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29.4.10

No renewal sends tough love message to Bossier City


Parents know that at times their children must face “tough love” – making them endure the harsh consequences of their actions, rather than bailing them out, in order for them to learn a valuable life lesson. That time has come for the people of Bossier City in regards to the unruly children that act as elected leaders for the city.

As is often the case, we’re to blame in part by indulging them. Despite some of them foisting a money-losing arena with our money on us, we reelected them. Despite more of them having the city build a parking garage that a developer would have and needlessly spending more of our money on that, we reelected them. Despite almost all of them taking our money and using it to finance partly a high-tech office building that stands more empty than not and has no hope of paying itself back soon if ever, we reelected them. And there are smaller unwise expenditures as well.

We keep facilitating them by refusing to curb their excesses, and that resulted in a massive budget deficit, back-breaking debt, and more problems to come in future years. Their problem is spending for no good reason on these shiny baubles only because they like so much the feeling of power and prestige that it gives them, overwhelming good sense that should have told them these were neither necessary nor wise, given alternative uses of those monies. So now the time has come for us to do our duty – even if it pains us – and to teach them a lesson.

This is why we must vote against the 6 mil property tax renewal dedicated to public safety salaries up this Saturday. That would create a $3 million or so deficit for the city, but it’s an action that might finally get through the thick skulls down at the city complex telling them correct priorities and decision-making are not optional, and that the means by which to right-size without the tax are available.

Of course, as would any rebellious adolescent Bossier City’s mayor and its city council might try to respond with spite by dramatically reducing police and fire presence, self-righteously proclaiming it’s not their fault but the people’s for rebuking their decisions. But as immature as they may be, children also act out of self-interest and to these elected officials their careers in office take such precedence that this is unlikely. They will realize that the repercussions of this will be laid at their feet and that any imperiled hopes they have of retaining office on 2015 officially will be buried if they pursue such a slash-and-burn course.

Instead, perhaps finally they will focus on doing right by the people’s money, with several months to do before the tax disappears. The best long-term solution would be selling the white elephants or their stakes in them and investing the money and/or realize savings in foregone principal and interest payments. Along with the $30 million or so intentionally banked by the city from gambling proceeds, these earnings will more than offset this budgetary hole. Perhaps less wise but workable would be dipping into the $30 million as no legal impediment stands in the way of that. These are real and feasible solutions, and statements by politicians that only draconian cuts are a response to nonrenewal are disinformation.

Had these politicians showed a little more maturity, maybe they would not have boxed themselves into a corner like this. Instead of proposing the renewal at the same 6 mils, they could have pegged it at the current 4.86 mils collected (about $2.5 million), or even been cut a little slack and let it go at 5. (Technically, this would require designating it as a new tax.) This would have shown willingness to being reasoned with, but, given their track record and lack of fortitude, it’s all too possible that if they get the renewal at 6 mils they’ll start collecting the entirety of it, causing a tax increase the concept of which at least some of them have cautiously broached. They have proven themselves untrustworthy before, so there’s no reason not to think they won’t again take advantage of the public.

Sometimes life forces you to grow up. Bossier City’s elected officials have lacked political maturity for some time, and it’s our duty to help them put away their dreamy ideas and get down to the hard and unglamorous business of governing effectively – of serving – with the people’s resources. Yes, there may be short term pain for all of us when we apply this tough love, but they will be better public servants for it and we will be better off as a whole. This sacrifice will be worth it if it triggers undoing of the mistakes of the past and it gets right the minds of those who have disserved us all too often. If we don't vote it down, we only invite the norm from these folks, and that is bad governance.

28.4.10

Senators' decisons benefit kids, erode integrity of law

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary A Committee did the right thing in derailing a bill that would have confused detrimentally Louisiana’s consistent policy regarding adoptions, but unfortunately declined to go further to clarify that as it related to birth certificates.


