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Edwards can't win with sales tax cut bill

Even his Senate allies can’t help Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards from taking a hit on his tax-and-spend record going into a tough reelection battle.

That comes courtesy of HB 599 by Republican state Rep. Lance Harris, which next fiscal year would begin paring away a 0.45 percent sales tax increase Edwards backed initially as part of a larger increase in 2016, then renewed in 2018 at the present level for seven more years. That costs consumers an extra $392 million annually.

The bill should hit the floor of the House this week and go to the Senate’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee the week after. There, it will die, because even though Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two-to-one in the Senate, Edwards teamed with his bootlicker GOP Sen. Pres. John Alario to stack that panel with a majority of Democrats, who will act to ensure the measure never forces Edwards to veto it.


Gatti, Milkovich betrayals perhaps last straw

The latest prank by northwest Louisiana’s Katzenjammer Kids, Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti and Democrat state Sen. John Milkovich, may be the one that costs them their seats.

In many ways, the two differ only in party affiliation. Both narrowly defeated sitting representatives by pledging social conservatism and criticizing their opponents for tax increases, then launched their careers by supporting a tax-and-spend agenda in their first year in the Senate. Both try too hard to define themselves as social conservatives, with Milkovich espousing fringe ideas rejected by most conservatives and Gatti backing religious liberty policies that most conservatives think would backfire to erode that.

This overcompensation comes as a result of their center-left fiscal policy preferences. Through 2018, according to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s legislative scorecard that focuses on government taxing and spending issues Gatti with a lifetime score of 52 has the third-lowest figure for Republicans while Milkovich at 41 has the third-highest among Democrats.


Perkins explaining inadequately, opaquely

The more Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins explains, the more trouble he finds himself in.

Already buffeted by a false savings claim he made on an insider city contracting deal and an apparently illegal attempt to change the city’s panel overseeing aviation, Perkins now finds himself exposed on a deal to charge the city for transition team expenses. Meanwhile, a nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose donors formed by his campaign manager seemingly reluctantly pays bills.

Perkins initially wanted the city to cough up around $47,000 for a string of transition-team related expenses utilizing the city’s convention center. While Shreveport did reimburse the nonprofit, called Future of Shreveport, about $7,000 for expenses related to Perkins’ inauguration ceremony, the City Council has balked on providing the remainder.


Bad arguments against convention resurface

Here we go again, getting treated to the two worst arguments against revision of the Louisiana Constitution.

These inadequate objections resurfaced during a debate of HCR 56 by Republican state Rep. Franklin Foil by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. The resolution would create a study commission by which at the beginning of the next Legislature the panel would make recommendations about the necessity and scope of a constitutional convention.

That’s actually a step back from the recent myriad and numerous efforts to rework the state’s basic governing document. During this legislature’s term, ten bills have come forth to initiate a convention without any study, although another four resolutions take the lesser step. That includes Foil’s measure of this year and one by Democrat state Rep. Neil Abramson which appoints a committee only of legislators. All of the previous three years’ have foundered.


Useless LA inspection fee needs jettisoning

A California bicycling race can teach Louisiana a lot about the perils of excessive vehicle fees.

This week, the Amgen Tour of California traipses through that state, with a distaff version starting on Thursday. These are the only such contests on American soil that rate the Union Cycliste Internationale’s highest classification. American Tejay Van Garderen, who has the best finishes by any of his countrymen over the past decade in July’s Tour de France, currently leads and had put himself in a good position to win the general classification.

Between the two sexes, 35 teams will compete to put one of their riders on the top step of the podium by the races’ ends. Stage races require extensive infrastructure, including provision of two cars per team to ride near the cyclists, and other cars for the race organization. For this, organizers gain sponsorships, with Japanese maker Lexus again making well over 100 vehicles available to ATOC. After the race puts on a thousand or so miles to the odometers, Lexus can do with them what they please.


LA legislators miss chance to abolish lt. gov.

You don’t make a useless office relevant by tying it to another, you get rid of it.

Legislators failed in the latter duty as a part of routing HB 113 by Democrat state Rep. Walt Leger. The bill would have amended the Constitution to elect jointly the governor and lieutenant governor although not defining the method, but it received barely half the votes necessary to advance an amendment.

On the floor, Leger pointed out that a majority of states used this method already, although only a couple of southern states do. While he said this pairing would reduce political conflict and rivalry, in eight of these states separate primary elections actually elect each as a party nominee, and in another three, regardless of its gubernatorial candidate’s preference, party conventions make the selection.


Union insults voters with half-baked boycott

Bossier Parish voters have a chance to return in kind the area’s teacher union’s display of three fingers and request of the public to read between the lines.

The sore losers at Red River United sent out a tone-deaf call to boycott some area businesses and individuals related to these. The list contained large donors to campaigning against propositions for property tax hikes that would have sent Bossier City school taxes 40 percent higher and made the district by far the highest property-taxed in the state.

Instead, voters crushed the items at the ballot box by about three to one. About 90 percent of the pair’s avails school leaders had pledged towards salary increases to educators and support staff, with the remainder going towards technology updates.


Reject bad N.O. hotel/tourism taxes deal

A bad deal still isn’t better than no deal.

That’s what the state and New Orleans got as a complex set of bills began moving through the House of Representatives dealing with tourism tax revenues. While the bulk of taxes in this format comes from tourists, through occupancy and sales taxes, state law determines the distribution to New Orleans-based entities, including city government and allied agencies.

