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Edwards, left show their intellectual dishonesty

You know Louisiana’s political left hasn’t emerged from intellectual bankruptcy by reading its vacuous reaction to Republican Pres. Donald Trump’s social media comments and those added by some of its Congressional delegation.

Trump certainly provoked a reaction when days ago through social media he advised “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” who came from dysfunctional developing countries to return and solve those places’ woes that then would give them the moral credibility to make policy choices for the U.S. He guessed that Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had drawn criticism from four females of her party who express radical leftist policies – Reps. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ihan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib – gladly would pay the airfare for such individuals.

Probably not, but Louisiana’s GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham, who is running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards, seemed amenable to the notion. On social media, like Trump not mentioning any particular names, he broadened the idea by observing “There’s no question that the members of Congress that @realDonaldTrump called out have absolutely said anti-American and anti-Semitic things. I’ll pay for their tickets out of this country if they just tell me where they’d rather be.”


Data show Jindal's economy beats Edwards'

If Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has any hope of winning reelection, he’ll need a lazy and incurious mainstream media to parrot his misleading campaign theme.

That theme, as disgorged through campaign advertising, tries to resonate on two related points: (1) Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal wreaked havoc on the state economically and (2) Edwards saved Louisiana from that, So, (3) keep him in office because otherwise the likes of the GOP’s Rep. Ralph Abraham or Eddie Rispone will be the second coming of Jindal.

How much either challenger would repeat local, stock, and barrel Jindal’s agenda is questionable, but undoubtedly they would advocate for different policies than Edwards. In particular, they look askance at tax increases that have fueled policies leading to a massive expansion in state government spending.

Consider that the fiscal year 2008 budget Jindal inherited from Democrat former Gov. Kathleen Blanco contained, exclusive of federal money and interagency transfers, spent $16.8 billion. By the end of his first term, Jindal had reduced that to $15.3 billion. But then outlays began creeping back up, with his last budget using $16.5 billion in state-sourced bucks. Still, over eight years, Jindal managed to claw back 3 percent of state dollar spending (even as in his last year he countenanced significant tax increases).

Then Edwards spearheaded the largest tax increase in the state’s history, a sales tax hike which disproportionately affected lower-income households, and government’s size exploded. His second-to-last FY 2019 budget ended up spending a record $18.2 billion, with more to come in this year’s. That’s 10 percent higher that Jindal’s last, an increase almost twice the rate of inflation.

Edwards would have us believe that this fiscal record has produced better economic performance than Jindal, an allegation predictably bought by the drive-by national media. One such example comes from the unabashedly partisan New York Times, which sicced one of its east coast-based stenographers, one Richard Faussett (whose social media postings reveals he enjoys flirting with the “progressive” agenda) to do a story on the messaging by Blanco, Jindal, and Edwards when storms threaten. Tucked into the piece was this nugget of ignorance:

Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, was elected four years ago in large part because voters were worried about the huge structural deficits left by the departing Mr. Jindal, who pushed for tax cuts and breaks that failed to stimulate the economy and contributed to severe cutbacks in higher education funding.

Clearly, Faussett didn’t do his homework, seemingly content to swallow the party line as propagated by Edwards. In fact, the data show the Jindal tax and spending cuts improved the state’s economy, and his and Edwards’ tax and spending increases harmed it.

A review of five indicators of economic well-being reveals this: relative real gross domestic product growth (in chained dollars to discount inflation), personal income per capita growth, employment growth, state unemployment rate relative to the national rate, and relative population change over the previous four years. Relatively higher growths, the better state unemployment, and the more people wanting to live in Louisiana connote better economic performance.

The following table presents comparisons for the three eras featuring different economic policies: (1) Jindal’s first term, which had tax cuts early and spending reduction throughout, (2) Jindal’s second term, where spending began rising again and tax increases occurred at the end, and (3) Edwards’ three years in office, with its large tax increase early and record spending. Each entry also includes in parentheses Louisiana’s relative ranking among the states. In this fashion, national economic performance, which affects all states, can be factored out while gauging how the state performs against its peers.

Jindal 08-12
Jindal 12-16
Edwards 16-19
Real GDP (chained) relative change %
-0.5 (32)
-2.4 (47)
-2.1 (49)
Personal income PC relative change %
-0.7 (33)
-1.6 (44)
-0.3 (36)
Number of jobs relative change %
+0.5 (6)
-1.2 (43)
-0.7 (45)
Unemployment rate relative
-1.0 (20)
+1.2 (47)
+0.7 (43)
Population change relative change %
 0.0 (26)
-0.5 (32)
-1.6 (44)

(Most data here are taken from second quarters of the years indicated, as that is when the state’s fiscal year for budgeting purposes ends, except for 2019 where the latest state statistics available at present are from May, the last population estimate is from 2018, the last state ranking for employment is from 2018 (and done at the fourth quarter), and the earliest data for Jindal first term personal income was 2010.)

So, by way of example, from the end of the second quarter of 2008 (after Jindal had been in office about six months) through the second quarter of 2012 (about eight months after his reelection), 0.5 percent more jobs were created in Louisiana than nationally, ranking sixth highest among the states.

