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Landrieu win salvages career, creates state intrigue

As disappointing as Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu’s 2006 defeat for mayor of New Orleans to the very flawed Ray Nagin, the Democrat’s win here in 2010 is as impressive, and has immediate repercussions across the Louisiana political landscape.

Personally, Landrieu needed a win to salvage his political career, and a big win to get it really going. After his ignominious 2006 defeat which meant his only semi-high profile political achievement to date was managing to win the (if there never were an absence in the governor’s office the rather insignificant) lieutenant governorship. This bode poorly for his ever aspiring to a more exalted position and a loss would have essentially ended any hopes of going beyond his current job. A big win without even necessitating a general election means he could leverage this new job into a credible run for the Senate (if his sister decides she can’t stand the self-generated heat and he wants to serve only a single term) in 2014 or the governorship in 2015.

Statewide, interesting conflicts look set to emerge. Gov. Bobby Jindal has made a good case for eliminating the lieutenant governor’s job and with no elected incumbent in the slot that makes it much easier to carry out this money-saving, confusion-reducing move. However, this reduces the number of offices politicians, especially those term-limited in the Legislature, can pursue so there may be some resistance from them for its demise. However politically unworkable the plan was with an incumbent, now it becomes a whole lot easier to pull off.


Cao, Melancon hurt by wanting review of military law

As the U.S. military follows White House orders to review its policy on the permissibility of those who practice homosexuality serving in its ranks, among Louisiana members of Congress and aspirants to those positions most Republicans argue with logic against changing current policy, while Democrats emote without logic in favor of it.

Present law is that anyone about whom there is genuine evidence demonstrating that he acts on homosexual relations is to be discharged from the military. There is very good reason for this, as any attitudes that interfere with optimal functioning of combat-related units are to be discouraged. Having sexual impulses trump martial virtues endangers lives.

However, more to the point, in keeping with the understanding that self-identity regarding sexual preference is a function not of any built-in biological necessity but, rather, in undertaking certain actions, is that any member of the military in a combat unit (by definition all men) who is undisciplined enough to express physically these feelings towards any other member of the unit demonstrates a flaw that detracts from the unit’s performance and can put its members at risk when these feelings interfere with decisions that should be based upon military considerations. That’s what the law is there to protect against.


Decision makes more imperative LA ethics alteration

A ruling by Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeals lends some urgency to the reform suggested by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and others regarding ethics enforcement.

The judges ruled that the Louisiana Board of Ethics could not appeal into the judicial system rulings made by the Ethics Adjudicatory Board – comprised on two panels with an alternate picked at random annually from administrative law judges. It cited state law that did not permit this kind of administrative appeal nor that granted the Board of Ethics this legal recourse. While state law does allow appeal of declaratory opinions, it does not for actual controversies decided.

However, ability to do this has been suggested by the Jindal Administration which, as the court confirmed, would require legal changes, both to the Administrative Procedures Act and to the Ethics Code. This salutary effect would be consistent with the prosecutorial role of the Board of Ethics as it deals with some matters that have penalties akin or even ore stringent than the criminal code.

This idea is consistent with the notion that ethics matters are quasi-criminal in nature. The maximum penalty in many cases is a $10,000 fine per violation – akin to some criminal penalties – and can be much higher if some kind of illicit gain was involved by the act amounts which already may be appealed to the First Circuit. Further, the Board of Ethics if it believes a criminal act has taken place can recommend criminal prosecution. Thus, it would seem logical that if an administrative court disagrees, the right of appeal by the board should be there. This especially should be an option now that the burden of proof is higher than it had been previously before when the Board of Ethics itself also adjudicated cases. It also should work both ways. Defendants should be able to appeal into the judiciary given the large penalties possible.

What to date has been an academic exercise now is reality. This session of the Legislature needs to make these adjustments for better quality justice and fairness in these matters.


Due diligence could prevent using unethical contractors

It looks as though all will end well for both Caddo Parish schools and Filipino teachers, as their visa problems not of their own doing seem to be getting resolved. But more care on the part of the district would have meant this never had to happen in the first place.

