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Edwards to bill taxpayers for more Medicaid?

More Louisiana politicians are discovering you can’t win when it comes to running the state’s two northern safety-net hospitals – and especially taxpayers.

According to the Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration, in the coming weeks resolution will come to the saga of the state’s University Health hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe. The state appeared poised to switch operators from BRF to Ochsner Health Systems.

Under the gun five years ago to outsource operations of state’s charity hospitals after a congressional decision on Medicaid financing would have wrecked the state budget, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration quickly had to find private operators for these. Traditional institutional health care providers stepped in – except for north of Alexandria, where only BRF, then known as the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, seemed willing.


Edwards watches politicization of state police

If you thought the Louisiana State Police Commission would help to inspire confidence in the integrity in some actions of members of the Louisiana State Police, think again. Meanwhile, Gov. John Bel Edwards stands by and lets it all happen.

In Louisiana, the State Civil Service Commission governs the affairs of classified employees – those hired and fired according to standard merit standards – except for state police (and cadets). The LSPC does that and essentially mirrors the SCSC in membership – six appointees by congressional district by the governor, from three choices provided by the presidents of state’s private colleges (each assigned to one district), and a current trooper elected by his peers.

Last week, the body drastically reduced punishments meted out to troopers who had violated policies during an official trip last fall. They billed taxpayers for thousands of dollars in improper overtime, which when that information emerged led to the departure of former Superintendent Mike Edmonson.


Edwards ALEC connection part of myth building

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards addressing the American Legislative Exchange Council? That’s not beyond belief upon understanding the requirements of the Edwards myth of centrism.

The group convened its annual meeting in New Orleans yesterday and heard from the governor. At first glance, that may seem odd, for the group’s conservative, good government agenda hardly squares with much of what Edwards has spoken favorably about and has pursued throughout his policy-making career.

Indeed, checking upon Edwards’ score as a legislator and governor on the Louisiana Legislature Log scorecard, as a member of the House of Representatives he averaged about 30 and as governor he has averaged around 47. Higher scores indicate higher congruity with voting for a conservative/reform agenda, while lower scores denote voting fealty to liberal/populist preferences.


LA bishops can clarify death penalty confusion

The death penalty debate has gotten some recent attention in Louisiana, with both Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his spiritual leaders thrust into it.

Edwards found himself subject to criticism on the subject by Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry. The state’s chief prosecutor removed his office from a lawsuit preventing the state from carrying out executions, saying the governor remained insufficiently committed to resolving the case in a way where the state could resume carrying out capital sentences.

Since 2014, the courts effectively have enjoined the state from doing this, citing its inability to conduct lethal injection in a constitutional manner. State law mandates this as the only method for capital punishment, and Landry faults Edwards both for not doing what’s needed to put the state in a posture to carry this out and failure to back changing the law to add methods of execution. For his part, Edwards brushed this aside as political grandstanding.


Anti-reformers get leg up in Jefferson races

Round III in the reform vs. anti-reform battle for the Jefferson Parish School Board got more interesting last week.

The nine-member body has received much attention over the previous two election cycles. In 2010, tired of lagging student performance, reform interests backed by area business managed to elect a majority.  In the ensuing four years, the board let go of a collective bargaining agreement that hampered change and became much friendlier to policy options such as charter schools, hiring a superintendent to match.

In the interim, the district’s performance improved. Despite that, the empire struck back. With union-affiliated organizations piling hundreds of thousands of dollars into 2014 races, labor won back a majority. Reinstituting collective bargaining followed plus the hiring of a new superintendent without reformist impulses.


Group's efforts won't affect LA conservative rule

Emerge Louisiana will find its far-left leanings won’t allow it to enjoy the low-hanging fruit success it has experienced in other parts of the country, as upcoming 2018 election results will ratify.