Reviewing these figures, Louisiana’s economy clearly performed better during the era of large tax and spending cuts of Jindal’s first term than during the era of Edwards and large tax and spending increases. In that first term, Louisiana bested national numbers in two categories and tied in a third, and, relative to other states, scored almost in the upper tenth, in the upper two-fifths, almost in the upper half, and twice in the upper two thirds.

Even Jindal’s second term with tax and spending increases marginally went better than Edwards’ three years. Even though all but one of the absolute numbers are better for Edwards, this reflects the state riding the coattails of Republican-induced tax cuts in 2017; the majority of state ranking indicators deteriorated showing the state lost ground to others under Edwards’ policies. And, even the least bad indicator of the bunch (the only one, barely, not in the bottom fifth) of only 0.3 percent lower personal income growth than occurred nationally is a left-handed compliment; that’s an artifact of the massive population loss relative to other states (giving it a negative net migration, the fifth worst among the states) which leaves fewer people to use as the denominator in calculating the average.

In short, in economic terms comparatively Louisianans are not better off than they were three years ago, and they are significantly worse off than they were seven years ago after government had cut taxes and spending than now when government has raised both taxes and spending. Edwards will try to distract voters from this dismal record by pointing to small absolute increases registered by some indicators, but those come from national economic performance using policies he repudiates. In truth, Louisiana has fallen further behind under Edwards.

But tools like Faussett are fooled, and thus they report inaccurate information about the state’s past economic performance, where the record shows tax cuts in part in fact did stimulate the economy. Nor is he correct about funding for higher education, which didn’t face “severe cutbacks” throughout the Jindal terms but instead for educational functions that spending fell less than 1 percent.

Edwards has to hope voters are gullible enough to buy his obfuscation and misdirection on the state’s economic performance under his watch and policies. Otherwise, he’ll be out of a job beginning next year.


Reform, politics shape LA education progress

The initial round of Louisiana’s LEAP test score revelation for last academic year demonstrates the limits of educational reform and political will.

As a whole, the state’s students improved marginally. More substantial improvement, however, came at historically low-performing schools provided with more autonomy, resources, and demanding expectations, known as Transformation Zone schools. Each implemented a Tier 1 curriculum, recognized by the state as best aligned with and able to achieve state-mandated learning objectives. These also received additional funding from their districts (often grant money) and faced fewer constraints in administration, with many being charter schools.

By contrast, the original cockpit of state educational reform, Orleans Parish, suffered a small decline in scores on the standardized exam. This meant that over the past four years essentially no progress occurred in a district that, in that time span, went from having a majority of schools chartered and outside the Orleans Parish School District to having all schools become charters and under OPSD jurisdiction.


Shreveport follies threaten bonding ability

While Tropical Storm Barry may have whimpered its way through Shreveport, a political storm has brewed there that threatens to take down the city’s bonding capacity.

Last month, news leaked that the city delayed production of its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report required by the state annually on Jun. 30. Discrepancies in the city-run pension plan for public safety employees as well as questions over whether the city was making its payroll tax payments appear to have prompted the request.

The payroll problems predated the Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins Administration, but it has not confirmed that the problems didn’t continue into 2019. Regardless, this piqued the interest of the three Republican members of the city council – Grayson Boucher, James Flurry, and John Nickelson – plus Democrat LeVette Fuller into having the body vote the city into launching an investigation of the matter.


N.O. Luddites put ideology over people

You have to admire ruefully the Luddites in New Orleans for their ideological fervor: they’d rather be right than save themselves and the people they allege to represent in the neighborhood of $100 million.

They’ve had their panties in a wad ever since the City Council reaffirmed a decision to have Entergy New Orleans construct a gas “peaker” plant for use in times of stress on power provision and emergencies (such as a tropical storm slamming the area) for a city with no capacity to generate its own power. They argued for all sorts of alternatives to this relatively clean power, but none are practical or cost effective, or both.

Nonetheless, the faith in their case is such that they pursued multiple legal avenues to overturn the decision. With Louisiana’s weak tradition of rule by law – its political culture too tolerant of men on horseback who bend rules and norms to achieve their desired outcomes – they felt they could hit on an activist judge willing to read into the law their agenda.


Shreveport must scrap liquor law favoritism

If Louisiana ranks as the state with the most barriers to entry in business, Shreveport may be the state’s major city most restrictive in that category.

As recently demonstrated in a suit concerning useless requirements for braiding hair, the state has the most onerous occupational licensing regime among all. And local governments can pile on additional strictures that can be at least as needless.

That has come to the forefront as an issue concerning sales of unprepared food and high-content alcohol in Shreveport. A new business called Corks & Cuts located in the extreme southern portion of the city – an area recently annexed because of the high-end retail and commercial residences springing up there – wishes to sell spirits and steak cuts. But Ordinance 10-84 prohibits such sales unless a wall of at least 6 feet separates the area with alcohol from that where other goods are sold, and that separate entrances exist for each area. The owners complain that this would require renting the next-door retail space and make $60,000 in modifications.


More reason not to hike LA minimum wage

Need another good reason to understand the utter folly of attempts to make Louisiana raise its minimum wage? Just observe those touchscreen checkouts when you walk into a store selling groceries.

By now, informed individuals know full well how the minimum wage costs jobs and how, because almost no sole breadwinners of families work full-time at the minimum wage and even fewer of them are younger than 25, the modal category of such workers are young, recent job force entrants who have no dependents and live in a household with others who are employed (particularly when removing the 70 percent who technically earn below it but more than make up for that in tips). Single parents with older children working full-time at minimum wage are hardly more common than unicorns.