The Committee deferred the amended SB 129 with only its author state Sen. J.P. Morrell, voting in its favor against three nays. The amended bill would have allowed unmarried couples to adopt; current law specifies that only a married couple, with that marriage defined by the Constitution as between one man and one woman, or a single man or woman can adopt.

The bill became controversial as its debate was framed in a way that would use it as a vehicle for state sanctioning of same-sex unions. As has become typical in these efforts at the Capitol, a number of specious arguments were brought forth that missed the entire point of why the state promotes and rewards marriage in its policies.


Perhaps the ultimate interest of any government that regulates policy in this area is to promote procreation and afterwards successful raising of children, for without the capacity provided by these future citizens the state will not have the resources to perform other necessary functions. Thus, the state subsidizes marriage, through various tax breaks, favorable legal treatment, etc., as defined historically and legally in Louisiana because that is the only kind of union that can produce children.


It also historically and legally has favored adoption for married couples, because it is consistently and universally acknowledged that parents in a married state have the best chance of successful child rearing on many indicators such as behavior, resources available, and the like. Again, this is a general proposition, as some married couples do a very poor job while some single people do a great job.


That is why the state allows adoption for single individuals as well, and why there is a vetting process for adoption, to do the best job possible in weeding out married couples who might bring that advantage to the request but whose lacking in other areas make them unsuitable for an adoption with a high chance of successful child rearing, and to allow for single individuals that appear capable enough the opportunity to perform this vital function.


So what would be wrong with two people not married raising an adopted child? Because it becomes legally confusing when the law already permits a single individual to do so and vests decision-making power about the child with that person. Why should two be specified when there is no legal bond between them in the state? It makes no logical sense for the state to confuse matters when one person has sole responsibility for the welfare of a child by then giving somebody unrelated legally to the person the same powers.


If that person desires, however, that decision-making authority in part or full could also be granted to another legally unrelated adult. Just a few minutes of searching on the Internet for the proper document under Louisiana law (such as a durable power of attorney), downloading, getting signatures, and a notary is all it takes (which demonstrates that fallaciousness of arguments that not to change the law would prevent this).


Understand that present law allows a single adult regardless of sexual orientation to adopt. Thus, given the facts, we must conclude that, because it is potentially detrimental to divide responsibility for a child between two unrelated adults that never jointly had custody as a result of a legal marriage (not to mention those detriments potentially from a standpoint of health and well-being of the child), efforts to allow this rest more on a political agenda than one that really looks out for the welfare of adopted children, verifying the wisdom of the committee’s decision.


Unfortunately, the committee proved too skittish to maintain the legal clarity when it prompted state Sen. Buddy Shaw to withdraw his SB 521 which would incorporate the state’s constitutional standard that a parent is either a married couple under state jurisprudence or a single individual and apply it to listing parents on state birth certificates of adopted children. This is under dispute where two males that identify themselves as homosexual who exercised a legal privilege in another state to recognize a union between them had one of them adopt a Louisiana-born child and want both their names listed on that certificate. Because of this litigation, the committee shied away from dealing with Shaw’s bill.


Hopefully, should the courts eventually see the proper reasoning and declare that Louisiana cannot be forced to violate its own law in an area left to states to regulate by the federal Constitution by following another’s conflicting law, a bill like Shaw’s will be passed. Fortunately, this also means that state Rep. Walter Leger’s HB 901 that would do the opposite that then would bring the Constitution and law into conflict should not also be considered this session, so there is good news to go along with the bad.

26.4.10

Jindal choice of Angelle wins politically in many ways

Gov. Bobby Jindal came up with a politically neat choice for interim lieutenant governor that sheds light on the future of that office and another.


Upon official notification by outgoing Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, of his intended resignation to assume the mayoral position of New Orleans as he is to be sworn in May 6, the Republican appointed Scott Angelle, current secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. Since he is unelected, Angelle can take leave from heading DNR and plans to resume his duties shortly after the November election that will determine his and Landrieu’s successor – if a successor will exist given a parallel effort by Jindal to abolish the office. Angelle pledged he would not run for the position in that election.


