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Independence Day, 2013

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Independence Day or Christmas when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Monday, Jul. 4 being Independence Day, I invite you to explore the links connected to this page.


Ruling encourages adopting defined contribution plan

It’s not exactly back to the drawing board for the next phase of pension reform in Louisiana, but at least the opportunity to come up with something better presents itself, all the while recognizing that doing nothing is not an option.

With only a slight amount of stretching the state Constitution, the Louisiana Supreme Court last week declared that passage in 2012 of a cash benefit plan for new hires into state government did not have the requisite votes, and thereby invalidated the law that was, after an instrument passed in this year’ session, to take effect a year from now. The Constitution says that any actuarially change predicted as negative, even if really indeterminable and largely guesswork, to retirement fund solvency requires a two-thirds vote of the seated membership for passage in each chamber, and the House fell a couple short.

Using a bit of creative license – despite the Constitution’s not specifying that this applied to future plan members, the Court strung some statutes together and tortured the mix to say that it somehow did – to wipe the statute away, this eliminated a minor but useful means by which to defuse the ticking time bomb that is the state’s unfunded accrued liability, now in the neighborhood of $20 billion and costing taxpayers an extra $1 billion or so a year to finance.


Court error on formula decision comes back to haunt it

The lack of logic in the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision that invalidated the state’s funding formula for schools got exposed by a suit of a school board and union representatives that could cost the state a couple hundred million dollars – but gives the Court the opportunity to fix its error.

Earlier this spring, during the legislative session, the Court ruled that the funding formula from last year was unconstitutional, partially on the basis of when it was dealt with by the Legislature. Each year, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education concocts this formula, where a majority passes it on to the Legislature that only has the power to approve or disapprove. If disapproving, BESE can try again, but if no concurrent resolution encapsulating it is passed by both chambers, then the formula last enacted continues to get used.

The Court declared the 2012-13 version void on the basis that the instrument presented as the vehicle for the formula, even if designated as a concurrent resolution, was really not, but took on the characteristics of a law because, in its opinion, the instrument acted like a law, because most of the time historically its path to legislative approval replicated that used for laws (even though evidence it presented to substantiate that, such as a trip to the Legislative Bureau, is not defined in the Constitution or by statute, unlike what are bills to become laws and what are resolutions). This is despite the fact that it creates no statute, which mimics appropriations bills that way that are considered laws but differs from them in that it does not apportion specific amounts but creates a formula that may be adjusted by specific amounts.


Strain deferral signaling Vitter in for governor's race?

In a sign that perhaps Sen. David Vitter has come to an affirmative decision that he’ll make a gubernatorial run in 2015, Agriculture Secretary Mike Strain announced he would seek reelection to that post.

Strain posted through social media the decision, significant because he was the only prominent principled or traditional conservative candidate putatively in the contest. Others at the state level who have announced interest in the job to succeed term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal represent different political bases – Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne seems positioned to appeal to moderates on the right and independents, Treasurer John Kennedy for years has spouted issue preferences that appeal to populist conservatives, and state Rep. John Bel Edwards reliably parrots lines that liberal Democrats love.

As far as this group went, Strain could find room to try to capture that constituency with the only potential competition from state Sen. Gerald Long, who also expressed some interest. But Long raised hardly any money in 2012 although he retains almost $300,000 in the bank. Strain did much better, raising over $200,000 and left with nearly $400,000 in the same time period, so it seems highly unlikely that Long, if the distant kinsman of two past governors even still contemplates making the race (at one time saying a crucial factor in deciding to go for it was his ability to raise money), chased him out of it.


Bossier City voter apathy sabotages good governance

Attentive Bossier Citians got a rude reminder with its recent inauguration of its next government. In a democracy, ultimately we get the government we deserve. That’s Bossier City citizens have allowed about $100 million of their money to walk out the door over the past 15 years, because, as the recent city elections showed, they just don’t care enough.

The latest folly performed by city government was a needless $26 million giveaway of land, cash, expenses, and promises to a local developer. What prompted it is unclear, as it resulted from a legal settlement, but it appears that Bossier City’s government negotiated in bad faith with the developer, which became public only over a dispute about curb cuts. That cost each citizen about $414 that could have been avoided.

Yet even with this latest reminder of a string of bad decisions over those years, with many of the same people who made them running for reelection this time out – comprising six of the seven council districts and the mayor’s office – only one council member opted out, only one drew a challenger, and the only other one with competition saw a rematch of a previous special election that did not feature an incumbent, plus another challenger this time. This in and of itself was a sign of apathy that only two competitions out of eight occurred, and only one featured a politician who played a part in the bad decision-making.