The minimum wage by nature serves as a job training tool, to acclimate new workers to certain desirable traits such as punctuality and dependability, while imparting certain skills and motivating individuals to work better so as to deserve a raise – remember that wages vary directly with productivity – or to move into a job that pays more. In fact, its artificiality in setting a floor on pay induces economic inefficiency by overpaying for the actual productive value of the work, denying a more efficient use of that capital.


Schroder sequester bedevils ironic Edwards

Irony stares Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards right in the face as Republican Treasurer John Schroder hoists him on his own petard.

Last week, Schroder announced that he would not authorize a move of $25 million from the unclaimed property account to the general fund as budgeted. The fund keeps monies owed to the public by state government, which in its balance floats between $850 million and $900 million. Around $88 million comes in every year, and until this year creditor entities typically claimed only around $30 million annually.

However, the balance doesn’t go higher because the Legislature siphons off tens of millions annually. R.S. 9:165.1 allows $15 million yearly to go towards completion of Interstate 49, but the rest goes into the general fund. Further, in the past year repayment efforts have improved considerably, meaning in the future the gap between retained and claimed will shrink and leave fewer dollars theoretically available for immediate use. In fact, the gap’s magnitude shrunk so much that Schroder reported difficulty in paying off successful claims in a timely fashion.


Arrests often arrest NW LA political ambition

History would suggest that Shreveport City Councilor Levette Fuller just put a cap on a  promising political career.

The first-term Democrat was arrested last week on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and texting while driving. Specifically, police found her vehicle stopped in the middle of the road in the wee hours of the morning, where she informed them that while texting she may have hit another car and had drank two to three glasses of wine. A later social media post on a site advertising itself as connected to her Council position seemed to come off as an admission and apology.

Although on the Council just a few months, Fuller already had made an impression that suggested she might aspire to higher office. She won in her district that has a small black majority and in her short period in office developed a reputation for fiscal restraint, opposing intrusive regulation and laws, and promoting transparency, bucking controversial decisions made by another black Democrat elected rookie, Mayor Adrian Perkins.


Edwards displays vindictiveness again

Legislators ideologically opposed to Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, if this turns out to be his last round of line-item vetoes, won’t miss his vindictiveness.

That trait he put on clear display with decisions concerning HB 2, Louisiana’s capital outlay budget. Often, governors will use this power as a weapon to punish legislators who champion measures not only contrary to his worldview about politics, but also which have the potential to make him look bad.

Edwards used the power sparsely in this election year, excising only six items out of over $4 billion worth (although a distinct portion represents only a pledge, not the actual disbursement of cash or intention to issue bonds). But each sent a message.


Independence Day, 2019

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


Bad sampling boosts Edwards poll support

It’s a relatively bad sample.

That explains why results from a mid-April poll by Market Research Insight, directed by Verne Kennedy, varied significantly from a late April survey conducted by JMC Analytics’ John Couvillion. The former, among other things, called the reelection without a runoff by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards likely, while the latter concluded Edwards would be unlikely to avoid a runoff with one of two major Republican candidates.

Since other earlier polling generally had backed the JMC interpretation, observers questioned the MRI conclusion. That poll continued a series stretching back years, commissioned by business and political elites of whom now one is the owner of the Baton Rouge Advocate, John Georges, where the results appeared.


Worried Edwards campaign aims to distract

Its recent media activity shows the Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards reelection campaign is very worried.

Edwards has a lot of headwinds in his quest to stay in office past the end of this year, with polling for the most part reflecting his waning chance at returning to office. A record of one of the worst, if not the worst, performing state economies in the country during his term, caused by sales tax increases he continues to champion and state-sourced spending that grew around twice the rate of inflation triggered by this will hobble any chance he has at another four years.

Faced with that lackluster record to defend, the Edwards campaign has responded with a time-honored strategy: distract from that by making personal attacks on the opposition. And, in this case, not very compelling ones.


Tone deaf eulogy explains T-P demise

And this is why she no longer works in the print journalism industry.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune ceased to exist independently last weekend, which a few of its departing employees acknowledged in print. The blood bath was more than I predicted, with only a handful of staffers picked up by new the parent the Baton Rouge Advocate.

One, who moved on to a radio gig in St. Louis, was former state legislative reporter Julia O’Donoghue. She wrote a piece revealing how she had loved her job, along with a couple of comments about politics and the press. (See how history disappears so quickly – it’s now available only in cached form.)


Elective police chief discord strikes again

Need another reminder of why Louisiana should abolish the concept of elected police chiefs and pay its mayors reasonably? Welcome to Many.

The hamlet of just over 2,700 in Sabine Parish experienced some great, if non-family, entertainment last week at a special meeting of its City Council. The slightly majority-black population is represented by its mayor of more than three decades Ken Freeman, a white Republican; its police chief of more than a decade Roger Freeman (no relation to the mayor), who is white and last ran under an other party label; a Democrat white at-large alderwoman recently appointed after the death of the incumbent; and four other aldermen elected from districts of whom two are black Democrats, one a white Republican, and the other a white no-party registrant. All except Ken Freeman who were elected in 2017 faced no opposition; Freeman faced (for the second time) black Democrat DeDarren Henry, winning with 58 percent of the 423 votes cast.