Essentially, existing revenue streams in statute heavily favored tourism-related bodies – two largely duplicative nonprofits and the Ernest N. Morial Exhibition Hall Authority, which runs the convention center and ancillary operations. In the past, city leaders occasionally would grumble about millions of taxpayer dollars automatically shunted to these nonprofits and to the special district with responsibility over the convention center, especially as the latter banked tens of millions of dollars annually into a kitty that grew so large that it began to concoct grandiose schemes to spend it all and state officials eyed for other purposes the surplus reaching the hundreds of millions of dollars.


Polling news still unkind for Edwards

If Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards doesn’t have a general sinking feeling, he’s not paying attention.

A poll unconnected to any Louisiana gubernatorial campaign released earlier this week put him at 38 percent of the three-way vote for reelection Oct. 12, facing Republicans Rep. Ralph Abraham, who scored 23 percent, and businessman Eddie Rispone, who took in 7 percent. A subsequent pair of runoff questions had him drawing 40-36 over Abraham and 41-28 over Rispone, with the remainder undecided.

These numbers aren’t good for Edwards. An incumbent who has a good chance of winning pulls at least 45 percent of the vote in any given poll; one who doesn’t reach 40 percent is in serious trouble. This phenomenon reflects that undecided voters largely either don’t vote at all or break for challengers. Other indicators also point to trouble ahead for Edwards.


Perkins promises openness while dissembling

If this is what “stubbed our toe” looks like, I’d hate to see a full-scale accident.

That phrase Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins used to describe his handling of the city’s insurance renewal. Actions he took over the first four months of his administration led to, by his own description, city taxpayers in 2018 paying $550,000 for $815 million in single-occurrence insurance while in 2019 they forked over $900,000 for $300 million worth.

However, he begged for the people’s patience on this matter. “We're gonna make some stumbles. We are a new administration. But the key part about that is we're gonna learn from them and be better going forward,” he explained to a local radio station.


LA House GOP rewriting education spending

It seems Louisiana’s House Republicans have turned things up a notch to improve the state’s dismal elementary and secondary education.

In the quest to fund this for fiscal year 2020, to date the Senate has backed the rare alliance of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and legislative Democrats with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, controlled by Republicans. The Minimum Foundation Program continuing resolutions express their preference, not just a pay raise for educators of $1,000 and support staff of $500 yearly but also a 1.375 percent increase for other aspects of education.

The MFP formula sets a benchmark that the Legislature must accept or reject. If it rejects, the last-approved version applies. That means approval of this formula locks in the raises and extra spending until any future BESE wants to change that. If not approved, then no raises would occur through the MFP, even though most legislators regardless of party have expressed a desire to see that occur in an election year.


LA political journalism roiled by big merger

Well, scratch that.

When the Baton Rouge Advocate decided to pursue a paywall strategy, this created a significant ripple in the Louisiana political journalism landscape. Its decision to buy the entity that owns the New Orleans Times-Picayune induces a tsunami.

An independent T-P looked to gain much from the paywall choice. As the last major newspaper standing in the state without one, it would have benefitted from the flow away from The Advocate. Keep in mind what the research says about paywalls: they act to capture revenue not from the online market, but by shoring up offline subscriptions for people wanting local news. Thus, those wanting something else, like statewide political news, would go to other sources.


Voters punish Bossier schools leadership

That two tax propositions got crushed in Bossier Parish tells us multiple factors caused such a stinging defeat.

The two measures featured in Louisiana local elections this past weekend, along with next-door Caddo renewing a property tax to underwrite bonds for school facilities, an Orleans Parish item that rededicated and redistributed existing property taxes among city and nonprofit recreation facilities, and one that in Jefferson Parish added a new property tax for educator salaries. Those all passed handily almost three-to-one, the exact opposite of the items in Bossier.

However, the Jefferson increase paled in comparison to the one for pay in Bossier, being about a third as large (the ones in Caddo and Orleans were of similar size). The Bossier request of nearly 24 mills would have increase school property taxes by 40 percent and would have made those paid by Bossierites 16 percent higher than the next highest in the state, top-ranked Zachary Community (Bossier Parish schools, by contrast, barely crack the top 20 in performance).


Legislators whiff on patronage program reform

Give Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor credit for figuring it out. But that still didn’t make a difference in the final outcome.

Claitor saw his SB 183 go down in flames yesterday. The bill would have reined in the expansive Tulane Legislative Scholarship program (a separate one exists for the mayor of New Orleans), which allows legislators to pick essentially anyone except themselves, including business partners, friends, relatives (except for children, although this isn’t written into law), and donors and their families, to attend Tulane University tuition-free (these deals from 1884 allowed Tulane to separate itself from the state to become a private university and granted it property tax-free status in Orleans Parish).

Over the decades, a number of students related to elected officials, lobbyists, and donors have received this largesse. Even though Tulane has implemented programs that permit legislators to have the university make the decision, only a few Jefferson Parish legislators on occasion have defaulted to that. Others have set up their own imprecise procedures that inject some merit rating to applicants, but the vast majority of selections come down to who knows who and/or who’s asking.


Zealotry ignores science in CAGW screed

Louisiana environmentalists’ version of Crazy Uncle Joe Biden, Crazy Uncle Bob Marshall, has gone Chicken Little on us again.

Like Biden in the world of politics, the former outdoors reporter Marshall when addressing environmental issues has a habit not only of making embarrassingly foolish statements, but also doing so comically in such a hyperventilating, spleen-venting way that makes one wonder whether he passes out at the keyboard when typing his screeds.

