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Vulnerable Edwards seeking reform compromise

What may appear as negligence and ineptitude to some in fact shows a politically realistic strategy for Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his endangered reelection chances.

Well past the halfway point of his term, Edwards has little to show for his time in office. He said he would put the state on firm financial footing, but all he did was raise taxes and spend more while failing to stop chronic budget shortfalls. He made more people eligible for free government-run health care, but even a report that overestimates its benefits and underestimates its costs can’t hide the fact Edwards raised taxes to support an expensive new entitlement, the benefits of which won’t exceed the costs, for a number of people who could pay for their own insurance anyway.

His most significant, potentially positive achievement therefore comes from criminal justice reforms, comprised of a series of shortening sentences, increasing use of parole and probation, and instituting administrative changes that had the effect of reducing the jailed population size. As long as those changes don’t permit more criminal activity while reducing costs, he can claim policy victory and hang his hat on that for reelection purposes.


Flood underwriting changes increase affordability

A new study concerning flood insurance policy, with any changes disproportionately affecting Louisiana, creeps closer to more appropriate pricing but still falls short of the optimal option.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration, using Census data, compared income data and current pricing to investigate whether to revise rates on affordability criteria. The National Flood Insurance Program chronically has run in the red, prompting changes over the past several years but remains in flux as Congress can’t decide how to alter matters to put it in balance.

The report noted nationally that policyholders earned about half again what non-policyholders made. This suggests an affordability issue, confirmed in that in flood-prone areas twice as many low-income households don’t have insurance than do, with a smaller gap in other areas, while the ratio roughly is reversed for those of higher incomes.


Incomplete Medicaid expansion report misleads

Present one-sided information to the public and you’re likely to shape public opinion in that direction, a result recently captured by some academic researchers found echoing from the works of others.

Revealed publicly piece by piece, the latest installment of the 2018 Louisiana Survey conducted by Louisiana State University’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs focused on public attitudes about Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reforms. This came on the heels of a study released by the Department of Health that purported to show a positive fiscal impact from expansion.

The survey said 69 percent of Louisianans approved of expansion, and the report claimed state revenues over costs from expansion climbed $55 million while local governments received an extra influx of $75 million. It also asserted health care gains would accrue from expansion.


Unify command to improve jail performance

Plenty of reasons abound to end the experiment known as the Union Parish Detention Center Commission.

Prior to commencing its operations, the state passed a law removing it from the authority of the parish sheriff. Uniquely among Louisiana jails, it does not have a constitutionally-specified entity controlling it, but a committee comprised of the sheriff, the (3rd Judicial) District Attorney, police chief of the city hosting it Farmerville, a member of the Union Parish Police Jury elected by its members, and the president of the Police Jury. It contracts with the sheriff to operate the facility and legally is considered a component of parish government run by the Police Jury as that body funds it.

And it’s weathered a lot of bad public relations, right from the start. Initially, the Commission contracted to a private operator, whose efforts proved so slack that most work-release inmates found access to consume illegal drugs. This led to yanking that program that returned in 2015, as well as eventual takeover by the sheriff.


Political conflict necessary for LA to advance

At the very end of a recent piece by my Advocate colleague Mark Ballard comes an interesting quote, summing up exactly why Louisiana over several decades dug itself such a deep policy hole.

Said by former House of Representatives Speaker, Commissioner of Administration, and chairman of the 1973 constitutional convention Democrat Bubba Henry, in reference to the late former Republican state Rep. and state Sen. Tom Casey’s passing and his role in bringing about institutional reform: “But then, we were interested in the subject matter. They [today’s legislators] seem to be more interested in ideology.” Here, he made reference to battles in the past two years over general appropriations and capital outlay budgets, and tax policy related to that.

This echoed his remarks last year at a CC 73 reunion. When asked about having a new convention, he said, “If legislators can’t agree on the legislation to eradicate the debt [i.e. budget deficit] that we have, I don’t know what they could do in the constitutional convention that would be helpful to the state.”


Concrete rules best to mitigate order's effect

Even if Baton Rouge or every other local government now permitted to rule on property tax exemptions always gave maximal breaks, the damage has been done for at least the next 21 months.