The fun actually started in May, when Ken Freeman got pulled over for speeding on the way to the Sabine Parish Detention Center ostensibly to spring someone he knew that he alleged was arrested illegally. The town officers let him go without a citation, even though he had not stopped, supposedly running a stop sign, until reaching the jail and entered it without responding to officers’ commands to halt.


Bond Commission right to penalize discrimination

Even if it costs taxpayers, Louisiana must support citizen exercise of constitutional rights.

Last year, the State Bond Commission voted to reject bids by two banks to work an upcoming Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bond sale because the pair engaged in restrictive lending to merchants legally dealing in firearms, undermining citizens’ abilities to exercise Second Amendment. rights This successful attempt came after failure to impose a similar ban four months earlier on a related matter.

Democrats on the SBC and the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration said actions like this could cause higher fees paid out to do this business. In fact, the bids by those prospective but barred lenders came in thousands of dollars lower.


Govts in hock for current spending needing tweaks

Comments made at the most recent Louisiana State Bond Commission meeting invite debate over how local governments can use debt to finance current operations.

Typically, each month the SBC will approve several applications for a local government to issue short term debt instruments the proceeds of which will go to recurring expenses. Any and all debt issued by any level of government in the state cannot happen without SBC permission.

The state can’t use long term debt to finance current operations (gimmickry aside), and among others in the union allowed only by Vermont. By contrast, just reviewing the last three months of loan requests, for Louisiana local entities among others a fire district asked for money to compensate for a budgetary shortfall, a municipality asked for funds to help tide itself over while the state assumes fiscal control for the time being, and a law enforcement district with significant revenue loss from a closed prison wanted to pay off expenses from last year.


New law pushes LA populism small step back

It flew under the radar, but it represents an encouraging sign of Louisiana inching away from its populist past of wasteful spending.

Earlier this month, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law SB 201 by Republican state Sen. Beth Mizell, officially ending the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission. A few hundred thousand dollars of its assets will go immediately to enhance the nearby Bogue Chitto State Park, while the body itself terminates by Sep. 1.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to claw back the over $2 million spent trying to obtain permission to flood a hundred acres or so of land in the parish spent over nearly two decades. The original idea would have spurred, the idea’s sponsors alleged, economic development and recreational opportunities along the artificial lake.


Outlier LA poll has validity challenges

Much has been written, even vented, over a private poll that asked questions including about the upcoming Louisiana governor’s race. In the final analysis, its controversial results points to likely errors both in execution and interpretation.

Done by longtime pollster Verne Kennedy, it represents the latest in a series stretching back years commissioned by a number of figures active in business and politics, including John George, owner of the Baton Rouge Advocate. In those pages appeared a summary of the results.

In one way, its confirms other polling. Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards doesn’t win against Republican challengers Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, but he leads each with 46 percent. His lead exists in part because of their lower name recognitions but, Kennedy insists, he would go well over 50 percent if the proportion of black sample voted 90 percent for him.


LA passenger rail experiment might pay off

This might be worth it for Louisiana to throw money at passenger rail service, at least in the short run.

Earlier this month, the Southern Rail Commission – a federally-authorized interstate compact among Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama – announced it had won a grant to reestablish rail service between New Orleans and Mobile. This would pay some money for infrastructural improvements and subsidize three years of operating expenses.

Louisiana’s $10 million share of fixed costs it already has covered mostly leveraged from other projects. Thus, it would have to cough up only the unsubsidized portion of operating costs, which amount to 20 percent of the first year, 40 percent of the second, and 60 percent of the third. Normally, states must pick up the entire cost of segments fewer than 750 miles in length.


LSU defiance illustrates LA dysfunction

It’s confirmed: Louisiana State University, backed by its system’s Board of Supervisors, continues to thumb its nose at the Louisiana Board of Regents. Now the Regents have to decide what to do, if they can do anything, pointing out again the dysfunctional way in which state higher education is organized.

Last year, a policy choice made by LSU that violates Regents’ assigned admissions standards became public. The current class at the time admitted by LSU contained almost twice the proportion of exceptional admittances, where the school surreptitiously relaxed standards that didn’t automatically reject those with an American College Test score of 22 and a grade point average of 3.0/4.0 and 19 core hours.

As a result, the Regents pledged to audit admissions at all universities. Louisiana operates under a three-tiered system, where LSU has the highest bar and may enroll only four percent of a class that does not meet the standards, both metrics established by the Regents. Although the audit had some questions about data submitted by some institutions that will require following up, it confirmed that only LSU unambiguously violated policy by admitting 7.5 percent of its class through exception.


LA shouldn't fund directly legal services

You might say it’s “only” $500,000, but it’s money better spent at the state level elsewhere and continues Louisiana’s unhealthy habit of having the state finance what should be local matters.

Tucked into HB 392, that amount of money would go to the state’s three legal services corporations contracted with the federal government’s Legal Services Corporation. That entity funnels money to area providers within states to fund legal services rendered to low-income individuals in most civil matters (some it legally cannot underwrite).

Proponents have argued the infusion by state taxpayers will increase the representation of these people in matters such as family law, housing, successions, and labor. They say that the organizations, which receive funding from numerous sources besides federal government contracts, with this will become eligible for more funds from foundations that insist a state chip in some money before they’ll grant money to such groups.