He treated readers at his former employer to another such example when he reported on updates to storm surge maps issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center. These show that a terrifically large hurricane could push enough water to inundate Baton Rouge, and smaller ones could flood the north shore, Cajun and bayou countries, the southwest part of the state, and even Baton Rouge’s suburban parishes.


LA criminal justice changes may prove draining

Advocates of criminal justice changes in Louisiana pitched that it would save the state money. In fact, it may cost taxpayers more.

That well could happen if the Legislature passes HB 551 by state Rep. Katrina Jackson. The bill would increase the amount paid by the state to local jails for housing its prisoners from $24.49 to $28.49. As the state sends (as of the end of 2018) over half of its inmates to local lockups, this would jack up taxpayer costs around $97 million over the next five years. It passed its initial test, a House committee, with no votes against.

This contrasts with dollars saved from changes designed to reduced the prison population. Computed at around $13 million for the past fiscal year – the first under the changes – state officials think the amount will reach about $15 million for this fiscal year.


Wrong claims to abolish death penalty persist

A new legislative year brings the same old inadequate arguments to ban capital punishment in Louisiana, although with one new wrinkle for Catholics.

Two bills filed for the regular legislative session seek to eliminate the death penalty, and in support of these the Most Rev. Shelton Fabre, Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux, sums up the usual arguments against the practice in an opinion column. Fabre is no stranger to this issue, having taken the point on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops efforts to combat racism that has given him opportunities to assert, as he did in the piece, that prejudicial application of the death penalty presents a reason to reject the practice.

Specifically, he notes “Nearly 70 percent of the people on Louisiana’s death row are people of color, the highest percentage of any state with more than three people on death row. In one study of Louisiana’s system, the chances of a death sentence were 97 percent higher for defendants whose victim was white than for defendants whose victim was black. Louisianans should not stand for this prejudice.”


Senate looks to provide Edwards more cover

Get ready for another Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards two-step to try to fool voters.

HB 258 by Republican state Rep. Nick Muscarello would keep confidential information about parties involved in carrying out a capital sentence. In particular, it would shield from public records the data regarding providers of drugs pursuant to lethal injection.

Over the past several years, manufacturers and pharmacies have grown skittish over making these sales to states. Activists ignorant of or unwilling to acknowledge that regular executions of those sentenced to death deters violent crime and saves lives have engaged in a publicity campaign highlighting those vendors role in carrying out lethal injection, and with suppliers involved wishing to avoid a spotlight that could have a negative impact on their sales of any product, the drugs have become hard to come by. Some states have enacted similar laws to prevent this intimidation, with Louisiana officials conceding this negativity has contributed to Louisiana’s nearly decade-long moratorium on executions.


Insurance bill to bring RINOs to forefront

So Republican state Rep. Kirk Talbot’s HB 372 cruises out of the Louisiana House of Representatives, both in committee and on the floor in largely party-line votes carried by Republicans. Next it heads to the Senate Insurance Committee and then would go to the full Senate, with both the panel and chamber having solid GOP majorities. Slam dunk to get to Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and put the former trial lawyer on the hot seat?

Think again. The bill, which lowers jury thresholds from $50,000 – the nation’s highest – to $5,000, prohibits suing insurance companies to tap directly into their deep pockets, and would provide incentives to lower rates in additional ways, would reduce the flow of ratepayer dollars to trial lawyers. And the Senate committee, despite having seven Republicans of its nine members, might end up as a stumbling block.

Trial lawyer dollars act as Democrats’ campaign funding lifeblood, so only a few of them will cross the aisle to favor such a measure (as the House vote on the bill demonstrated). Thus, Republicans must keep their defections to a minimum while not counting on the two Democrats (also lawyers, but not active in tort litigation).


Dim LA legislators wish to revive dead horse

The only thing more futile than flogging a dead horse is trying to revive that dead horse before flogging it.

That’s the path some Louisiana legislators want to take with the moribund Equal Rights Amendment. Originally proposed in 1972 with a seven-year window for ratification, even with that time period extended another three years not enough of the 38 states required for ratification followed through. During this period, 35 states did so, although five revoked their assents.

But as the aura of identity politics has raced through campuses, Hollywood, and febrile far left Democrats, liberal lawmakers have urged what they allege as another attempt to ratify the original ERA. In the past two years, Nevada and Illinois have passed resolutions to do so, leading some of their Louisiana counterparts to desire doing the same.


Bad bill beaten, but reveals limits to progress

Yesterday, a Louisiana Senate committee defeated a bad bill for the wrong reason, in the process showing why next year can’t come soon enough.

The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee deferred SB 21 by Republican state Sen. Barrow Peacock. It would have redirected gradually proceeds from the 0.45 percent sales tax hike renewal agreed to last year towards transportation needs and kept its scheduled expiration in 2025.

The bill had laudable aims in that the unneeded tax – its excessive nature confirmed by the state’s slow but steady uptick in revenues as recognized at the last Revenue Estimating Conference meeting – would go away and that such supplementary funding above and beyond necessary state operating expenses lent to diversion for infrastructure needs. But it didn’t come up to snuff for two reasons.


Perkins practicing power politics on steroids

Last year, Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins told campaign audiences that he wanted to break with politics of the past. Instead, he seems all too eager to embrace heavy-handed favoritism that apparently runs against the law and blatantly contrary to taxpayer interests, leading to questions about his abilities and motives.

Perkins, a political novice who hardly had lived any of his adult life in Shreveport, swept into office as a wunderkind promising to break the mold of ossified Shreveport politics and attitudes. And in the initial period of his tenure, the public seemed approving, with over half giving him above-average marks in a television station poll.

