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18.3.11

Self-serving Gallot redistricting plans dead on arrival

What’s most interesting about the redistricting plans submitted by Democrat state Rep. Rick Gallot, chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, is not that they are dead on arrival starting next week, but that they so nakedly outline his future political aspirations.

In each of three plans, Gallot creates a district that runs across north Louisiana, which encompasses his home base of Lincoln Parish, but avoids not much farther south Jackson Parish, home of Rep. Rodney Alexander, and takes in only the heavily black-populated areas of Natchitoches and Ouachita Parishes. He also in all draws an ink blot district that snakes up the Mississippi River from Orleans to East Baton Rouge Parishes, gulping in as many majority black precincts as possible. That creates some other odd-shaped districts in the area, and also a huge central district that incorporates strange bedfellows of parishes, but what these and all but the one with Lincoln Parish have in common is large overweighing white or black residents in them (at least 62 percent to as much as almost 80 percent).

That majority black district, with its shape as it is, might be a hard constitutional sell even with the imperative of a minority-majority district needed in the state, given it seems drawn primarily with race in mind, especially considering the shapes of the surrounding districts complementing it.

17.3.11

Change process to clear up "one-time" money confusion

Critics of the budget recently delivered by Gov. Bobby Jindal decry that it relies too much on “one-time” money and that it should have cut state government more deeply. To which these commentators need to have asked of them, what is the immediate danger in using one-time monies? That’s if they even understand the question.

The fact is, few people outside of a small coterie of state officials and legislators understand the one-time funds concept. In its broadest sense, it includes money coming from the federal government unrelated to any formulaic grant. More narrowly, it refers to money sitting around in state funds of various kinds, and, in the sense that it can be applied to budgeting, it means those bucks otherwise unencumbered for another purpose. This cash appears because some law or the Constitution forcibly dumps it into a fund, and only specific legislation appropriation, with varying degrees of specificity, can make it usable for a purpose other than its legal (constitutional is another matter) function (often tucked into Act 11, the operating budget, or any supplemental act).

At the end of last fiscal year, across 225 non-major (that is, not the General, Bond Security and Redemption, and Educational Quality Trust) funds they totaled around $5 billion dollars, or about 12 times the amount the proposed budget angles to use.

16.3.11

First, marginal step taken for NO college improvement

If you were waiting breathlessly on the Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education to kick off the revolution in restructuring the state’s institutions of higher learning, well, thanks for looking in, come back later when the Legislature is in session. But it was worth a look.

Appropriate to one option suggested by consultants hired to study the scope and form of potential consolidation of the University of New Orleans and Southern University New Orleans, located about a mile from each other down the same main artery, the Board voted 9-6 to create a University of Greater New Orleans that also would incorporate Delgado Community College activities, and to place the new entity in the University of Louisiana System.

Naturally, all sorts of wailing and gnashing of teeth emanated from special interests and their hyperbolic supporters vested in a separate SUNO, whose rhetoric seemed to equate the decision with the repeal of the Civil War Amendments (participating students utilizing such rhetoric thereby demonstrating no serious learning appears to be happening at SUNO). In fact, if carried out only to the extent of that decision, not much really changes.

15.3.11

Cigarette tax hike now produces more harm than good

So there’s still a move afoot to raise Louisiana’s cigarette tax for next fiscal year, despite Gov. Bobby Jindal’s promise to veto it if it ever even reaches his desk. Naturally, government backers of this articulate the exact wrong reasons at the wrong time for doing so.

These elected officials offer three arguments for its palatability in a depressed economic environment. First, as always, is its status as a “sin” tax levied against those, comprising a substantial minority of the citizenry, who engage in a behavior considered noxious by many and presumably harmful to themselves, a consideration that attempts to provide a moral basis for higher and higher taxation on facilitation of this activity. Second, presenting a political justification, is that majorities of Louisianans actually favor some increase in the existing, relatively low, taxation rate, so the will of the people dictates an increase. Third, they argue the state leaves dollars on the table as surrounding states have higher taxes, somehow proving the market can bear higher taxes and thus by raising it no higher than the lowest surrounding state, thereby capture higher revenue from both in- and out-of-state consumers.

However, using these as a rationale on which to achieve higher general fund revenues based upon an increased cigarette tax invites fiscal irresponsibility.

14.3.11

Public dollars for memorial removes positive meaning

Some months ago, I posed the following question, partially repeated here: 
Your family and friends want to celebrate on a hot summer’s eve with the ability to cook outside and lounge around with cool drinks. About 20 of you head to a park but you all reject the areas with picnic tables and the like. Instead, you park in an area a bit distant from the river – because there is a ditch in the way built by the city (interestingly, only earlier that day) exactly to prevent vehicles from going to the riverbank. You then all lug your stuff to the riverbank through some foliage.
There, parents allow their children to play in the river in the visibly-moving current, despite the fact that not only can none of the children swim, but also none of the adults can. Unlike city parks with pools, there are no lifeguards, although a few other individuals are nearby. These non-swimmers bring a total of one life preserver, not worn by anybody but tossed out on the bank. And thus tragedy occurs when six youths drown.