Edwards creates problem, takes credit for solution

On the issue of Medicaid expansion, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards hopes people forget he’s the one who created the problem of inappropriate and unnecessary payments.

The state received some good news recently when it announced it would spend $400 million fewer on Medicaid, about 3 percent less than budgeted. It identified as a major contributor cleansing the rolls of ineligible recipients, almost all of them coming from Medicaid expansion, through a technology upgrade that allows for more frequent verification. Since then, Edwards Administration officials have all but broken their arms patting themselves on the back for the discovery of (for now) over 30,000 ineligible participants to save the state money, and the public can expect Edwards to repeat that party line ad naseum as he runs for reelection.

But in all this Edwards wishes to bury a dirty secret. The reason why so many erroneous clients, who comprised about six percent of all expansion enrollees, gained illegal access to service is because of two policies that Edwards instituted, by design, that makes it easier for ineligible individuals to enroll.


Nuisance candidates set to annoy incumbents

With the Louisiana Legislature out of substantive action hopefully for at least nine more months and an election in between, it’s time for nuisance candidates to come out of the woodwork, which a pair of northwest Louisiana incumbents running for reelection this fall must endure.

Given the voting behavior of its legislators, southeast Shreveport might have the most conservative electorate in the state. That area houses Senate District 37 represented by Republican state Sen. Barrow Peacock and House District 5 with GOP state Rep. Alan Seabaugh. The former has averaged over 80 this past term (not including this year) according to the Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting scorecard and the latter has had a mean of 75 (with 100 the maximum conservative/reform score).

Conservatives statewide consider both as standard bearers, in different ways. Peacock prefers staying out of the limelight and tackling nuts-and-bolts issues, while Seabaugh vigorously pushes high-profile issue preferences detested by the political left. Perhaps most famously, Seabaugh was the leading figure in preventing a vote last year to renew a sales tax increase of 0.5 percent. When subsequently only a 0.45 percent hike passed (which he also opposed), in essence he saved Louisiana taxpayers around $240 million a year over seven years.


Race exacerbating political conflict in Webster

The circus continues its run in Webster Parish, which looks generally bucolic and peaceful but the tumultuous, racially-tinged politics surrounding it tries the citizenry’s patience.

Its largest municipality Minden has gone through turmoil since the beginning of the year. A power struggle has developed between a black Democrat majority on the City Council and the white Republican mayor, Terry Gardner elected last year, often backed by the two minority white Republicans on the Council. The town has a narrow black population majority.

The tussle has flared particularly over the police department. Gardner and the new no-party white elected chief of police, Steve Cropper, have argued the department faces a staffing crisis and have promoted the hiring of more officers. But in March, the three Democrats rejected the hiring of two apparently qualified candidates. Gardner then vetoed the rejection. Still, this led to the majority’s authoring an ordinance that interposed the Council between the chief’s recommendation and the mayor’s hiring, effectively giving it a veto power over hiring.


Make LA judiciary pay for unneeded salary hikes

The best job in Louisiana state government just got better, courtesy of some likely inhabitants of that kind of position in the future.

This past regular session, the Louisiana Legislature with Gov. John Bel Edwards created a framework to increase, yet again, judicial salaries. State judges – those on the Supreme Court, the five appellate courts, and 42 district courts, totaling 372 all in all – will receive a 2.5 percent pay hike starting this upcoming fiscal year. They could receive the same in the following four years, if the Supreme Court and the Judicial Budgetary Control Board – comprised mostly of judges at all levels of the judiciary – certify that the funding exists for another round of raises.

A pay raise next year, which includes 68 other local judges and a handful of administrators, would add $1.8 million. Supreme Court associate justices make around $159,000 annually and their appellate counterparts and district judges pull in about $149,000, while the chief justices of each earn an extra $8,000 or so.


LA criminal justice changes won't prompt savings

Even if delayed, the day of reckoning will come for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “Justice Reinvestment Initiative.”

That may be the ultimate outcome from what HB 551 started this just-concluded session of the Legislature. That bill, by Democrat state Rep. Katrina Jackson that Edwards should sign, bumps up the daily payment the state makes to local jail operators, typically sheriffs either directly or through a contractual arrangement.

Two years ago, Edwards cajoled the Legislature to provide bipartisan support into changing sentencing guidelines and lengths for a wide variety of crimes, with the effect of reducing the number of inmates imprisoned at any one time and thereby lowering direct costs. Seventy percent of the amount not spent as a result then would be plowed back into measures to reduce recidivism, with 80 percent of that going to the local facilities and community programs. With over half of all state prisoners housed at this level, the thinking was the program would let taxpayers get a bit of a break and money would go to activities discouraging recidivism.


TIMED 2.0 long on pork, short on flexibility

TIMED 2.0 has a lot of northeast Louisiana upset, in some ways for the wrong reason that if understood should perturb people statewide.

The recently-completed regular session of the Louisiana Legislature produced HB 578 by Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee, which shoots out almost $700 million worth of spending over the next 15 years on various infrastructure projects. It draws that money from the state’s settlement with BP over the 2010 Macondo blowout offshore the state, the $53.3 million annual payment of over that span should have gone to the Budget Stabilization Fund and two health care-related funds. Instead, from next year until the pact’s 2034 conclusion the payment goes to these projects.