But Perkins has made some controversial decisions, and last week two of them backfired in ways that abnegate his campaign image. At the state level, the Attorney General’s office rendered a legal opinion against his attempt to remove members of the Shreveport Airport Authority.


Voters must reject Bossier school tax hike

No matter how you define it, the Bossier Parish School District asks for an unwarranted property tax increase on May 4.

Early this year, the School Board voted to put a pair of hikes on this ballot, which as a typically local-only election date tends to draw low turnout. If its members thought this would shorten the odds of passing the roughly 26 mills (about 23 going to salaries to make the total dedicated to pay starting this year around 60) by having school employees disproportionately show up at the polls to approve their own raises, it backfired.

Instead, local groups have sprung up in opposition with aggressive campaigns to defeat both measures. At least two have mailed out pieces or made phone calls asking for rejection. These are the Good Government Coalition, whose organizers include local business representatives and political activists, and Building a Better Bossier, whose principals are associated City Tele-Coin, a business with extensive government contracts (introducing an element that creates another layer of political intrigue involving Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who as a state legislator championed funding efforts for Bossier schools and on the PSC has butted heads with the company on regulatory issues).


LA taxpayers stiffed by questionable call

You know a governor is up for reelection when he grooves many state employees a day off with pay for nothing.

Yesterday, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ right-hand man, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, declared all of state government would close today because of weather considerations. This comes on top of the legal Good Friday paid holiday.

Bad weather is no joke, and the tornado threat issued last night for 16 southeastern Louisiana parishes today certain merits caution. But the state does have 48 other parishes that at most might or did get a lot of rain (here in northwest Louisiana, some energetic precipitation last night softened to a drizzle by sunrise, going on and off since), which have faced much more severe weather before that didn’t draw paid furlough under Edwards or any other governor.


Advocate undercuts paper of record status

The decision by the Baton Rouge Advocate to go behind a paywall will cause a significant shift in how state political news and opinion become consumed in Louisiana – in ways perhaps The Advocate didn’t expect or want.

Earlier this week, the newspaper’s top brass announced the new model. In some ways, it was late to the party, as a large majority of papers in the country have turned to this practice. In fact, it became the second-to-last mid-major to major paper in the Louisiana to do so, with just the New Orleans Times-Picayune the last standing with entirely free content (and, perhaps not coincidentally, that paper that has done the most to embrace a move online while deemphasizing its print version).

Academic research has studied the consequences of such a transition. Typically, newspapers have headed in this direction as a last resort to stem revenue losses. Keep in mind print advertising revenues have dropped by about two-thirds in just a dozen years, leading newsrooms to cut their employee numbers by almost half in that span.


Casino strategy unrealistic, going nowhere

You can lead a Louisiana riverboat casino to water, but you just can’t make it locate near or in it.

An extensive study prepared for the Louisiana Department of Economic Development tries to point boats in certain directions. It reviewed all forms of gaming in the state (not “gambling;” recall that the state Constitution says the Legislature is to suppress that) and concluded that, as the casino market dominated state gaming, only changes here could substantially stop the slide in gaming revenues from existing sources since 2008 (it predicts a bump up from adding sports betting this coming year).

It outlined a strategy, with one part right on the pulse of policy-making. That recommendation tracks efforts to loosen restrictions on the land-based casino in New Orleans, principally in allowing it to add a second hotel to its operations. Local officials and lawmakers seem ready to sign off on that this year after encountering problems last year.


Streamlining LA higher education needed

Legislators shouldn’t criticize hiking fees, or tuition, at Louisiana’s higher education institutions. These were needed, while streamlining the state’s overbuilt system must follow.

Last week, during budget presentations, some representatives expressed disapproval with Louisiana State University Baton Rouge’s decision to raise fees for this academic year. This came after lawmakers had constructed a standstill budget for this and the previous fiscal year, rather than inducing cuts as they had for the several years prior.

System Pres. F. King Alexander called the higher fees necessary in order to absorb hidden, mandated cost increases and to hand out pay raises. He said almost every state spent more per student, and every school did in the southern region. Further, the typical LSU faculty member makes over $10,000 fewer annually than the regional peer average.


Glover ups ante in insults to LSU

Democrat state Rep. Cedric Glover continues his war on the Louisiana State University System.

Glover, who didn’t graduate from college, filed HB 470 for the regular session of the Louisiana Legislature that would detach my employer Louisiana State University Shreveport from the System and merge it into the University of Louisiana System’s Louisiana Tech University. It’s a bad idea on a number of levels, although Glover claims it would bring more “comprehensive” higher education to the Caddo/Bossier metropolitan area. Notably, as Shreveport mayor from 2006-14, Glover did next to nothing to promote or assist LSUS.

That bill will go nowhere (especially as it requires a supermajority to pass). No other legislator has desired to co-author it, significantly including neither LSUS’ representative Thomas Carmody or its senator Barrow Peacock, both Republicans who seem quite cool to the idea. No groundswell among policy-makers, or even from Tech, clamors for its support.


N.O. should transfer power to LPSC

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, New Orleans City Councilor Helena Moreno needs to realize.

Yet Moreno seems intent on doing just that. She has asked the Council to beef up its staff that deals with utility issues. It’s unnecessary and wasteful.

Currently, New Orleans only among American cities regulates its electricity provider. In every other state, entities at the state level oversee electric provision, which in Louisiana would mean the Public Service Commission.


Barras agrees; Earth resumes revolving

Louisiana’s Revenue Estimating Conference today provided its first revised forecast since last June. And now the world can start turning again.

