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Stuck on stupid VI: Schools, Saints, and budgetary sinners

One would think that with state budgeted revenue estimates down as much as $1.5 billion, Louisiana would be concentrating all its efforts to save a little money and redo the budget. Instead …

  • A massive reconstruction effort of the Superdome is going forward, to prevent defaulting on the state’s deal with the Saints. The team gets an escalating amount of subsidies every year they’re in town for the next five years, now at $15 million a year, but must pay an $81 million penalty if they leave early. Non-operability of the Superdome would waive the penalty, however. But these millions are being spent even as the whole future fate of the Superdome is up in the air. Why not let them go – a special tax is not raising even close to the present annual fee so more money would be saved by the state by their departure.
  • Even as outside experts had come in to run the Orleans Parish School District such was its state of misery, now there’s a rush on to open schools under the District’s control instead of a charter school arrangement advocated by the state and reform school board members. Why throw all these resources at a failed system instead of starting anew with a different one?
  • And the stupidity extends to higher education as well. In Louisiana, three pairs of universities, in each pair a historically black university, exist where the two schools are five miles or fewer apart. One, Southern University – New Orleans, was rendered largely unusable and unfixable by the Hurricane Katrina-induced flooding. Yet instead of scrapping the university entirely, there’s talk of rebuilding it costing in all likelihood tens of millions of dollars. Why not reassign the classified personnel to other nearby state government jobs, give the unclassified employees (the faculty and administrators) big termination settlements, and send the student to the University of New Orleans (two miles west) or Delgado Community College?
  • Finally, on capital projects the state continues to spend indiscriminately and Gov. Kathleen Blanco delays in including in a special session more than cursory measures to address the budget crisis. Why not look at every capital spending item in detail for the foreseeable future, and cut out discretionary items like the Rural and Urban Funds until a new budget can be put together, even if that means waiting until Blanco’s preferred January date?

    … we’re stuck on stupid.
  • 20.10.05

    Levee chairman tops self in questionable ethical behavior

    Just when you thought there was no way the Orleans Levee District could demonstrate itself to be more derelict in its behavior than by its negligence of flood protection that likely contributed to the flooding of New Orleans, it produces another episode of loose-and-fast ethical behavior.

    Of course, it comes courtesy of its chairman Jim Huey. For months he’s been trying to engineer himself a big payoff since the District’s board chairman only earns a pittance and state law allows other levee district board leaders to earn $1,000 a month. He argues that he’s owed the monthly stipend over his nine-year term even if state law doesn’t entitle him to it. This has come after he tried to get a fast one pulled in the legislature to accomplish much the same thing. And instead of making sure of adequate flood protection, the District has been funding amenities for casinos and investigations (and paying judgments because of them) into Huey’s ideological opponents.

    Now it comes out that Huey didn’t waste any time after Hurricane Katrina in putting the fix in. He committed the board to pay rent (reimbursable by the federal government) for office space to his cousin-in-law, and to that guy’s son a contract to get cleaned up both of the District’s marinas (just two of the many things where District money went instead of flood protection). Let’s check out his explanations concerning these sweetheart deals.

    In the name of the board, he rented 3,000 square feet for $5,000 a month for six months in Baton Rouge. Which raises a number of questions:

  • Out of the vast property holdings of the District, there wasn’t anywhere it had enough room to gather its seven members together (a few already holding other government offices who surely could have lent space nearby)? All of its holdings were that badly damaged?
  • Even though a couple of them were clearly around the area, Huey claimed couldn’t contact any (wasn’t New Orleans City CAO Charles Rice easy enough to find – just follow the television cameras to Mayor Ray Nagin?)?
  • Baton Rouge was the closest he could find (Huey says the state turned him down to lend the District space)? Besides the aforementioned other board members and their connections to places nearby (such as Rice and New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis), what about the Northshore? Or the western part of the Westbank, largely unaffected by the flooding?
  • Would the federal government really refuse to reimburse a monthly lease, as Huey claims? That makes no sense if it meant saving taxpayers’ money.
  • Maybe rental rates have gone up in unaffected areas, but isn’t $5,000 a month rather high?