Within a year of assuming office, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order regarding the Industrial Tax Exemption Program. The law it addressed allows the governor to cancel local property taxes entirely for up to 10 years.

Edwards changed that, saying he would allow only five years’ worth at 100 percent and three more at 80 percent. Further, he would allow local government input that could make those numbers even less advantageous.


Wackos prove necessity of curbing their zeal

Even as they complain about the possibility, environmentalist wacko protesters prove the point of the necessity of a Louisiana law that could limit their tantrums.

HB 727 by state Rep. Major Thibaut would add pipelines to the category of critical infrastructure. The state already protects from trespassing at these various sites such as power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, water treatment facilities, and natural gas terminals. Violators could draw as many as 15 years in prison with a $10,000 fine, going up to 20 years and $25,000 if the action could threaten human life or disrupt site operations. And, conspiracy to do so carries the same penalty.

He introduced the bill on Apr. 2, less than a week after unknown apparent protestors damaged equipment at a Bayou Bridge pipeline construction site. Environmentalist groups have vigorously fought the pipeline’s presence, ultimately losing regulatory and court battles, although many forswear the use of violence to achieve their ends.


Legislature still acting unwisely on tuition control

Here we go again with the Louisiana Legislature missing again on something commonsensical that puts it out of step with the rest of the country to the detriment of the state’s people.

Last week, the House of Representatives turned back HB 418 by Rep. Barry Ivey that would have allowed the state’s four higher education management boards to set their own tuition, subject to some parameters. Currently, Louisiana is but one of two states that require legislative input into tuition hikes.

The bill would have limited increases to 10 percent annually and no more than 20 percent total over four years. Further, it would have exempted recipients of Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars awards, meaning during the course of the award for a student that state taxpayers would not have to increase their effort to cover any rise in tuition.


LA needs to ban mandatory inclusionary zoning

Despite obfuscating noise designed to stall it, SB 462 by state Sen. Danny Martiny would ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars and maximize housing provision for all.

The bill would ban the practice of governments forcing multi-family builders to designate a certain proportion of units to lower-income families for a certain period in order to build at all. New Orleans has the power to mandate this in its zoning decision, although it doesn’t have to impose this requirement.

This causes problems for builders, as with them having to offer below-market units for years on end, given the reduced, if not eliminated, profit margin this could discourage them from building in the first place. Thus, with fewer units on offer, rents across the board actually become less affordable. However, New Orleans interests complain that the state should not hamstring local governments in deciding whether to pursue this policy.


General teacher shortage in LA illusory

Claims of a Louisiana teacher shortage rest in the eyes of the beholder.

Amid a nationwide decline in the number of teachers entering the profession, in Louisiana that has raised enough concern to produce talk of convening a legislative investigation into reversing that trend. This comes as state educational authorities (typically school districts, but also including charter schools and special state schools) continue to have difficulty in attracting science, math, and special education teachers, particularly in rural areas.

But, in reality, in most other ways Louisiana teacher supply has remained healthy and its quality has improved. Understanding how this has happened, especially in light of dramatic reforms passed in 2012 to spur accountability and thus higher quality, leads to what actions, if any, the state must take to ensure sufficient refreshment of its teaching corps.


Politics hard to remove from discipline choice

In the final analysis, authorities decided a borderline case bowing to the demands of politics.

Last week, recently-installed Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul meted out punishments to Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II. Salamoni, who shot and killed Alton Sterling in 2016, received termination from the department, while Lake, who also struggled with Sterling, received three days suspension.

Perhaps no death ever at the hands of police in Louisiana has had so much scrutiny. A federal investigation, followed by a state version, came to an identical conclusion: the policing that occurred wasn’t the best, but the officers’ actions were not criminal. Thus, officers had not even acted negligently during the incident, which involved several instances of resistance by Sterling who officers knew to have a handgun, and also actions by Sterling that conveyed reasonably that he actively sought to pull it, disregarding repeatedly instructions to stop his activities that ultimately made it rational for the officers to fear for their lives.


