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15.12.11

Election market suggests LA judicial spots priced right

Who’s gotten the biggest pay raises in Louisiana among its class of employees over the past 11 years? Statewide elected officials have gotten a small increase, and so have legislators, if you count their per diems, but it isn’t either. Not even state classified employees, until the last two or three years (depending on what your job was) did get hikes of four percent annually in most cases. Don’t even consider unclassified employees, the majority of whom work in higher education and have seen little in the way of any salary increase in this century.

No, it’s judges, whose salaries have about doubled over that time span, although they did not get anything in the past year. And now the body, largely represented by members of the judiciary or those of the profession whose members comprise it, lawyers, charged with recommendations on this matter thinks there should be another hike over the next two years, although it graciously wants to hold their size to about, in aggregate, half of the typical rate of the past.

The Judicial Compensation Commission, whose recommendation needs legislative approval for anything to happen, argues that Louisiana’s elected state judges are falling behind their comrades in other similar states. One of its judicial members decries that salaries are so low it discourages people to serve in these posts, as “They can't afford to be judges” on the current salary.

14.12.11

Response to challenge LA higher education improvement

The Louisiana Board of Regents made the right call in holding Louisiana State University – Eunice accountable for its decisions, but the episode demonstrates the perils the policy-makers and educators face in trying to improve delivery of higher education.

School and LSU system officials petitioned the Regents to exempt LSU-E from meeting requirements voluntarily entered into by the college in order to get increased state funding and higher tuition rates. While almost every requirement was met, one fell distinctly short, and administrators asked that, under the agreement’s “extraordinary circumstances” clause, for next year the failure not abrogate its chances to receive at least a portion of almost 25 percent of projected funding. They argued that budget cuts, in part causing larger class sizes that theoretically would have a negative impact on the problem area, retention, and a general slow economic climate justified the request.

The Regents refused, rightly noting that all institutions were on the record knowing that state budgetary tightness did not constitute an excuse and that LSU-E had been told that, if in doubt, to lower its projections of retention.

13.12.11

Rates set ignoring risk bad for LA consumers, investors

My friend Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell pitched an idea to members of the press concerning electric utility rates in Louisiana. Here’s why in the long run it would be injurious to both Louisiana ratepayers and (some of whom are also) investors.

Campbell mused that the average rate of return allowed by the PSC, the five-member board that sets these rates in Louisiana, at 10 percent allowed too great of a return to providers. He thought more like 8 percent would do, but, of more interest, he thought then pegging that rate of return on equity (even with the state’s current average being in line with regional and national averages) to other investments’ rates of return would do a better job of producing what he considered a reasonable rate of return for utilities, with the implication that today’s allowed rates were too high.

(As a side note, the figures he quoted as comparison benchmarks – 1 percent return on a certificate of deposit and 3.5 percent on a mortgage – if that’s what he gets, he’s got some pretty sweet deals. The average 30-year rate on a mortgage yesterday was 3.96 percent, while the average 1-year CD earned 0.75 percent.)

12.12.11

Media finally conceding wisdom of Jindal berm strategy

One wonders why it took the mainstream media so long to realize what readers of this space knew well over a year ago, that the leveraging opportunities of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to build sand berms as a defense against potentially polluting oil made the decision wise.

When the Macondo well explosion erupted to begin emptying oil into the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana’s coast, one of the parties involved, explorer and producer BP, asserted it would pay for all damages. Assured of a funding stream at no cost to taxpayers, the Jindal Administration began an ambitious plan to build sand berms to catch any oil that might threaten ecologically-sensitive areas.

As a bonus, the choice had real value added for it could be designed in a way for the berms to double as barrier islands to aid in coastal preservation and restoration; in other words, at no cost to Louisiana, hundreds of millions of dollars could go years ahead of schedule for improving the coastline, saving even more by stopping any deterioration faster. Regrettably, at a time when these considerations should not have mattered, because it was conservative Republican Jindal taking the lead, the plan baselessly caught flak from partisan and ideological opponents.

11.12.11

LA GOP success may moot party governance controversy

The Louisiana Republican State Central Committee met yesterday. Talk may have focused on the fact that only 16 of 230 vacancies occurred when qualification for seats on this body for the next term ended the day before, two fewer than for the 2008 election and certainly better than the 38 of 210 vacancies for their Democrat counterparts, demonstrating the former’s ascendancy and the latter’s decline. But by qualification for the 2016 election, because of this ascendancy Republicans might be like Democrats and thereby sidestep a controversy about their districts that nearly derailed this election.

Last month, longtime RSCC member (and the man holding the singular distinction of losing to David Duke for elective office) John Treen sued to prevent the election. He contended that the official schedule for submitting boundaries of districts had not been followed, and therefore the default according to R.S. 18:443.2 of a member per legislative district would have to be followed. While he argued on legal grounds, he indicated the request also would have the effect of decreasing representation on the SCC from more ideologically social conservative elements.

However, the federal judiciary disagreed, in the form of (interestingly, the former head of state Democrats) District Judge James Brady, and elections and qualification for these districts proceeded as the state party had planned.