You would have thought from the apoplexy issued by the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration every one of the four times Republican House of Representatives Speaker Taylor Barras refused to accede to a change that the end of civilization was nigh. The higher forecasts proposed since November and finally accepted require unanimity among the four panelists, but Barras initially wouldn’t go along out of an abundance of caution over the state’s lackluster economic performance, perhaps the country’s worst.

All throughout, Edwards but particularly Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, his shill on the REC, kept whining about how not recognizing additional revenues would bring disaster, subverting criminal justice reforms and hampering efforts to improve reformation of juvenile offenders by preventing startup of a new facility. The Legislature – contrary to the Constitutional prohibition on contingency spending – had passed and Edwards signed a supplemental appropriation allocating money to these causes, which the Administration screamed up and down could not be fulfilled without REC recognition of higher revenues.


Wage hike part of Edwards potemkim strategy

If he champions so much an increase in the minimum wage, why would Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards advocate the least likely way to accomplish it?

In his 2019 state of the state address, Edwards stumped for SB 155 by Democrat state Sen. Troy Carter, which would put into the Constitution a minimum wage increase with perhaps more to follow. Louisiana is one of a few states with no state minimum wage, and one of 20 that in practice enforces the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for most workers.

He didn’t mention HB 422 by Democrat state Rep. Royce Duplessis that would unlock local governments to mandate their own increases. Nor did he give rhetoric backing to legislation, not on offer so far this regular session but commonly on the docket in past years, that would put an increase or several into statute.


Edwards disguised campaign speech flunks

The campaign reelection speech Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards gave substituting for the annual state of the state address distracted, misled, and outright lied.

With the traditional address granted to the governor at the opening day of Legislature’s regular session, Edwards issued forth a rendition decidedly distorted from the reality of Louisiana’s condition. The fact checking required and explicated would overburden the reader, but a few highlights prove illustrative of the con job Edwards seeks to perpetrate on the state’s electorate.

The governor crowed about record high state gross domestic product and numbers of Louisianans at work. But that’s because a rising tide lifts all boats: these numbers came about not because of anything Edwards did, but because of what Republican Pres. Donald Trump has done in cutting taxes and regulatory burdens – while Edwards has increased taxes and done nothing to ease constraints on business. In reality, he has failed to champion tort reform and encouraged legal actions against businesses following the law.


Cantrell Cuba comments show ignorance

Is Democrat New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell stupid or merely gullible?

No other possibilities exist from comments she made about a recent junket to Cuba. The city hasn’t released exact figures, but it probably will cost taxpayers several thousand dollars (a total has been announced, but some of that includes private funds) to send her there, along with other area politicians, bureaucrats, and business and educational leaders.

Cantrell gave the same pie-in-the-sky answer that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards rendered for a similar junket he took in 2016, bleating about economic ties with the communist island nation. Economic relations with Cuba beyond the trivial will happen no time soon and didn’t need any but the lowest functionaries to negotiate abstract deals that probably never will come to fruition.


Survey hints at Edwards reelection prospects

The recently-released Louisiana Survey provides more bad news than good for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reelection chances.

This snapshot of public opinion compiled by Louisiana State University’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs on an annual basis looks at issues of the day. This edition focused on some systemic policies of long standing, plus perceptions state government and the economy. It doesn’t ask about assessments of politicians, candidates, or parties,
and releases on other matters will follow in the future.

At the presidential level, a number of models to predict who wins these contests base their results mainly on economic performance and candidate or incumbent popularity (and, according to the data at this point, these point to Pres. Donald Trump winning reelection). That doesn’t translate as well to governors, in that the impact of state economic perceptions is much smaller, and that presidential popularity and the electorate’s general ideology loom larger.


Two-faced Edwards rejects significant savings

As usual, it turns out that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Not to the surprise of close watchers of Edwards’ political career, last week the Democrat renounced adding work requirements for able-bodied adults to enroll in Medicaid expansion after having paid lip service to the idea in the past. Instead, he offered up a miniscule program to train unemployed Medicaid recipients.

This echoes his reversal of a last-minute policy change by his predecessor that made able-bodied adults without dependents fulfill a work, training, or community engagement standard in order to receive Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program aid. Back then, he produced a fig leaf for doing nothing in the form of a cosmetic executive order that essentially changed nothing about gaining SNAP eligibility while alleging otherwise.


LSUS/Tech merger idea worse than before

Despite a weak case seven years ago that has only deteriorated since, another stab is being taken at merging my employer Louisiana State University Shreveport with Louisiana Tech University.

Democrat state Rep. Cedric Glover filed HB 470, which would fold LSUS into Tech as soon as accreditation hurdles and other legal niceties happen, likely years from now. By this August, to facilitate this transformation, LSUS would move out of the Louisiana State University System and into the University of Louisiana System.

Glover gave a completely different reason for the change than did supporters of the 2012 move. Then, they argued the LSU System neglected the campus that they claimed was slowly wasting away. At the time, the System said it would introduce measures to cut costs and boost enrollments, such as expanding course and degree offerings through its flagship institutions in Baton Rouge.


Cantrell wins, perhaps despite her influence

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell won, even though she may not have had anything to do with it.

Last weekend, dozens of local measures peppered ballots across the state for voter assessment. Perhaps the most prominent was a proposal to increase property taxes on New Orleanians designed to pass through to fund operations of the New Orleans Council on Aging.

Although the City Council unanimously put the measure on the ballot and no other area elected officials opposed it, Cantrell did so. She rightly pointed out that the city ought not to lock in a new tax the proceeds of which likely would have distributed by a nongovernment organization, but that the city should have more direct control over these disbursements which wouldn’t necessarily need a new tax to fund that commitment.