Coward politicians enable continued suffering

Once again, special interests win at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers and its most vulnerable citizens.

These greedy hogs yesterday defeated in committee SB 357 by Republican state Sen. Conrad Appel, which today caused Republican state Rep. Tony Bacala to set aside his HB 334. Both bills would put the state on course to creating a long-term managed care system for persons with disabilities.

This change in philosophy discomfits nursing home interests, who benefit greatly from current state practice that biases placement of individuals in nursing homes instead of in their own homes or the community. While waiting lists for access to this care, called waiver programs, has steadily risen to 28,000 people, Louisiana nursing homes enjoy a gravy train at their expense.


Edwards red meat case losing streak growing

The losing streak continues in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ attempts of executive overreach to make the state go where its majority doesn’t wish.

The Louisiana Supreme Court last week confirmed lower court rulings that Edwards’ Executive Order JBE 16-11 violated the Louisiana Constitution, a suit brought by Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry. The gubernatorial pronouncement sought to add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the list of individual characteristics that the state could not discriminate against in dealing with its personnel and concerning the personnel decisions of entities that contracted with the state.

It was just a matter of time. Lower court rulings clearly spelled out how the governor had no power to alter unilaterally state law to add those categories, as all others mentioned in his declaration already have protection through state law and the Constitution. The Edwards Administration filings kept resorting to the same failed arguments, so the Supreme Court’s decision that it didn’t even have to hear the case hardly surprised.


Feckless attitudes still there, hearing shows

Only in welfare-state-ridden Louisiana: even as it offers an opportunity to state prisoners seen in no other state, some obsessed legislators moan it doesn’t go far enough or does convicts a disservice.

That attitude went on full display during legislative committee hearing of HB 84 by Republican state Rep. Kenny Havard. The bill would clarify existing state law that allows inmates to work outside of corrections facilities and offices, perhaps the most famous current application of which has such individuals working in and around the Governor’s Mansion, something no other state does.

If passed, the bill would ensure marginally expanded use of the program, run directly by the Department of Corrections separately from transitional work release programs that place the incarcerated with private sector employers during the day, met legal guidelines. It made it out of committee, but not before a few Legislative Black Caucus members on the panel whined and complained about it.


Cantrell can jumpstart campaign donor reform

If LaToya Cantrell doesn’t do it, the state should.

The present New Orleans City Council member and incoming mayor, Democrat Cantrell during her campaign pledged maximal transparency from her administration. That promise got off to a rocky start when she made her transition team members sign nondisclosure agreements.

At least she has released information about who has donated to her transition, which neither state law nor city ordinance requires. At that dissemination, which revealed a list chock full of city contractors, Cantrell reiterated another campaign talking point, that she would seek to ban contractors from donating to political campaigns. She mentioned that the relatively late date of her formal induction into the office, May 7, made impractical an effort to do so through state legislation as the regular session ends about a month after that, but noted she would look at other options to achieve this goal once in power.


Disaffected Democrats driving LA pessimism

Democrats in particular are driving frustration in the Louisiana public, perhaps egged on by unkept promises from Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Such a conclusion comes from data gathered by Louisiana State University’s Public Policy Research Lab. The first release from its 2018 Louisiana Survey came last week, focusing on questions of trust in politicians and government and assessing its performance, as well as perceptions of the population’s political views and attitudes.

Of note, after last year where those respondents thinking the state headed in the right direction exceeded marginally those who thought the opposite, this year’s results followed the reverse trend of recent years. With half thinking wrong direction, 11 points more than the opposing view, this overall negativity adhered to the pattern since 2012. The year before had slightly more saying wrong direction, but this may have been a product of an election year).


Term limits encourage unneeded elective post

Louisiana’s Republican Sec. of State Tom Schedler confirmed how one goes about giving away a job for life, at least during good health.

Last week, Schedler announced he wouldn’t run for a third term, as a result of a sexual harassment suit brought against him recently. An employee accuses him of, if not stalking-like, obsessive behavior towards her that interfered with her personal and professional lives, while he says they had a consensual sexual relationship.