While unions by their nature to society are more destructive than constructive institutions, at least the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and its national parent followed through on complaints by the immigrant teachers. Yet besides the question of whether anything illegal occurred, larger policy questions for the likes of the Caddo School District are why due diligence appeared not to have been performed and what to do about it now.

Beginning in 2007, a couple of Louisiana districts contracted with Universal Placement International, Inc. to provide teachers from The Philippines for areas in which seemed to have a shortage of domestic applicants. Caddo and some others also have done so since the 2008 school year. The company took care of all the legal work and presented teachers most of whom have done a satisfactory job, if not better.


Make loosening LA dedications part of larger strategy

Perhaps energized by his service leading the Commission on Streamlining Government, state Sen. Jack Donahue has proclaimed the time has come to make “undedicated” certain funds in Louisiana’s fiscal structure. It’s a good start, but not a panacea for the constricted regime.

Donahue correctly notes that with so much money required to be funneled to certain purposes – of the state’s $9.1 billion that flows into the general fund about $5 billion is dedicated, and of the $14.6 billion that comes into state coffers from other state sources the corresponding figure is about $3.9 billion – that leaves reduced flexibility for budgeting. As a result, with about 40 percent of state-generated money tied up of the remainder about three-quarters of the remainder end up financing health care (the largest in absolute terms) and higher education (in terms of its overall receipts, the largest relative recipient of state money not dedicated). Thus, these two areas bear the brunt of any budget adjustments.

Reform of this would require that dedicated revenue streams not go to all of the 293 statutory- and 35 Constitution-dedicated funds (a helpful list of all funds as of the beginning of this fiscal year is here and balances as of the end of the third quarter in the statutory funds are here). Thus, more discretionary money would be available that might reduce monies flowing to purposes now dedicated that are considered of lower priority than those from the areas that have no dedication, given the optimal use of the incremental dollar in question.

But it’s not as simple as that. Just because nearly $9 billion potentially could be loosened doesn’t mean either it wise to do so or in the cases that it may be that substantial redirection could occur. Many of the higher-ticket items go to some pretty important priorities, such as the Minimum Foundation Program (unique among all dedications in that it is the most difficult to redirect in times of necessity) for elementary and secondary education and the Budget Stabilization Fund to act as a savings account.

Further, some things are essentially a necessity. Funds set up to satisfy court judgments, things tied to debt such as (unwisely, courtesy of a former commissioner of agriculture who way overstayed his tenure) the Boll Weevil Eradication Fund, and the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly to comply with federal guidelines are among these.

Finally, a large number of these dedications are collected from a discrete number of payers that don’t create very large balances. There are dozens of regional and local education funds, tourism funds, conservation funds, and the like that citizens of local jurisdictions only pay into and theoretically only receive the benefits, as well as associations of industries and professions who use the state to collect funds from their kind by law that then are dispersed for their own purposes. Here, the question is of fairness where if money comes from a small group, it ought to go back roughly to that group, and they don’t provide much in the way of revenues anyway.

Thus, the “undedication” of funds by the Legislature and constitutional amendment can be only one part of a larger strategy. Another part would be to make it easier for money to be sliced out of such funds in times of budgetary deficit – keep the procedures the same, but make the fractions that can chopped out without going to the most drastic means higher (as was attempted last year). Finally, the state should get out the business entirely of collecting and holding onto money for a number of local entities and groups. If the St. Landry Parish School District, for example, wants to get a cut of gaming revenue to use to enhance career and technical education initiatives, contracts between it and Evangeline Downs can allow for the money to go directly to that authority instead of it being a matter of state law and oversight. Or, if the seafood industry wants to promote and market oysters by tacking on a five cent fee to every oyster tag sold, let it make this an assessment on its own members without involving the state. Let these entities be their own bankers and not drag the state or state law into it.

Even such a comprehensive strategy as this may not spring loose as much as $100 million. Still, spreading most of that out to health care and higher education can offset cuts that, if deficit projections today are realized tomorrow, could go past the present inconvenient level and into the detrimental.