  • And, despite his connections, he could not find any property at a lower rate?

    The other no-bid contract almost makes this one look virtuous. Essentially, Huey contracted to the son of his cousin’s husband and to another guy who the son had met only days before to create a new company in a field they didn’t know anything about to restore order to the smashed-up marinas. Huey said he did this out of fear that people would happen or intrude on the property, injure themselves, and sue the District. Again, there are questions:

  • I thought the city was closed, parts of it still are, and the authorities clearly stated anybody venturing into closed areas were at their own risk (or there illegally). This includes the marinas, and then excludes any legal actions from occurring.
  • And if all this new company did was find a firm to subcontract the work out to, why didn’t Huey just pick up the phone and do it himself instead of letting the new company take a 10 percent cut out of its deal?

    Fortunately, other board members finally have woken out of their slumber and have started to ask questions about these things. To which Huey has responded he might step down from the board because of the querying. My advice to it: take this offer and lock the door in case he changes his mind.
  • 19.10.05

    What's wrong with smaller, whiter, richer?

    Referring to the repopulation of New Orleans, this says it all: “There is concern that it will be much smaller, whiter, richer …”

    Whose concern? Is there a single thing wrong with a New Orleans that has a majority white population (it had one a half century ago)? Or is even half its previous size? Can anybody seriously suggest that there’s something undesirable about the city being richer?

    It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in its future, but logic tells us the poorer will be more likely to head out permanently. That and polls tell us blacks disproportionately will not return. This may be particularly the case if generous government-backed buyout efforts give them more money for their properties in floodplains like the “Nyent Ward” (say it like a Yat!) than they ever could have gotten on the open market. Whites, more likely to have resources to rebuild and the vested interests such as property to rebuild will be more likely to stay. And so who would think something is so amiss here?

    Answer: Democrat politicians and political liberals, black elites in particular. At the state level, a congressional district will disappear, leaving probably no majority-black district in the state, a sure seat for a black liberal Democrat. At the local level, a political establishment controlled by black liberal Democrats inherited from white liberal Democrats probably would find itself out of power to conservative Republicans who likely would be white.

    And would that be such a bad thing, after over a quarter-century of liberal Democrat black Lords of Misrule who drove the city into the ground?


    Blanco pledges job creation by making everybody audit everybody

    Today, Gov. Kathleen Blanco went in front of Congress to assure it that Louisiana’s politicians weren’t as thieving as their reputations suggest, and got backup from Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, in an effort to assure the federal government that the state could be trusted with whatever relief bucks came its way.

    Blanco one-upped the proposal by former Louisiana Republican governors (the only Democrat former governor with us being rather indisposed at the moment) by promising a good three layers of auditing of any federal monies coming into the state: a national accounting firm to start, then another to check the first, and finally the new Louisiana Recovery Authority to check them both. That being the case, it looks like Blanco is trying to solve the unemployment problem in Louisiana as a result of the recent hurricane disasters by getting the out-of-work hired to audit somebody somewhere.

    Landrieu sought to reassure Congress by pointing out that it wasn’t just Louisiana who had a governor go to jail. What he didn’t mention was we also had a run of insurance commissioners – Sherman Bernard, Doug Green, and Jim Brown – spend time in the big house. You can also throw in former Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler to add to Prisoner #03128-095 and the Masked One as elected officials spending time up the river in the past 15 years. Not exactly reassuring, is it? And, not only did the Federal Bureau of Investigation deem it necessary to put a full-time corruption office in New Orleans, it branched out to Baton Rouge as well.

    For their trouble, the state’s senior congressman Republican Rep. Richard Baker threw cold water on Democrat Blanco’s new commission by saying he wants to see a presidentially-appointed commission to oversee things. He then spread the frigidity around to Landrieu’s sister by rejecting her idea that Louisiana governments get money for free, by saying it could come from federally-backed debt partially repaid by Louisiana subgovernments.