If there’s one statewide office the least infused with politics that enables it occupants to stay as long as they like – since the aftermath of the former Gov. Huey Long era previous office occupants left only out of progressive ambition or ill health – it’s this one. Typically, when desired, holders cruise to reelection.


Tax cuts brought LA real economic benefits

As we have come to expect from the left, caricature and oversimplification make for lots of red meat thrown to the unthinking masses, but it’s a lousy method for valid understanding of public policy ramifications.

Just such as example comes from a leftist opinion writer named David Leonhardt on the pages of the New York Times. In a recent piece, he attempted to use Louisiana’s income tax cutting during the former Gov. Bobby Jindal years as an indictment against that option, alleging that promises that “tax cuts would lead to an economic boom” didn’t pan out and produced the state’s budgetary difficulty.

Such a view has both theoretical and empirical difficulties. Liberals almost always misunderstand, if not intentionally misstate, the role that tax cuts have on public finance. What now popularly is called the Laffer Curve argues that, past a certain point, punitive tax collections discourage economic growth by providing incentives for tax avoidance and stunted economic growth. Especially when dealing with such low rates relatively speaking – Louisiana’s top individual rate of 6 percent is about 15 percent of the highest federal rate – chances are state rates don’t make it to the right side of the curve; i.e. where they lower revenue by going higher.


Amendment makes overspending more likely

It’s a blast from the past under one proposal scheduled for hearing this 2018 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, concerning the content of legislative sessions.

The current 1974 Constitution, when originally implemented, inverted a two-decade interval of biennial fiscal-only sessions offset by sessions of general subject matter by having alternating general and non-fiscal sessions. However, a 1993 amendment restored matters to that of two decades prior, putting in odd-numbered years a shorter fiscal-only session. In 2002, commencing in 2004, the present calendar came forth with passage of an amendment to switch up years and allow each legislator to file five general bills not prefiled and an unlimited number of special and local bills during the odd-numbered year fiscal sessions.

This strategy supposedly would allow legislators to concentrate more fully on fiscal matters. The timing of having fiscal-only sessions – which really barely restricted lawmakers as long as they hustled to prefile – originally during even-numbered years would allow newly-elected legislators to move quickly on priorities they had stressed in their campaigns.


Edwards speech serves up familiar pablum

More the second act of the speech he gave to kick off the special session recently concluded early, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards2018 State of the State address just can’t let go, a broken record just sounding along.

Edwards’ remarks contained a rehash of several items allegedly reflecting his administration’s accomplishments, selectively chosen to claim credit for the work of his predecessor, that deflected from a fair-to-middling — at best — state economic performance, or designed to gloss over warts of his policies, warning about the supposed consequences if not following his policy prescriptions. He also defended recent criminal justice reforms he championed under fire that put the cart before the horse — reducing incarceration rates to save money without having place the infrastructure to ensure minimal consequences from criminals’ early releases.

Given the divisiveness that his policies have introduced, Edwards understandably went after low-hanging fruit, such as laws against hazing, expanded bureaucracy to study various public policies, and occupational licensing reform. Additionally, he voiced perennial agenda items of his: weakening educational accountability, a job-killing minimum wage hike, and putting into law intrusive government based on the myth that unequal pay unadjusted for other factors exists between men and women.


Session conditions sabotaged real tax reform

Opining about attempted tax reform during the recently completed, underachieving 2018 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature, failed comedian and Republican state Rep. Kenny Havard lamented, “We didn’t even try.”

Of course not. If anything, the session’s design subverted that task.

Havard’s predilection for government spending more usually puts him in league with Democrats, and around the House of Representatives several from that party during the session complained that GOP plans to address a potential fiscal year 2019 shortfall rested on a partial, temporary extension of the 2016 sales tax hike. They said not to pursue a permanent tax increase did not achieve “tax reform.”


First governor's race poll warning to Edwards

The first significant independent poll has surfaced regarding the 2019 governor’s contest, and it brings bad news to incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.