LA GOP, conservatives suffer election setbacks

Things didn’t go as planned for Louisiana Republicans in the weekend’s runoff elections, raising doubts about their ability to significantly expand their legislative majorities this fall.

This year so far, three special election runoffs have occurred in House of Representatives districts. Republicans had hoped, in net, to gain a House seat as a result of special elections kicked off last month. Contests predictable in their partisan outcomes settled then, with two of the three resolved this past weekend having implications for the chamber’s partisan balance.

One seemed a forgone conclusion, in District 18 where Democrat Jeremy Lacombe had far outpaced Republican Tammi Fabre and the remainder split mostly among Democrats. With 22 percent having gone to a black candidate and Lacombe having pulled 45 percent in the general election, that Fabre in the runoff ended up eating a little into the votes of candidates who finished off the pace provided only slight comfort to the GOP, with Lacombe winning decisively in a district that Republicans won handily in the past two statewide elections of candidates for federal office.


Times, attitudes change about center's hoard

Funny how times change to make what once drew screaming opposition now has those same who complained eager to go beyond that option that so vexed them.

Increasingly, policy-makers and the public have caught on to understanding the sinkhole that is the Ernest N. Morial Exhibition Hall Authority. It runs tens of millions of dollars a year in surplus, largely derived from taxes on tourists but also on residents, leaving it now flush with hundreds of millions in cash – most egregiously from a tax collected for nearly two decades ostensibly for building something that over a decade ago it abandoned as an idea.

Meanwhile, the city of New Orleans surrounding it has trouble with infrastructure needs, from inadequate handling of water to insufficient mental health facilities for prisoners. So, in order to justify having all that free cash and its continued diversion into its pockets, the convention center proposes any number of Ceausescu-like projects that unlikely ever would pay for themselves, according to researchers who cite a flat national convention market due to changing economics – and even want taxpayers to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies.


No need for Legislature to hike LA gas tax

Louisiana’s Secretary of Transportation and Development Shawn Wilson has it right: don’t expect the Legislature to raise the gasoline tax at the pump this year. Because nothing it or Wilson have done changes the fact that no increase is needed.

Wilson says, correctly, that political factors intervene. With 2019 an election year, legislators typically loathe tax hikes right before facing voters, He even figured out that the constitutional amendment some years ago that allowed the Legislature to take up tax matters in regular session only in odd-numbered years, requiring special sessions in even-numbered years, purposely discourages increasing any taxes at all.

Still, in 2015 lawmakers increased taxes by altering some business credits plus adding to taxation of tobacco, so it’s not impossible. Then, the state had an operating budget deficit to overcome. Now, in regards to roads, it has a huge backlog (Wilson says $14.3 billion worth, five-eighths of that in bridge work) of capital expenditures with which to contend.


Opinion illuminates Edwards' sanctimony

Louisiana’s Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne lied on the pages of Louisiana’s most prominent newspaper and won’t take responsibility for that. Both reflect his boss’ wishes.

Last month, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget received an executive budget from Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. But instead of using the official revenue forecasts from the Revenue Estimating Conference, it incorporated numbers the Edwards Administration wished to use, contrary to law. The official forecast has remained the same since the middle of last year because one REC member, Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras, would not accept revised estimates showing more revenue mainly out of an abundance of caution over wildly gyrating oil prices. REC numbers become official only when all members agree to these.

I wrote about this in one of my last columns for the Baton Rouge Advocate, publicizing the tendency of the Edwards Administration to disregard the law when it didn’t suit the governor’s political agenda. This prompted Dardenne to pen a letter to the editor where, among other things, he defended use of the unapproved estimates by alleging “There has been no revenue forecast by the REC for Fiscal Year (FY) 20. The only FY20 forecast was in June 2018 as part of a long-range projection of revenue, not as an ‘official forecast’ for FY20.”

That was untrue. In a subsequent blog post, I pointed out that the documents from that REC meeting clearly showed it had adopted numbers for those years as official estimates.

And last week an attorney general’s opinion confirmed that. In Opinion 19-0038, GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s office concurred with me, bluntly noting that “the REC adopted an official forecast for fiscal year 2020 at its June” meeting, meaning “it is legally wrong to claim that no official forecast exists for fiscal year 2020.”

Summoning the entirety of facts and logic he could to support his contention, Dardenne’s reply was, “He’s entitled to his opinion, we just happen to think it’s wrong;” in other words, when the facts don’t fit your argument, ignore the facts. He then tried to deflect from his being caught out by declaring the whole issue would become moot upon eventual recognition of the revenues, as if this exculpated him from breaking the law.

(It also causes other problems. Because Dardenne didn’t follow the law, this affects the numbering of the general appropriations bill for legislative consideration. House rules specify designation “HB 1” for the governor’s budget, but since one did not get legally submitted, that cannot be used.)

For the reason Dardenne specified, it’s unlikely that any legal action will occur against him for this, so the judiciary won’t have a chance to weigh in. Still, it provides more exposure of sanctimonious behavior by Edwards, who rode into office emphasizing the honor code of his alma mater: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”


For her own good, Peterson should resign

That may explain some things. But it can’t be the end of the story.

Over the weekend, state Sen. Karen Peterson acknowledged she has a gambling addiction. She became the second legislator in two years to do so, following state Rep. Dee Richard who said he had an addiction while taking medication. That came to light when he paid a fine to settle with the Louisiana Board of Ethics for using campaign money to fund his habit, after he said he had kicked it.