The controversy has come because originally the bill allocated only around $275 million to two projects, one with a direct impact on the energy sector in south Louisiana and another as a sop to the Capitol Region. After 2026, all of the remaining payouts would have gone to a fund for infrastructure. But the Senate amended it to designate other projects and sent the product to the House two days before the session’s end, leaving little time for conference if the House rejected that.


LA likely insignificant for 2020 nomination

Louisiana seems set to go from an afterthought to an asterisk in the 2020 presidential preference primary season.

In 2016, the state conducted its primary elections for major party presidential nominations as, by law, the first Saturday in March. That came right after “Super Tuesday,” where voters in ten states plus a caucus state selected about a quarter of Republican convention delegates while Democrats in the same number of states voted along with caucus-goers in a state and territory chose about a fifth of their convention delegates.

Lumped in with caucuses in a few other states, Louisiana attracted little attention coming after the major effort by candidates for Super Tuesday. While candidate organizations proved active the candidates themselves with the exception of next-door Republican Sen. Ted Cruz ignored the state, and then controversy ensued when future GOP Pres. Donald Trump edged out Cruz in the primary results but the apportionment math and wishes of other candidates gave Cruz the majority of the state’s delegates.


Edwards misses to cap dismal tenure

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards not only aimed low with his 2019 legislative agenda, he also arguably missed to cap off a dismal term in the state’s top job.

With the Louisiana Legislature now out of session and pocketbooks finally safe again, we can compare Edwards’ aspirations with his achievements on this score. Spoiler alert: it’s not impressive.

What his agenda lacked in ambitiousness it made up for in unreality. Two of his top four items he has championed since the day he took office but had no chance of enactment: a watered-down minimum wage increase (because it would not have applied statewide but would have come by local option) and a watered-down “equal pay” bill (because it didn’t mandate comparable worth or similar schemes that would force artificially employers, public or private, to push annual compensation of women closer to that of men regardless of other factors, but instead would have prevented employers from keeping compensation arrangements secret). Naturally, both never made it out of their chamber of origin, the Edwards-friendlier Senate.


Hollywood, don't fling LA in that briar patch

Please Hollywood, please, don’t fling Louisiana in that briar patch.

In the Uncle Remus story “The Tar-Baby,” Br’er Rabbit escapes the clutches of Br’er Fox by tricking him through exhortation to throw him into a briar patch, into which Br’er Fox can’t follow. Similarly, Louisianans tired of wasteful government spending should hope the prejudices of film makers allow them to save big.

Recently, the state joined a growing list of state passing much greater restrictions on abortion, if U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence changes to allow their constitutionality. Act 184 prohibits abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which generally occurs around six weeks of gestation, unless the physical health of the mother is at grave risk.


Budget debate highlights dense LA Democrats

If you want to know what’s wrong with Democrats, nationally and through a Louisiana lens, look no further than debate over the state’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

As the failure of liberalism’s economic bromides of divide, take, and redistribute became increasingly clear through their application under Democrat Pres. Barack Obama (and, except for wild deficit spending throughout, most of foundational damage happened in just his first two years when Democrats controlled Congress), the far left that has captured the national party simply refuses delivery of these facts. Instead of discarding their discredited theories, they wish to double down on them, such as through infatuation with the “Green New Deal” with its ruinous costs that would do next to nothing to (theoretically) reduce alleged catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

Simultaneously, those elites have embraced identity politics with a vengeance, believing that creating a myth of oppression against numerous groups – principally women, racial minorities, those who act differently than their physical sex suggests, and non-Christians – with coercive policies supposedly to remand would construct a majority electoral coalition. The 2016 election results showed the jury out on that strategy, but they responded to that in the same fashion as they did on the economy by engaging in escalating shrillness.


Skittish conservatives empower minority govt

While Louisiana’s screwy dalliance with minority government bears some blame, the halt to public policy progress in the state also falls on the shoulders of conservative Republicans too skittish to try to change that.

A small coterie of Senate committees has spiked a passel of legislation that brings cheer to conservatives. Efforts to roll back a sales tax hike early, bring down insurance rates, increase efforts to root out fraud in benefits programs, allow enforcement of the death penalty, and stabilize state finances have fizzled when encountering panels comprised of a majority of Democrats and/or big government Republicans.

This arrangement where the larger Senate has a majority of fiscally conservative Republicans that likely would have approved all of these measures has occurred because of Louisiana’s personalistic political culture, which overemphasizes and magnifies the ability of politicians to distribute resources to favored constituencies. Power that accumulated into the hands of Republican Sen. Pres. John Alario, who has spent nearly half a century seeking power and privilege in the Legislature, was put into the service of Democrat Gov.  John Bel Edwards to stack the committees on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, Senate and Government Affairs, and the three Judiciary ones with these fellow travelers who don’t represent the Senate majority nor the state’s people as a whole.


Imperfect rideshare bill merits becoming law

A couple of clich├ęs summarize the impending approval of statewide rideshare regulations in Louisiana: the third time is the charm and sometimes it’s necessary to take a step backwards to take two steps forward.

HB 575 by Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee will come before the House of Representatives for concurrence, having passed its major hurdle in the Senate. The bill would create a mostly statewide regulatory framework for transportation network companies (TNC), largely replacing a patchwork system with a few local governments regulating and the remainder of the state without any framework, leaving legally ambiguous whether a rideshare concern could operate in those areas.