For some months, Edwards has kept calm over challenges to his reelection, reassured by some good fundraising numbers (some $5 million in the bank at the end of 2017, plus an allied political action committee that separately has around $270,000 available) and approval numbers a bit above 50 percent. However, as elections contrast more than a single candidate, suspicions lingered that the popularity figure overestimated support at present in the voting booth.

A survey by Mason Dixon Polling and Research confirms this. The firm put up three hypothetical Republican candidates, two of them well-known, against Edwards. Facing Sen. John Kennedy, Edwards at 45 percent leads him by a single point; matched against Rep. Steve Scalise, the U.S. House of Representatives’ third-ranked official, he has a three-point advantage at 46 percent; and enjoys 51 percent support to only 28 percent for Rep. Ralph Abraham, who not many would know from outside the northern part of the state.


Ask right tax questions to find useful policy

My Advocate colleague Tyler Bridges wrote something last week that, while informative, entirely missed the point of the tax-raising animal spirits currently on display at the Louisiana Legislature’s lingering special session

Running some numbers from various sources, he argued that all the conflict over whether to increase taxes, how, and by how much actually didn’t amount to a whole lot for the typical households. Best he figured, whether on income or sales, it amounted to one percent of an individual’s income.

That implies that all of the conflict renting the session overdramatizes the situation. If just this amount, the tone of the article asks, why can’t some agreement to hike taxes be reached?


Fracking leading LA, US to reap energy benefits

How do an autocratic Russian ruler, some misinformed European governments, and fear-mongering environmentalists together make life better for Louisianans?

The state ‘s economy got a lift when last year Poland’s state-owned gas company agreed for the next five years to buy liquified natural gas shipped out of Cameron Parish. Tired of having Vladimir Putin use its gas supply to their country as a foreign policy cudgel, last summer the Poles began importing LNG from Louisiana. From its facility Cheniere Energy began exporting to 18 countries last year that could bring into the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

This bonanza comes courtesy of greater domestic gas supply derived from hydraulic fracturing. Most of Poland’s nearby neighbors with gas deposits have outlawed this process that pries open subterranean gas seams, as have two states with ocean-going ports, New York and Maryland, and several counties in California. Removal of these potentially lower-cost suppliers from the marketplace allowed Louisiana to scoop up Poland’s business.


Edwards inaction surely would scuttle reelection

Louisiana’s House of Representatives Republicans seem to have gotten it together, to the point that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards may allow sabotage of the entire special session devoted to revenue issues.

Entering this potential two-week convocation, called as temporary taxes rolling off at the fiscal year’s conclusion would leave a deficit of nearly $1 billion at current spending trends, the GOP knew that Edwards would attempt to use this as an opportunity to increase taxes permanently. With his unwillingness to deviate from this conflation of tax reform and hikes, and with reform parameters ill-defined and incompletely confected into his call that triggered the convening, legislators could do nothing lasting and would have to leave genuine reform for the future.

Last week, at first some Republicans didn’t get it. State Rep. Stephen Dwight offered up his HB 23 that would have enacted a permanent tax increase of a half cent of sales tax. This would admit that government needed permanent expansion, ratifying state-sourced spending that rose at twice the rate of inflation during the first two years of Edwards’ term. Democrats sought to pile on with a pair of bills raising telephone taxes advancing out of committee.


Troubling claims also expose Democrat hypocrisy

Regardless of the merits of the allegations, a sexual harassment complaint against Republican Louisiana Sec. of State Tom Schedler raises questions about his fitness to serve, and on the side exposes the hypocrisy of state Democrats.

Last week, a departmental employee filed suit against Schedler for illegal discrimination, harassment, and reprisals. She alleges a decade-long pattern of behavior, stemming from the time he first became employed in the office, where she had taken a job three years earlier, through his appointment, election, and subsequent reelection to the post to the present. He maintains they once had a consensual sexual relationship, which the woman denies, and admitted he has remained separated from his wife for an extended period of time.

The suit broadly references episodes of Schedler’s reportedly intrusive behavior that occasionally resulted in personnel actions the plaintiff believed retaliatory in nature. While the document gives a few details here and there that in isolation could be interpreted as supporting the woman’s contentions, only a full trial can produce convincing evidence.