Peterson got caught in the act. Apparently, she has engaged in this for many years, and in an attempt to stop herself, she voluntarily filed to bar her entry into casinos and to draw a legal citation if found in one. She picked up just such a charge last month, and a reporter apparently got tipped on it. The reporter made a public records request, found the infraction, and her outlet disseminated the story, leading to Peterson’s public admission.


Perkins' moves roiling Shreveport boards

It seems Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins can’t win. People he doesn’t want to keep on city policy-making panels criticize him for that, and another faults his appointee for a job change that allegedly endangers that person’s tenure on a city board.

Recently, Perkins has caught flak from commissioners of the Shreveport Airport Authority over his handling of a new director of airports. Sec. 18-32 of the city ordinances mandates that the panel of five nominate a director “for appointment by the mayor,” who then would need City Council confirmation.

The Perkins Administration forged ahead with the process, selecting three candidates without Authority input. Three members – all of whom publicly supported former Mayor Ollie Tyler who Perkins defeated and whom he has said he will replace – objected to the ordering, and mused whether Perkins’ plan to oust them had something to do with the director hiring.


LPSC new coop rules don't go far enough

Better late than never, and even if not as extensive as necessary, it looks as if the Louisiana Public Service Commission finally will bring some fiscal responsibility to electric cooperatives, although inviting legislative intervention.

Yesterday, the PSC voted in new rules that would shine more light on compensation practices of the dozen coops. These would force coops into membership votes on such packages for directors, and set term limits on their service.

Coops are member-owned providers of electricity, set up under federal and state law to encourage this provision in areas once though difficult to serve. Despite the fact that Louisiana law establishes the part-time nature of directorships and specifies paying them no salaries, average compensation for these positions recently went over $26,000 annually, although some made over twice that and others nothing at all.


States should have split jury decision option

Louisiana finds itself at the forefront of an interesting constitutional issue – with the possibility that bad jurisprudence could result.

The case involves the state’s non-unanimous jury requirement, placed on the ash heap of history last year when voters constitutionally prohibited the practice. Before then, the law had permitted it, and people convicted without unanimity litter Louisiana prisons. Additionally, those whose trials began prior to 2019 also risk conviction – or may gain acquittal – according to the old provision.

Often challenged legally but rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court surprisingly took up this latest attempt. The plaintiff argues that the Court’s interpretation that federal courts must use unanimity it should incorporate to all states, making an equal protection argument that split convictions inherently invite racial discrimination, in that this may negate the voting power of fair jurors not to convict minority defendants against allegedly prejudiced other jurors.


LA leadership discouraging Space Command

Louisiana Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham gets an ‘A’ for creativity and effort on his proposal to make Louisiana headquarters for the incipient Space Command. Too bad Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, whom Abraham challenges this fall, has done what he can to discourage this placement.

Last year, GOP Pres. Donald Trump called upon Congress to stand up what ultimately would become a new branch of the armed forces. His preliminary budget request seeks to carve out Space Command first as an agency in the Air Force, then within a couple of years to launch it into independence.

To that end, Abraham pitched the idea to Trump that Barksdale Air Force Base become the home of the new command. He pointed out that the facility surrounded by Bossier City already has the Global Strike Command, stood up about a decade ago to coordinate the Air Force’s nuclear capabilities. Space Grant university Louisiana Tech is just down the road, he noted, as well as in the state Louisiana State University also has this designation. He also mentioned the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans which has an extensive history in manufacturing space components.


One more reminder to reject high speed rail

With another nail put in the coffin of Louisiana high-speed passenger rail service, when will policy-makers face reality?

This week, a third bus transit company will begin offering service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. FlixBus will join Megabus and venerable Greyhound back and forth that Interstate 10 corridor.

Greyhound offers reasonably-priced trips at $12 and above several times a day with several stops along the way. By contrast, Megabus starts at a couple of bucks more and a couple of fewer trips a day, but operates express service.


And now, for something completely different

Normally, in this space would appear a link to my column that ran in The Advocate. However, The Advocate has let me go as a columnist.

Although I take issue with some of their opinions and news story choices, they are professionals and, for the people I worked with there, about them I have nothing but good things to say. Ultimately, the quality of my work for them was slipping.

Those readers who know something of my life probably can figure out why. Some clues have come from this space; I used to post fairly early each day, and every day Sunday through Thursday. In the past few months, I have been missing on some days and postings have come later and later in the day.


Biology causes sex differences in candidacies

An old parable and an old aphorism explain why Louisiana political offices tend to have fewer women occupying these than elsewhere.

This week, some discussions occurred about women winning elective office. In both Livingston Parish and next parish over at Louisiana State University, groups convened to hash out why it seemed women were underrepresented relative to other parts of the country (or world) in office. It seems particularly odd as not only do women who contest offices win at roughly the same rate as do men, but, in a study of members of Congress, women who did win more often, in terms of prior experience, competence, integrity, and problem-solving abilities, seem to have more of these qualities than do male candidates.

Additionally, among these congressional candidates, it appeared that men slightly less qualified on these bases or as qualified disproportionately defeated females, so (assuming the same applied to candidacies at all levels) some kind of “penalty” intruded on the process. Some of the investigation by the two panels mirrored the parable of blindfolded people stationed at different parts of the elephant, then asked to describe what they felt. Naturally, they came up with a whole host of speculations, all true separately but none close to identify the beast.


St. George pretty much forgone conclusion

No May election date, no problem for the organizers of the city of St. George. Although some might try to make its birth as messy as possible.