    To add comic relief, simultaneously the far-left Association for Community Reform Now pledged to sign up 100,000 Katrina refugees to stiff-arm the government into funding its agenda of anti-capitalism, central planning, victimology, and government handouts. We’ll hold our breath on that one.

    Baker certainly is correct that Louisiana needs encouragement of loans rather than grants for proper accounting of funds, especially now since it appears the Army Corps of Engineers have full federal funding to restore the New Orleans-area levees back to pre-hurricane status despite the history of local political shenanigans and Louisiana political intrigue in that regard. Given the state’s history, Blanco’s and Landrieu’s entreaties simply don’t carry much weight.


    New thinking needed for Recovery Authority to get job done

    In her usual, decisive fashion, Gov. Kathleen Blanco only took seven weeks from the landfall of Hurricane Katrina to come up with a committee, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, to plan the state’s response to the recent hurricane disasters, who will issue their final report in just five months after Katrina hit.

    While other governors acted by setting up such commissions and calling substantive special legislative sessions weeks ago, Blanco has created a group to figure out how to act, which may not even have its business finished by the time Blanco calls a substantive special session of the Legislature in January. And at first glance the composition of the Authority’s board doesn’t encourage one to think real solutions that break from the state’s wretched past will be forthcoming from it.

    Let’s face it – with names like Walter Isaacson (who led Time magazine and Cable New Network in trendy, predictably leftist directions – no doubt a factor in their losing market share during his tenures), Sibal Holt (former head of an impediment to economic growth in the state, the Louisiana AFL-CIO), Donna Brazile (considered very liberal when she ran Al Gore’s failed attempt for the presidency in 2000, considering the moonbats who have taken over the national Democratic Party, in five short years now actually sounds reasonable by comparison), and Mary Matalin (who has had good ideas in the past but how can you trust somebody on this who married somebody who is all rhetoric and no logic or substance?) – there’s more of a chance for tired, failed ideas of the past being adopted than the true progressive (at least to Louisiana) agenda necessary for recovery.

    Nevertheless, let’s give the group the benefit of the doubt – and there’s an easy way for it to show they are serious about doing something meaningful. After the first week’s organizing, there are one-month and 100-day agendas for the group. Each agenda provides an item that can serve as an acid test of whether we’ll get the same old story that has led Louisiana to the bottom of indicators of the state’s quality, or break from that and give the state a better chance truly to recover.

    On the month’s agenda: “Initiate business recovery, retention, and attraction efforts.” Louisiana’s past populist, redistributionist, liberal policies have been as encouraging to business attraction and development as the Ku Klux Klan’s creed has been to black, Jewish, and Catholic membership. If the Authority meant (sorry about the pun) business, the state corporate income tax would be wiped off the books (other states do fine without one), the federal government could be petitioned to permanently waive Davis-Bacon job-killing requirements, and job credits for business to hire employees residing in the areas affected by the hurricanes would be put in place.

    On the 100-day agenda: “Work with our federal partners to ensure that Congress and the Corps of Engineers deliver a plan for levee reconstruction and improvement so crucial investments and rebuilding decisions can be made.” Again, Louisiana’s political culture has created a situation where one gets local governments out for their own interests, local and state officials unwilling to rein them in where they can, and the state’s national elected officials from putting political agendas ahead of good sense. To change this in the case of the levee system would require truly radical ideas, such as getting rid levee boards entirely, consolidating governments in New Orleans (why two clerks of courts, sheriffs, seven assessors, etc.?), and stamping out patronage and preferments to reduce the incentives for inefficiency, if not outright corruption, that led to inadequate levee allocations, design, and building in the first place.

    We can only hope, but the get-along-go-along philosophy of the Blanco Administration and the people it has selected to this agency should not make us optimistic that these necessary things, or those like them on other agenda items, will get done.