But not entirely comprehensively. The first iteration of the legislation in 2017 essentially disregarded local regulation, and it foundered for that reason. New Orleans in particular had regulations more financially lucrative than the proposed law would have allowed. And as that wasn’t much less onerous than on traditional taxicab service, this also reflected the interests of cab companies, who wanted a similar degree of regulation on their competitor.


Change law to eliminate payment shortfalls

It’s not exactly a case of breaking out the violins when considering the finances of Louisiana’s state partner hospitals.

The giant maw of health care in Louisiana, supercharged by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ ill-advised decision to expand Medicaid, continues to consume all tax dollars in its path. It’s budgeted up over $700 million from this year, with almost $100 million more in state-sourced money. This means it now takes up just about half of the state’s operating budget.

But the nine hospitals contracted with the state to provide indigent care find themselves having to do with not enough for the state. Last month, these reported overall paying out more money to service qualifying residents than received from the state. To make matters worse for them, because of auditing complexities the state chronically runs behind in making payments owed.


Bill fates illustrate LA backwardness

If nothing else, the 2019 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature has cast in sharp relief the agenda of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his partisan legislators with that of legislative Republicans and their agenda that largely seeks to break with the state’s past.

The liberal Democrats’ agenda remains mired in the state’s populist past – raise taxes in order to redistribute wealth to favored constituencies and to assist in government growth, both in dollars spent and in control over individual opportunity. Conservative Republicans off and on challenge this order, but the inertia of this history during the Edwards term has prevented them from enjoying any victories along the lines as those during the time of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

While the session has resonated this divide, activity this morning provides a precise encapsulation of it. The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee disposed of a couple of bills highlighting the parties’ ideological differences, using explanations rife with hypocrisy and sanctimony.


LA House GOP can leverage sales tax cut

At its commencement, who knew that major fiscal decisions in the 2019 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature would turn on early childhood education funding, to partisan advantage or disadvantage?

As the session winds down, that dynamic increasingly has become obvious. And it focuses all on the widely-accepted notion among legislators, joined by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, that money must increase for early childhood education activities.

Part of this perception has arisen from a desire to replace an expiring federal grant, added to a growing belief that reimbursement rates and capacity must rise in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, which subsidizes access to child care/early childhood education resources for lower-income families, to make it more widely available. Altogether, the increases in state commitment would total $18 million in HB 105, the current version of the fiscal year 2020 operating budget.


Clean repeal best for car inspection, fee

The Louisiana Constitution looked out for motorists on a controversial fee bill, and gives future legislators a chance to act more wisely in eliminating useless vehicle inspections.

HB 601 by Republican state Rep. Larry Bagley was part of a tag-team effort with HB 546 that would have rid the state of this unneeded task imposed on motorists. Only commercial vehicles and those garaged in areas subject to federal environmental actions would have needed to go through the process. This makes sense, as few states continue to require this with automobiles becoming far safer and reliable, plus police always can cite cars that obviously violate safety standards.

While HB 546 would have halted inspections and the fee, unfortunately HB 601 would have continued collecting the full fee amount, tacked on to vehicle registration. Those proceeds would have gone to hiring more state police.


Memorial Day, 2019

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 Monday, May 27 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore this link.


LA GOP candidates face subtle media bias

For Republicans to recapture Louisiana’s Governor’s Mansion this fall, one hurdle will be mainstream media inertia.

Here’s an example. Last week, a Shreveport television station interviewed GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham, one of two announced candidates against Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. The piece made mention of Abraham’s longtime association with the nonprofit group Pilots for Patients, a Monroe-based organization that transports by private planes patients needing medical interventions in far-flung places, at no charge.

Abraham, who also flies missions for the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Civil Air Patrol, isn’t a big contributor and hasn’t recently participated, which is understandable given his time in Congress since 2014 and his time spent volunteering to maintain his medical license. He hasn’t made as many as 20 flights, and you have to look pretty thoroughly around the group’s website to find mention of him. In fact, Abraham doesn’t mention his affiliation with the group on his campaign website while noting his other flying experience.

Still, a web search for the group easily turns up a video of him extolling its virtues to Congress, and within the first couple of dozen links multiple ones identify him to a web searcher as a contributor to the group. In other words, while Abraham doesn’t fling his volunteerism with the group in people’s faces in the style of Edwards with his military service, at the same time it’s clear that he’s associated with it, and any investigation of the group would turn that up.

Except, it would seem, if you’re a stringer for the Baton Rouge Advocate in an election year. In February, the state’s largest newspaper (and about to double in size roughly) ran a piece on the organization, written by Jacqueline DeRobertis, who the paper hired as a crime reporter only days after the article ran (note: I was a stringer for The Advocate at this time). It was a nice feature story – but never mentioned Abraham’s link to the group.

In an election year, I don’t know of anybody who wouldn’t think it newsworthy in a laudatory story about the group that one of its contributors is a serious candidate for governor. In fact, regardless of a statewide contest, it’s newsworthy that a U.S. congressman participates in the group. And, again, if doing a story on the group, it’s inconceivable that Abraham’s affiliation wouldn’t come up, either in interviewing the group’s principals or in researching the organization.