Jindal’s choice puts an ally in charge nominally of the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, especially as this keeps Angelle performing double-duty as his legislative liaison. Adding this new position to it can leverage Angelle’s abilities here and therefore expand Jindal’s influence further with the Legislature. It also promotes a small bit of bipartisanship as Angelle calls himself a Democrat and thus Jindal can claim to have kept technically the same partisan balance among the state’s executive offices.


Appointing a Democrat is cost-free for Jindal and Republicans because the one constitutional difference between this appointed officer, who must receive confirmation by majorities of both legislative chambers, and the one to be elected is an appointed lieutenant governor does not belong to the succession line in case of a vacancy in the office of governor. That would go to the next elected official in line, currently Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne.


This move and Angelle’s stated return also effectively removes Angelle’s consideration from running for the Third Congressional District, where it was believed he might switch parties and run as a Republican. Instead, this is thought to clear the field for the entry of former state Rep. Hunt Downer who already has had state Rep. Nickie Monica defer to him. Angelle would have been considered, regardless of label chosen, a formidable competitor for Downer or any Republican.


In doing this, Jindal helps to minimize political conflict in getting a choice approved, in squelching potential criticism from Democrats, in increasing the chances of a Republican taking the Third District in avoiding either more intense internecine conflict or by removing a strong Democrat opponent, and may boost his legislative lobbying. Angelle gets a small résumé boost that could serve him well for future ambitions, and the state gets an executive officer with past accomplishments. All in all, this decision wins at many levels.

Voters may sink Bossier renewal if officials not careful

Just as, maybe, the furor that erupted when the extent of Bossier City’s fiscal mismanagement became known was beginning to dissipate, here came some reminders of the bungling that may have far-reaching consequences for the city.


During last year’s budget process, even as city officials probably knew of it long before the fall exercise but kept it hidden in order not to complicate their reelection possibilities and in the hopes somehow the problem would solve itself, the current year budget was found to be wildly, about 13 percent, short. This caused the dismissal of dozens of public safety personnel and other minor cutbacks in the city budget for that and this fiscal year.


Angry citizens wanted to know how it was the city had spent lavishly on an arena, parking garage, and high-tech office building, none of which would ever pay for themselves in anybody’s lifetime, yet had spent itself into deficit and simultaneously was threatening a near-doubling of water and sewerage rates after having doubled rates only a few years previously. Worse, in all of this unneeded building the city’s debt zoomed up to a level over seven times the city’s annual non-enterprise revenues and more maybe needed for water and sewerage matters (which could have been more than paid for by the spending on the above luxury items).


Now a couple of more things are looming to fan the flames of citizen discontent. First, another presumed extra expense suddenly will strike in the city in the near future, a hike in the premiums it must pay for employee pensions as a combination of subdued economic times and (in at least one case) poor investments. This could cost the city as much as an unbudgeted $800,000 over a year.


It could have been worse, as roughly another $800,000 increase from the Firefighters’ Retirement System of Louisiana was anticipated and put into the budget as Bossier City Fire Chief Sammy Halphen was on its board and notified the city. But his brother, Police Chief Mike Halphen who is leaving office had resigned from the board of the Municipal Police Employees Retirement System (MPERS) in the spring of last year and didn’t tell the city or his brother about looming deficits there.


(Although it really wasn’t that hard to figure out that the MPERS request would go up substantially, just by looking at the latest audit statement of MPERS and also knowing the state of the national economy and about the controversial money-losing and allegedly illegal activities in which MPERS was involved. One also would have thought that if one board reported a big loss, the other might do the same. But, apparently, Bossier City officials couldn’t take the few minutes necessary during the lengthy budget process to check on this possibility.)


Add to this that, of an inconvenience to be determined, that by May the city will have to have an election to renew the 6 mill property tax dedicated to public safety salaries. The tax raised $3 million in recent years but only because of refusals to allow the tax to roll forward, meaning its effective rate now is 4.9 mills.