It serves as the state arm of the national Emerge America organization, which aims to elect female Democrats to offices at all levels of government. Women, it claims, benefit the polity by their staunch support for democratic principles like equality and fairness, actively involve themselves in a variety of gender-salient issue areas (such as healthcare, the economy, education and the environment), and show more responsive to constituents, value cooperation over “hierarchical power,” and find ways to engineer solutions in situations where “men have trouble finding common ground.”

The national group has a smorgasbord advisory board reflecting its political fealties: far-out feminists, abortion-on-demand harridans, big-government former elected officials, lionized ex-candidates defeated decisively, and ex-party hacks. (The Louisiana version’s board has a different function, as fundraisers.) Nationally, it boasts of a 73 percent success rate so far in 2018 (although a not-insignificant portion includes very minor boards or Democrat governance committees, and likely many of the posts would elect a Democrat in any event).


New LA ITEP rules allow for bad policy

Want to go about implementing in the wrong way new directives about a tax break in Louisiana? Look no further than action taken by the Orleans Parish School Board in July.

Earlier this year, Gov. John Bel Edwards had revamped the implementation of his executive order dealing with the Industrial Tax Exemption Program. This allows the state to waive local property taxes for projects that introduce or expand a business for up to ten years.

Originally, the order allowed several different local governments to weigh in on a decision that could create outcomes spanning from entire shielding to no shielding at all of tax liability. This created confusion and uncertainty both for the petitioners of the credit and the governing authorities trying to figure out what they should do.


Inadequate defense trial balloon for Edwards?

Perhaps the reply was well meaning, but it featured an awful lot of tap-dancing, some of it inaccurate, that won’t serve well as a counterargument.

My Jul. 22 Baton Rouge Advocate column drew a response from Karen Scallan, who identifies herself as a member of the state’s OCDD System Transformation Workgroup. She is visible in the disability community as a consultant who helps people unravel the complex world of Medicaid provision to people with disabilities.

In a Jul. 27 letter to The Advocate, Scallan refers to my column as having my “heart in the right place.” My piece applauded the Louisiana Department of Health for erasing a 10,000-person waiting list for Medicaid waiver services, and explored ways, using existing revenues sources without raising taxes, to address that the “changes haven’t helped provide all necessary assistance [italics added] to 28,000 people with more complex and intense needs.”


Poll leaves Edwards little room for optimism

My Baton Rouge Advocate colleague Stephanie Grace makes for readers the optimistic case for reelection next year of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Here, readers will find the realistic case.

Grace notes the latest quarterly polling results on governors put out by the political research group Morning Consult gives Edwards’ approval exceeding disapproval by 49-35, with the remainder unwilling to say one way or the other. She observes that he “just eked into the top half” of the list and states “That’s pretty good news for a Democrat running in a Republican-leaning state.”

No, it’s not. If in fact a Democrat has to contest in a “Republican-leaning” state, he had better have a significant gap above 50 percent, because elections aren’t a plebiscite on an officeholder’s performance but a contest against real flesh-and-blood opponents. And, as earlier polling data have indicated, Edwards does not fare well against presumptive GOP opponents.


Surprises, continuity mark LA fall qualifying

Qualifying for state and federal elective offices last week ratified some past choices, threw another into turmoil, and even affected the biggest race on the ballot next year.

The one statewide special election, for Secretary of State, topped the ballot. But U.S. House of Representatives seats, a couple of Supreme Court posts, and a spot on the Public Service Commission also were up for grabs.

The jobs on the state’s top court and the PSC promised great continuity. Perhaps buoyed by his recent decision to buck his fellow commissioners by voting against the wasteful Windcatcher project, PSC District 2 Republican Commissioner Craig Greene drew no challengers, just a year after he won the place in a special election.


Shreveporters to have many fall choices

By the looks of candidate qualification for Shreveport city elected offices, unless you’re the scion of a political mini-dynasty, people are unhappy with you.

The city’s mayor contest drew 10 candidates and the City Council will have a whopping 22 candidates spread over its seven districts. Perhaps more informatively, six districts have 21 candidates in the running. Only District G’s Democrat Jerry Bowman, serving as his mother once did, escaped any competition.

