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7.5.15

Liberal hypocrisy evident on LA tax increase roads bill

Reaction – essentially, none – by some to increasing both sales and gasoline taxes shows the level of partisan hypocrisy attached to policy specifically associated with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal but more generally imbued within Louisiana’s political left.



Earlier this week, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced a pair of bills by state Rep. Karen St. Germain, HB 778 that would hike the state sales tax one cent for 10 years, and HB 777 that would raise permanently the gasoline tax from 20 to 30 cents a gallon. The former barely drew a peep and passed out without objection, while the other got more discussion – more about specific projects than anything else – and was forwarded on a 7-3 vote. Both would be dedicated to infrastructure.



The massive silence about the merits of the sales tax increase in particular stands in sharp relief to events of a couple of years ago, when Jindal proposed a tax swap plan that basically would have eliminated income taxes with raising the sales tax 2.25 percent, knocking out many exemptions, and expanding that taxation to many services. The plan was revenue neutral at the start but its simplification aspects and making sales taxation broader while zeroing out income taxation promised to encourage economic growth that in the future would have made it revenue positive.

6.5.15

Legislature better focus on budget, not on skirting rules

As the Louisiana Legislature embarks upon its version of spinning plates on top of poles, serious confusion stills reigns about just how procedurally this may be accomplished, to the detriment of success in this endeavor.



The metaphor refers to the House’s task in attempting to pass legislation beginning tomorrow allowing for budget construction next week. Part of the strategy relies upon scaling back tax breaks, and it is reported that “that it can trim tax breaks or temporarily end them with just a majority vote.” If that is being recounted accurately, there’s at least one serious problem with that strategy.



The Constitution flat out prohibits a permanent “repeal” of a tax exemption without a two-thirds majority vote of each chamber (and then would require gubernatorial assent, although a veto could be overridden by the same two-thirds majorities), but says nothing about a reduction of an exemption. Nor do a series of attorney general opinions, the latest relevant one 22 years old, address this specific question. For whatever reason, a numerically large faction of House members believe the concepts of “repeal” and “reduce” different enough that they can freelance the former having explicit addressing by the Constitution and the latter ignored by it, and by virtue of this not being mentioned in it specifically as an instance of requiring a supermajority to accomplish therefore defaults resolution of this issue to the typical simple majority rule.

5.5.15

LA retirement fund mergers, transparency necessary

If you thought that the idiocy that surrounded the horrific investment decisions made by Louisiana’s Municipal Police Employees Retirement System was bad, check out perhaps a worse case that argues more illustratively for system reform at all levels.



MPERS, which municipalities may participate in to have managed retirement investments to pay out in pensions for their law enforcement employees, gained infamy for its investments in questionable real estate and golf courses. A neglectful board trusted its administrator on these matters, who later was convicted of fraud, whose flights of fancy caused significant dollar losses to its portfolio, meaning higher costs to law enforcement agencies and, ultimately, to taxpayers.



But MPERS almost seems conservative on this account compared to the absurdities committed by the board and management of the New Orleans Fire Fighter and Pension Relief Fund. Among other “investments” made by this group, the agency that deals with the pensions of these public safety personnel in New Orleans, were buying golf courses and lending to a hotel, an office building, a garage, and to movie production companies. NOFF also went further in investing with an advisor who promised indefinite outsized returns now under investigation for what authorities equate to running a Ponzi scheme.

4.5.15

Far worse LA budget outlook if Medicaid reform absent



As long as quality is maintained in the provision of health care to the indigent, it’s not really important how taxpayers save money, it’s that they do.



At issue is a bill for legislative consideration, SB 109 by state Sen. Ronnie Johns, that would put into law efforts being made by Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals to report information relative to the state’s Medicaid program. This bill, which is making its way smoothly through the process, specifically addresses making comparisons between the state’s prior use of a fee-for-service model that paid regardless of need or quality of service provided and its new model for the past three years, a managed capitation system called Bayou Health that has third party administrators making decisions about the suitability of a procedure and whether it would qualify for reimbursement.



DHH produces numbers that show quality of care, in terms of things such as patient access, is improving as a result. But last fall a Legislative Auditor’s report revealed that some of the data used were incomplete or were not independently audited, making such comparisons less certain. The difficulties came from the data for legacy Medicaid that could work for better comparisons just didn’t exist, and that insufficient resources were allocated for independent verification or even accurate reporting of some data-based conclusions, the latter of these DHH now has instituted protocols to address.

3.5.15

State senate tilt metaphoric to LA political change



A presumed legislative semi-rematch from 2011 serves as a microcosm of whether Louisiana Republicans fully consolidate their status as the majority party in the state, whether Democrats lapse into relevance only as a regional force based on ethnicity, and whether the political culture truly has transformed.



Last week Republican Beth Mizell, narrowly-defeated in 2011 against Democrat state Sen. Ben Nevers, announced she would have another go at that seat. That loss of around 400 votes took many by surprise, and not just because Nevers in his first try in 2003 had won without having to contest a runoff (the Republican, who polled only half of Nevers’ total, withdrew) and followed that up winning reelection unopposed in 2007, but because Democrats are burrowed in like ticks on a neglected dog in the epicenter of the district, Washington Parish.



Because of that, Mizell will not be a slam dunk to succeed the term-limited veteran legislator, who also served a term in the House prior to his Senate election. Almost certain to try to hang onto the seat for Democrats is Nevers’ successor, now himself term-limited in the House, state Rep. Harold Ritchie. Together, the two have served as the recent backbone of the Washington Parish part of the party; Ritchie’s wife Patsy serves on its executive committee, and his brother serves on the Bogalusa City Council, while Nevers’ political ally and confederate in trying to build a reservoir in the parish while having barely arms-length business relationships with the effort Charles Mizell (if there’s some kind of distant relationship between him and Beth Mizell’s late husband’s family, I don’t know of any, even if both are from Bogalusa), served as Bogalusa mayor.