One of three things happened here: the reporter kept the information out of the article, she had it in there but her editor removed it for content reasons, or it got removed later in the process for space reasons. With today’s technology that lends itself to precision in layout, the third reason is very unlikely (only something unusual or last-minute would cause that), so she either didn’t bother to include it or the editor spiked that information, perhaps being up against a word count.

Either way, missing even a few words identifying Abraham as a prominent group alumnus reveals something. Selection is everything in the media; simply, you can’t run all the information you would like that you think is important. Additionally, you don’t have all the time in the world because of deadlines; when one approaches, you have to use heuristics to determine what to look at in more detail.

In these instances, the personal beliefs of reporters and editors come into play. Let’s review a common scenario in the mainstream media where political liberalism dominates (extraordinarily so at the national level, diluted somewhat moving towards the local). If a story has some aspect to it which confirms a liberal view, media outlets tend to accept it at face value; but, if it confirms a conservative view, that is considered more critically.

That review takes time and effort; since the information contradicts the person’s world view, he must find something to explain it away, which requires gathering more information. And then it must be explained away, which takes space. Keep in mind that people don’t like cognitive dissonance, and that is resolved while keeping the information intact in just one of two ways: find the exculpatory evidence that explains the seeming inconsistency away or do the much more cognitively difficult thing in accepting the information and altering your beliefs as a result.

There is a third alternative: discard the information. Putting this in the context of what stories and content the mainstream delivers, because of space and deadline pressures, stories and content congruent with the views of the people involved are much more likely to appear than those that don’t. The effort to deal with adverse information to their world views often proves too costly in the news delivery context, and so it is dealt with by not dealing with it.

And while sometimes its simply overt, intentional political bias which drives story and content selection (especially in the national media) often subconsciously appears. Keep in mind as well that people in the media often live in a bubble, exposed to and consuming only products delivered by others in the media of like mind, so they often have little inkling about the breadth and depth of ideas opposing and/or critical of their own. (Many are the times throughout the decades of my opinion writing where editors of mine questioned facts I presented, and then seemed genuinely surprised at these when I elaborated about their sources and data, relating commonly-available information which any reasonably well-informed person would know yet they seemingly were encountering for the first time.)

This likely explains the Advocate piece leaving out Abraham’s role with Pilots for Patients. Like many elected officials on the political right, he doesn’t fit well the caricature that liberalism paints of conservatives as uncharitable members of the upper class disinterested in human suffering. Even though naming him as a group participant would have interested readers, especially with him now running for governor, putting that in would seem to send the story off on another tangent; i.e., a Republican officeholder apparently going against type, and if you believed that it’s not a distraction to the story you’d want to deal with on deadline and with space at a premium.

A less subtle example of this phenomenon comes from my previous post, about a series of stories critical of the Louisiana Scholarship Program that pays tuition at private schools for students from lower-income families who would attend a lower-performing public school. As my post notes, the series neglects to point out that for performance as good (bad?) as the public schools the private schools in the LSP educate much less expensively and also that a number of factors make the performance of the private schools look worse than it probably is. This unwillingness by the journalists involved to go beyond the issue’s surface likely stems from an inherent bias on their part against vouchers; what they saw on the surface confirmed their worldview, so they felt no need to critically appraise their narrative which only incompletely describes the real world issue.

This attitude common in the mainstream media will weigh on Abraham’s campaign, as well as on that of Edwards’ other GOP challenger Eddie Rispone. Information filtering, usually without conscious intent, will shape the products disseminated by these outlets subtly biased in favor of Edwards and against the Republicans. Whether that makes a difference, as candidates increasingly bypass media outlets for direct communication with activists who filter messages to voters with casual interest in politics, we don’t yet know.


Voucher series misses context, completeness

Louisiana’s media would do well to steer clear of the mistakes made in a recent series of articles about the Louisiana Scholarship Program that did little to inform comprehensively the public.

Several outlets produced print and broadcast stories about the LSP, which provides vouchers to low-income students in lower-performing schools to attend a private school. This year, an estimated nearly 7,000 families took advantage of this, at a cost of around $42 million.

The pieces focused on a theme that the program had come up short in aiding students in struggling public schools. These pointed out that many clients ended up at schools rating just as poorly as the ones they left. Also, compared to peers at the schools they left if anything they performed worse. Finally, the series contained critical remarks about procedures used to qualify a nonpublic school, arguing these demanded too little and served to prop up financially some schools that have high proportions of voucher students enrolled.


Edwards may need Alario to thwart reform

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as Louisiana’s legislative Republicans showed on a controversial matter. But one of their own might employ the same to thwart them.

Yesterday, the House Insurance Committee had a light schedule of just two bills. One, SB 173 by Republican state Sen. Fred Mills, has generated much conflict. It regulates the state’s response in case the U.S Supreme Court declares unconstitutional part or all of the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards actually opposed it, setting off skirmishes that continued in yesterday’s hearing where an administration representative softened that stance with the bill’s passage.

Those fireworks only set the stage for an unexpected conflagration. SB 212 by GOP state Sen. Conrad Appel would have created some temporary reporting requirements for insurers about commercial vehicles. It easily passed through the Senate. The room mostly had cleared and Republican state Rep. Thomas Carmody handled the bill and spoke about it.


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.