In fact, two incumbents find themselves part of a rematch. In District A, Democrat Willie Bradford finds himself up against the incumbent he defeated four years ago, Democrat Rose Wilson McCulloch (herself daughter of a former elected official). In District G, Democrat Stephanie Lynch will try to fend off again former member (of some two decades ago) James Green.


Lame, retread move against monuments to fail

If you’re going to use a lawyer to keep you out of the slammer, at least have one who pays a bit more attention to the law and somewhat less to proselytizing with weak argumentation.

It turns out a convicted felon in East Feliciana Parish got caught with a handgun in his possession. Often, these cases end up handled by a public defender, but this guy somehow drew the services of Niles Haymer, at present best known for defending his brother Nathan after Southern University fired the latter for activities as band director, now subject of a lawsuit.

This recent headline-grabber overshadows Niles Haymer’s past remonstrations about Confederate monuments here and there across Louisiana. Last year, Haymer posted an article on a website prone to playing with a forced deck full of the race card, in which he decried that so many (actually, only a handful of) courthouses in Louisiana have Confederate memorials of some sort around them. He specifically mentioned trying one of his first cases in East Feliciana Parish and noting its rebel monument.


St. George, expansion studies come up short

Just as they did with a study of the financial impact of Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, a pair of researchers threw another gutterball when reviewing projected finances of the planned City of St. George.

Earlier this year, Louisiana State University faculty members James Richardson and Jared Llorens, with another academician, produced a study at the behest of the Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration purporting to show a net economic benefit to expansion. But the analysis completely ignored the cost side and made errors in the revenue picture, both in terms of the data used and not accurately accounting for federal policies.

This produced a misleading picture and, even using its own flawed methodology, would predict in a few years that expansion would serve as a drain on state finances. Of course, rather than sloppiness or bias it’s entirely possible that whatever contract the authors signed with the Edwards Administration limited them in a way, such as in not including costs, that preordained the results casting its policy in a favorable light.


NO losers can't accept valid, rational vote

Losers, get over it.

Ever since public revelation about individuals paid to advocate for an Entergy New Orleans project at City Council meetings, those against it have tried to reverse the decision. That involved building a new natural gas generation plant in the city; opponents wanted that scrapped in favor of increased transmission from outside the city and more emphasis on solar collection by the utility inside city limits.

In February, a Council panel approved of the company’s request. In March, the entire Council ratified that.


Conservatives, rest easy: no spoiler scenario

Dude, get some rest.

Recently the invaluable The Hayride’s editor Scott McKay published some musings about next year’s governor’s election. In it, he admitted that he suffered disturbed sleep over the possibility that an outsider non-conservative candidate could win that contest.

He sketched a scenario where somebody not ideologically conservative like wealthy businessman Jim Bernhard – in the past rumored as a candidate for statewide office and who briefly fronted Louisiana’s Democrats – would get in the contest as an independent, use a theme of government dysfunction (part a consequence of the state’s populist history and political culture, part a reflection of events over the past three years where Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has insisted on continuing this despite electoral and societal trends heading in the opposite direction) and declare himself the antithesis to that, dump a lot of money in the race, and find a way to win, acing out a conservative.


Overspending, overtaxing thwart LA budgeting

To answer the question posed by a recent news article, no, Louisiana’s budget isn’t really sound.

That disagrees with the sentiments of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, who after the Legislature voted to reinstitute for seven years 0.45 percent of sales tax at the beginning of the month – keeping Louisiana’s the highest aggregated in the country – asserted fiscal problems solved now and so he couldn’t wait to start spending on raises and doling out largesse. And that’s the very reason he’s wrong.

Of course, since Edwards promised a permanent resolution where revenues kept up with expenditures but instead he produced a temporary solution that detracts from economic growth – according to Pelican Institute numbers the increase will shave $156 million off the state’s annual gross domestic product and cost over 2,500 jobs – he has to paint stripes on a zebra and call it a horse. Simply, Louisiana’s fiscal structure sets it on auto-pilot that, with politicians’ cooperation, produces eternally spending escalation faster that revenue growth.

