of TIF

The Legislature in its recently-conducted session got it mostly right in regards to government subsidization of new business, but it needs to change the laws permitting it to make sure that economic growth rather than corporate welfare is the purpose behind it.

Six bills this past session sought to grant tax increment financing (TIF) power to local governments. This gives a tax break, generally on sales although in concept it could extend other kinds of tax credits, to entities that do business within the boundaries of the designated district. The idea stems from the enterprise zone concept which is to encourage businesses to locate in that area, by making the cost of doing business cheaper, presumably underserved and/or underutilized because of the distressed nature of the area.

However, the several Louisiana statutes that address TIF variably address whether the area must be “blighted” or that it appear unlikely that many employers would locate in an area because of its depressed nature. This has led to attempts, some successful, for relatively industrious areas to acquire the designation. Baton Rouge legislators authored TIF bills for two different locations, with the apparently more prosperous of the two being rejected while the other, to encourage refurbishment of the old Jimmy Swaggart Ministries dormitory, may have passed only because of the decrepitude of the building – a marginal use of the power at best.

Three other TIF bills went nowhere but HB 887, which allows for TIF districts in New Iberia, passed. Although the bill says the intent of the legislation is “to eliminate and prevent the development or spread of slum, blighted, and distressed areas; to allow the rehabilitation, clearance, and redevelopment of slum, blighted, and distressed areas; to provide for the expeditious conversion of blighted or underused property into habitable residential dwellings in the city of New Iberia,” this nebulous language does raise the specter that these powers could be used similarly to the most notorious uses of TIF districts in Louisiana, those in definitely non-distressed areas of Denham Springs and Gonzales created to permit big box retailers to forgo some sales tax payments.

It could even be worse. In 2005, seeking ways to make more palatable to the public some $40 million of taxpayers’ money going to build a city-owned hotel, Shreveport’s former mayor Keith Hightower sought TIF for it but was rebuffed in the Legislature. (The hotel was built anyway, about 20 percent paid for by state tax dollars, whose annual expenses always have exceeded its revenues.) Neither Louisiana’s law nor Constitution prohibit government giving itself a tax break to put itself in competition with the private sector.

These loopholes need closing, preferably by a Constitutional amendment since TIF use currently is a matter of statute and can be changed on a case-by-case basis. An amendment that restricts TIF use to redevelopment of obviously blighted areas is something the 2010 Legislature needs to take up to get approved next fall. Only then can TIF be used as an economic development tool that benefits the citizenry more than privileged private investors.