This could be inconvenient for the city because voters might take it out on the city’s squandering of their money by voting the measure down. Enough may want to send the message that they no longer trust the spendthrift politicians even with something as straightforward as this.

They may also vote it down because they fear it will become a backdoor tax increase. If the renewal does occur at 6 mills, the City Council may not undertake the action to prevent the roll forward, inconveniencing the citizenry. Given past behavior when it comes to being wise stewards with money, there’s every reason not to trust Bossier City’s elected officials and Mayor Lo Walker openly discussed raising taxes as a possibility last year. Thus, the wisest thing for the city to do would be to ask for a 5 mill level, which probably would assure passage and provide a very minor (roughly $60,000) increase.


If the city tries to go for the whole hog, it risks allowing the fallout over its fiscal stupidity to continue to redound. Its politicians should adhere to the Falstaffian admonition that the better part of valor is discretion – not the strong suit of Bossier City’s elected officials in the past who seemed compelled to blow money on baubles rather than to do the unglamorous work of governing. The lack of trust of them they have inspired in its entirety.

25.4.10

Ahistorical arguments miss point of useful reflection

It’s the tail end of Confederate History Month, and once again ahistorical extremists on both sides of the argument bring so little erudition and so much illogic to reflecting upon the nature of the Confederacy that it becomes difficult to understand its meaning and place in American history.


On the one hand, you have those that, contrary to the historical record, assert the rebellion was all about slavery. They ignore that few of those who fought in the war actually owned slaves (although most of the power in the Confederacy was held by men who owned slaves or whose sources of wealth and power were derived from it) and that there were genuine states-rights sentiments within a significant portion of the population (although its is questionable whether even a majority felt that way). Economic and political considerations certainly played roles in triggering the attempt to secede.


But on the other hand, equally as ignorant are claims that slavery had little or nothing to do with the Civil War. Not only is this an exceptionally selective reading of history (there are almost no professional and/or academic historians that ever have claimed slavery was not an important rationale for the war), but also tap dances around the important moral question that slavery presented.


To some, this issue particularly should matter because they take great, perhaps inordinate, pride in personal histories that valorize those who fought for the Lost Cause. They appear compelled to write out slavery by assigning it minor importance or arguing it would had evolved away anyway without war because failure to do these would stain the motives of those who fought for the Confederacy.


Yet to do so they have to block out some very inconvenient facts, such as the CSA’s Vice President Alexander Stephens’ blunt admission that the war was about the perpetuation of slavery, that many non-slaveholders acted knowingly in ways to support slavery during the war, that the South started the war firing the first shots despite no oppressive moves being made by the federal government (appointing new postmasters that might actually deliver abolition tracts in the South does not count as “oppressive”), or that if slavery would have ended decades later without war does not invalidate the morality of a war to defend the Union that had the practical impact of ending immoral bondage.


What we need to take from this observation is that this was a tragic but necessary period in American history. It ended a moral evil that all too many in the South were either openly supporting or at least complicit in its retention (there were some like my wife’s ancestors in the South who openly resisted the Confederate government and refused to fight on its behalf), but for anybody to condemn or valorize automatically those who fought on behalf of a regime that promoted this evil does not truly understand the larger picture.


And that understanding is of the greatest tragedy, even more than the killing and violence that came of it – that many who fought for the Confederacy did not recognize the immoral outcomes of their actions, and that by their leaders’ desire for continued power and wealth some sacrificed themselves for something that was not worthy of their sacrifice. It’s a story as old as human history – more recent examples being ordinary Germans for Nazism, Russians and related Slavs for communism, and Japanese for the militaristic and racial ideologies of their past dictatorial regime.


That should be the purpose of Confederate History Month, to reflect upon how war came about in response to a situation so fundamentally at odds with our moral understanding of the human condition and why, despite the immorality of the peculiar institution, so many acted willingly or ignorantly to defend it. Making slavery either the only or a subordinate cause of the Civil War are unserious attitudes that cannot contribute to this improved understanding.