Hope springs eternal, according to Republican Sen. Pres. John Alario, among legislators that this won’t happen. They always want to think that economic growth will surpass the rate of increase for spending and thus the state catches up, if not then can fund more things. Yet it never works out that way, because of the overtaxed and badly prioritized nature of the system.

Whether it comes in the form of inefficient if not counterproductive forgone revenues – such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Motion Picture Investors Tax Credit – or misplaced spending caused by dedications excessively covering low-priority items while more important ones go begging, the state could mask and support this spending problem if revenue production could increase. That won’t happen because too much in the way of taxes sap the economic growth necessary to sustain overspending.

As a case in point, consider the state’s situation at the end of 2014. Oil had reached a peak price towards the end of June but by year’s end had begun a precipitous fall. At the year’s conclusion, the civilian work force numbered over 2,193,000; some 2,041,000 had jobs; the labor force participation rate stood at 61.4 percent; and the unemployment rate was 6.9 percent with 152,000 wanting to work looking for work.

Throughout 2015 the price of oil nosedived. One year after the peak, the state raised taxes several hundred million dollars, mainly by stripping temporarily exemptions from sales and income taxation. Just after Edwards took office in 2016, oil prices began moving slowly upwards, a trend sustained to this day. Naturally, just as it took a few months for the downturn to take hold, the turnaround would take months to filter into the economy.

But in this tough environment, another round in 2016 of similarly-sized growth-sapping tax increases hit the people starting in April and July. Some of these returned at the beginning of this month, joined by some new ones.

The result? Most recently, the civilian workforce was at 2,139,000 with the same 2,041,000 or so having jobs. With only fewer than 98,000 wanting to and looking for work, the unemployment rate had fallen to 4.6 percent, but the large numbers leaving the workforce produced a labor force participation rate of 59.5 percent. In part, this would come from Medicaid expansion, which allowed some able-bodied individuals to quit wanting to work because now they could get taxpayers to pick up their health insurance tabs.

These numbers came from a population only about 30,000 higher from the middle of 2014 to 2017, or well below a one percent gain. Altogether, from the middle of 2015 when the tax hikes hit through the middle of 2017, the state’s economy shrank 0.6 percent, the most in the nation.

Louisiana certainly lagged the country as a whole in this period. Nationally, the unemployment rate fell from 5.6 to 4.0 percent while total employed increased about 5 percent. The labor force participation rate inched down 0.1 percent to 62.7, and the total number unemployed fell from 8.7 million to 6.1 million despite an increasing population of 1.5 percent. And, the national economy grew 8.5 percent from 2015 to 2017.

These numbers make for a pretty good argument that Louisiana has had the worst performing state economy in the nation since the end of 2014. It’s not coincidental that among the states it has raised taxes more aggressively than almost all. Thus, it’s no accident that it won’t grow its way out of an ongoing deficit from a budget that grows every year by hundreds of millions of dollars.

That’s why Louisiana’s budget going forward isn’t sound. As long as a tax-and-spend governor refuses to put the brakes on overspending, such policies damage the economy so the state never can recover, leading to a vicious cycle of continuing tax increases that keep creating deficits.


Policies, not history, indicate Edwards' fate

My Baton Rouge Advocate colleague got it right, but for the wrong reason.

At the beginning of the month, Mark Ballard wrote a piece arguing that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards faces some headwinds in gaining reelection next year. A review of his accomplishments and the numbers certainly bear that out.

Edwards mostly has flopped on his agenda and can tick off only two things of significance achieved in his 30 months: Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform. At best, the voting public will perceive the former as shooting par. Some have benefitted from that redistribution of wealth, but the extra taxes raised to pay for it and contrasted with the rapidly escalating health insurance costs borne by those paying those additional taxes will resent the burden placed upon them – courtesy of the same law. More likely, in net terms it will cost him votes.