Earlier this week, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards refused to certify the May 5 municipal election date for the incipient city that petitioners wish to form in southern East Baton Rouge Parish. While he tried to blame Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s office for not offering assistance that previous holders of that office had supplied as causing the slowdown, Landry effectively rebutted that with a written demonstration on how little time and effort it would take to review the petition for completeness, which is all the law asks.

Delaying the vote also saves the parish money, as having a standalone election in only certain parts of the parish costs more than tucking in the item on a ballot already with other items. However, this departed from precedent in 2005, when a special election created Central. This was the only election in the parish despite one just weeks earlier that included most of the parish’s precincts.


LA correctly puts protection before privilege

A recent report shows that Louisiana cares more about protecting constitutional rights than in promoting privilege for certain groups.

Each year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Equality Federation Institute team up to rate states on their friendliness to the groups’ agenda. Both advocate for laws that encourage acceptance of expressing homosexuality, even if that limits activity protected by the First Amendment.

With the majority of states, Louisiana scores low, but that shouldn’t surprise given the groups’ agenda. For example, the report faults states for having Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, which implement federal law that aids states in protecting First Amendment rights of their citizens. As many sincerely hold religious beliefs that see homosexual behavior as sinful, these acts protect exercise of that belief that doesn’t force adherents to endorse, by word or deed, expressions of homosexuality.


Shreveport should swap recycling for garbage fee

How about a trade, Shreveport’s recycling fee for a solid waste collection fee?

Shreveport’s City Council looks poised to set up procedures at tomorrow’s meeting to collect a garbage fee, after hashing out details at today’s work session. The proposed $7 a month will provide enough to provide most funding for the operation, which would go into an enterprise fund similar to that for water provision, and present an opportunity to give sanitation workers a pay raise.

Almost no cities of Shreveport’s size nationally don’t charge some kind of fee. In fact, the largest cities in Louisiana all charge more.


Dardenne tries to fool again on budget

Over carrying out his statutory duties, Louisiana’s Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne tried to fool us once. He’s trying to do it again.

My most recent column for the Baton Rouge Advocate took Dardenne and his boss Gov. John Bel Edwards to task for technically breaking the law in their most recent presentation to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. Dardenne presented a budget using numbers concocted by economists for his office and for the Legislature, but which had not gained approval of the Revenue Estimating Conference.

The REC requires unanimity to assign revenue forecasts. One member, House Speaker Taylor Barras, has refused to change general fund estimates from those accepted at the Jun. 26, 2018 meeting, although he asked at the most recent meeting to revise numbers associated with dedicated funds, many of which have yet to receive an official forecast. Dardenne and the other two members rejected that.


Raising smoking age will cost LA more

If Louisiana intends to raise the age of tobacco use and possession to 21, it needs to do it for the right reason.

Prefiled HB 38, by state Rep. Frank Hoffman, would do this, and includes alternative nicotine products including vaping material. A few states and a number of local governments already have put this limit into law.

The bill resurrects arguments pitting exercise of personal liberties against the state’s duty to protect its citizens. Already the prohibition applies to alcohol, and with the U.S. Supreme Court pontificating that states can’t automatically sentence to life imprisonment those under 18 who commit horrific crimes because their brains may not have developed enough to distinguish right and wrong in all instances, consistency dictates increasing the age.


Case reminds to pare constables, justices

With the West Bank’s dynamic duo now officially in disgrace, maybe legislators will wake up and reform Louisiana’s small claims court system.

Last week, a court found former Jefferson Parish Second District Justice of the Peace Patrick DeJean guilty of charges related to abusing his office. JPs provide numerous administrative functions in addition to adjudicating cases with minor amounts in controversy, for which they may receive fees. These convictions automatically cost him his position.

Whatever legitimate business DeJean had didn’t seem adequate for a gambling habit he had picked up, thus his crimes of overcharging revenues and falsely inflating expenses (Jefferson Parish, as do others throughout the state, supplement in various ways JPs and their office, although not legally required to do so). While not connected to those felonies, he had a partner in running up business, former Constable Tony Thomassie.


Perkins surrenders his mayoral honeymoon

The honeymoon is over officially for wunderkind Shreveport’s Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins.

Sworn in at the tail end of last year, the first city mayor born after its switch from the commission form of government and who hardly has lived any of his adult life in the city, the precocious Perkins swept into office on a perception that he offered a clean break from stagnation of the recent past. Citizens who saw city government as opaque and infested with cronyism in policy-making hoped he would bring fresh ideas and a fresh start.

Instead, in his first two months on the job, Perkins seemed like one of the good old boys who additionally believed the executive imposes and the legislature disposes. He hit a minor speed bump when he proposed a garbage fee to a public wary but open to the idea. Shreveport is among the very few larger cities that does not have such a charge.


Defective decision highlights sentencing irony

Although a decision on the matter will apply to many fewer defendants across Louisiana now, a needed challenge to a badly flawed decision on jury sentencing points out in passing an unintended consequence of recent change to this policy.

Last year, voters amended the Constitution to sweet away the state’s requirement – shared now only by Oregon – that juries decide cases with only 10 of 12 votes (except, according to the criminal code, cases that could carry a capital sentence). However, the change to unanimity didn’t affect cases already in the pipeline.

Unless you agreed with rogue 41st District Judge Stephen Beasley. In a magnificent display of judicial activism, last fall Beasley declared the 10/12 standard unconstitutional as it disproportionately affected black defendants because – he alone determined despite far more persuasive explanations at hand – it was inherently racist from its origin, thus violating the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause