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12.5.12

Budget hawks disavow one-time money but use it anyway

A glimmer of hope has emerged from the posturing surrounding disposition of Louisiana’s fiscal year 2013 budget, with irony and hypocrisy again playing leading roles in the product.

When the legislative regular session commenced, the budget was balanced using $230 million in “one-time” money, which are nonrecurring dollars available for a particular purpose that may come from a number of sources, but mostly from a “funds sweep.” With around 300 constitutional and statutory dedications, almost 70 percent of revenues from state-collected sources are funneled to specific purposes, not all of which are appropriated now or, in some cases, will be even in the distant future. For just about all of these, as long as a positive balance remains after subtracting budgeted funds to be spent for the actual purpose of the fund (if there is one for the state; some are essentially agency accounts for public or quasi-public entity), the state may scoop money out of them and supplement the general fund with this.

In the course of the session, however, a later revenue forecast, on which the budget legally must be based, plus some smaller adjustments eventually pushed another $220 million of deficit into the budget. This created a political problem, because of a House of Representative rule that reads with a decline in year-over-year general fund spending (as in this case), the use of one-time money may be only be up to the amount of the increase in general fund receipts, which was then $377.5 million, unless authorized by a two-thirds vote. Not only did the new amount of $450 million as gap exceed the previous cutoff point if only one-time funds were used with no cuts, the point itself dropped by the forecasted lower amount of $210.5 million, meaning just $167 million could be used without the supermajority.

10.5.12

Unmasking soon of special interests behind LA recall efforts

The tinfoil-hat-wearing, black-helicopter-searching crowd is at it again, trying to expand recall petition efforts to include more of the more helpful members of the Louisiana Legislature. As we may expect, there is, of course, much less to this than meets the eye.

Currently on a jihad against Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, the Recall Bobby Jindal group plans on expanding efforts to include state Reps. Kevin Pearson and Greg Cromer, with perhaps more in its scope. The flashpoint issues appear to be recently-passed laws to improve education in the state that will impact poor-performing teachers and pension reforms designed to get many state employees to pay their fair share to take up the slack from taxpayers financing a gravy train of benefits, both supported by the above policy-makers.

Its talk, a mixture of optimism and paranoia, misses the mark on both accounts. No statewide-elected official nor state legislator ever has been recalled, much less subjected to a vote, being as the legal requirements include a petition within 180 days of submission of the effort to the Secretary of State including valid signatures of a third of all registered voters in the jurisdiction (statewide or in a district) even to trigger a vote.

9.5.12

Lemming legislators guided to injure LA higher education


Although it’s well past a century-and-a-half in age, Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, with its dissection of how otherwise thinking people can get sucked into following the crowd on the flimsiest of reasoning, still applies today, as activity by Louisiana’s House Education Committee demonstrated yesterday.

The committee heard HB 964 by Rep. Jim Fannin, which transfers my employer Louisiana State University Shreveport into the University of Louisiana System, followed by its merger into Louisiana Tech University, and then letting out campus facilities to area community colleges. The bill passed 14-4, with all of the Shreveport-Bossier metropolitan area’s state representatives on the committee, Henry Burns, Thomas Carmody, and Jeff Thompson in favor.

Supporters paraded a passel of area interest group representatives, LSUS graduates, donors, politicians, and some of them fitting more than one category, and even some from the state level, plus other higher education honchos including a representative of the interests that served as their Pied Piper, Louisiana Tech president Dan Reneau, in front of the committee. They held themselves out as kinds of community organizers to assist LSUS in a quest to fix what ailed it, as indicated by stagnant enrollment figures and difficulty in introducing new programs. In other words, they asserted that the disease was so bad (one apocalyptically said the school would wither away in a matter of years without this intervention) that they told policy-makers the only way to save the patient was to kill him first and then, Frankenstein-like, resurrect him in new form via transfusion from Tech.

8.5.12

Legislators who preach fiscal restraint must practice it


There’s more than just a whiff of hypocrisy emanating from so-called fiscal conservatives if they want to have their cake and eat it too in dealing projected present and future budget deficits in Louisiana.

The state finds it must close a $210.5 million gap in the current fiscal year ending Jun. 30, and then a $303.3 million deficit for the next prior to the Legislature’s final adjournment on Jun. 4. The problems are interrelated: the lower predicted amount for this year is what sets a lower baseline for the next (70 percent of the shortfall), which then adds more (the remaining 30 percent) on to it.

One approach could be to reduce spending by the required amount over the next 50 days, then apportion it out over the next 365 plus the additional. While the back half of that can work, compressing such a huge reduction compared to a relatively short period of time seems unworkable. Thus, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and some in the Legislature favor using at least part of the Budget Stabilization Fund to offset the short-term deficit.

7.5.12

Expect Landry to run for current job when he feels ready


In less than six months, Congressional elections will have occurred. The clock is ticking and it’s getting late for prospective candidates, especially for those in competitive contests. So why doesn’t Rep. Jeff Landry announce he’s going to run reelection, albeit in a reconfigured district?

The freshman Republican by residence would find himself competing in a district where another, longer-term incumbent Republican Rep. Charles Boustany already has announced a try for a fifth term, courtesy of reapportionment that forced combining of their current districts when the state’s population did not increase as fast as did others. This new district contains a little more of Boustany’s current district than Landry’s and Boustany’s longer presence in Washington has built up more of a support network among fellow elected Republicans for assistance and cash (about double what Landry has), which makes him the early favorite.

Despite these advantages, early on the putative race would be judged as close as Landry can count on more fervent support. Already, more than one group has by word and by deed has pledged support to him, so it seems clear he would be quite a competitive candidate if he would run. Thus, there seems little reason for his hesitation unless he does not plan to run for this office.

6.5.12

Reality catching up to, if unacknowledged by, Roemer


As a lens through which to study Louisiana politics, this column takes three critical approaches: it loathes hypocrisy, it disparages self-deception, and it does not suffer gladly the misinformed or ignoramuses who lack self-awareness of these qualities in their argumentation or actions. Which is why it takes such an interest in the presidential candidacy of former Gov. Buddy Roemer, as his quest illuminates elements of all three of these traits studied.

Roemer’s candidacy has produced a cornucopia of them – arguing he’s against politics as usual and big money in it, when his whole professional and political careers he’s participated in them; his stupefaction over how so few people seem to agree with him, but explained away by the conspiracy theory that the very interests he rails against flex their imagined powers to prevent that; and, while claiming to serve as the knight in shining armor to free the people from such oppression, in reality is all about his own sense of ambition and need to rehabilitate his reputation, as evidenced by his running as a Republican until in no longer suited his craving for power and then openly campaigning for the experimental Americans Elect designation to fill state ballot spots it has secured.

The organization desires to present a meaningful alternative to the major party nominees for the presidency this fall, through a vetting process that first presents candidates for nomination by popularity, then who are vetted by the organization to adhere to what they claim are “centrist” political preferences, and finally to have a national primary to select a slate which has the presidential nominee from one party and the vice presidential nominee from another. As what is known about the funders of the group indicates they belong to the center-left of the ideological spectrum, the goal may be to produce a candidate from the center-right that will siphon off enough votes from the Republican nominee to ensure the reelection of Pres. Barack Obama.