Independence Day, 2018

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) 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 Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

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


Peterson increasing liability for LA Democrats

Louisiana’s Democrat head honcho state Sen. Karen Peterson has become more tiresome – if that’s possible – than ever, perhaps even to the point the party leadership should jettison her.

Peterson, not exactly known for her tact, subtlety, or deep knowledge of the issues, has a history of making extraordinarily partisan, half-baked statements. She has flown into a rage over a birthday cake and manufactured stories about it, rudely treats fellow legislators in violation of decorum, and gets into a huff about perceived sexism by a Republican legislator yet could not bring herself to condemn unconditionally the actions of a fellow Senate Democrat who admitted to violent behavior towards a woman.

Her latest individual moment of brilliance comes surrounding statements made by Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters. The almost-octogenarian from California recently called upon activists to harass publicly political opponents, specifically those working for the Republican Pres. Donald Trump Administration.


ITEP triage doesn't help LA economy

Trying to make the symptoms less severe doesn’t cure the disease.

Last week, the Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration rolled out new guidelines regarding the Industrial Tax Exemption Program. This offers to alleviate relatively high property tax rates paid by business when it expands in a parish by offering abatement for a certain period.

For decades prior to Edwards entering office, the Board of Commerce and Industry that oversees granting the break routinely would forward to governors a recommendation that the company enjoy a 100 percent deduction for five years, with the possibility of five more. Early in his term he promulgated an executive order saying he would grant only partial relief for three years after the initial five years, and that four kinds of local governments involved could opt out.

However, this led to a patchwork of decision that complicated matters and added to uncertainty. Afraid this discouraged increased business activity, the BCI – comprised of a majority of Edwards’ picks – at the governor’s request approved new decision rules. Henceforth, a break of 80 percent will last all ten years, and the local governments between 30 and 60 days of the application can veto that for their taxes.

In part, a significant reduction in requests prompted the change. Things may pick up slightly with greater predictability built into the process – or may not, given now no break will happen up front, discouraging firms who have higher initial costs.

But none of this addresses the fundamental problem involved: business pays way too much of all property taxes in Louisiana, approaching 90 percent. By way of example, according to 2015 data New Orleans had, among the largest cities in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, the 40th highest effective rate (assessed rate adjusted by exemptions) for homesteads, the 29th highest for apartments, the 25th highest for commercial property, and the 10th highest for industrial use. The preference for homesteads also appears in the ratio of effective rate for homesteads versus commercial property, where New Orleans ranked eighth.

This imbalance deters investment, and so to compensate in part the state has ITEP. Still, that’s not enough, and effectively raising it won’t make matters any better, even if that offsets the over-complexity of the rules for the last two years.

Only by amending the Constitution to lower the homestead exemption – preferably through something like shielding the first $10,000, taxing the next $10,000, then exempting up until something like $60,000 –  followed by a mandated reduction of rates will create a more realistic taxation structure. At first, total revenues taken in by each jurisdiction would not change, but because business property taxes would decrease these savings would come back to consumers to compensate for increases on many. Better, it would attract more business formation, relocation, and expansion that would stimulate future economic growth and tax revenues.

Then the state could toss the entire ITEP concept, or perhaps scale it back considerably. Tinkering with it at the margins, that in fact may make it less effective, won’t encourage business development the way fundamental reform will. Edwards’ cosmetic alterations do nothing to aid the country’s worst economy.


Conservative flood may ace them out of SOS

Will Louisiana’s conservative Republicans throw away the Secretary of State’s office?

Suddenly, the field for this special election in the fall seems flooded with these choices. This week, both former state Sen. A.G. Crowe and current state Rep. Rick Edmonds formally announced candidacies. Crowe compiled a solidly conservative voting record in his many years in the Legislature, and Edmonds has done likewise in his House service.

And another conservative Republican, state Rep. Paul Hollis, has indicated he will run. Of the three, he has the most experience in running statewide campaigns, having run for U.S. Senate in 2014 only to desist prior to the election.

The Press-Herald column, Jun. 27, 2018

Could immigration enforcement be a boon to our jails?