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Last old PSC gasp foists rate hike, crony capitalism

Perhaps the Louisiana Public Service Commission will be the last unreformed elected statewide government institution the citizens will have to endure, as outgoing Commissioner Jimmy Field demonstrated with his goodbye kiss to corporate and special interest cronies.

Field, who did not run for reelection and will be replaced by Scott Angelle next year, as his final vote in a 16-year career joined Commissioners Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere in puckering up through hiking the rates of anybody who buys electric power outside of Orleans Parish except for the largest manufacturers, even those of the most impoverished households. Commissioners Clyde Holloway and Eric Skrmetta opposed, and even tried at a previous session to get residential households exempted from the final regulation, but were thwarted by the other three.

The increase goes to subsidizing firms that sell equipment designed to increase energy efficiency, through a tax rebate to ratepayers who contract for those services. Eventually, a mechanism would be created to allow power sellers to recoup lost revenues from the hike, estimated to be in the range of 50 cents a monthly bill for the typical household. Only a vague outline of this program named “Quick Start” has surfaced and was approved last PSC meeting, despite it having been introduced more than three years ago, and it may be another two years before the specific details are worked out. At this time, it is estimated to cost ratepayers $25-30 million annually.


Faux outrage demeans real instances of political pressure

When it comes to traditional media elites, the narrative is relentless. Stick to this product of their ideological orthodoxy and ignore or insulate themselves from anything inconsistent with it, and life in their bubble-wrap worlds is good. Never mind if it produces a garbage-in, garbage-out kind of quality, as recent story choices in and around Louisiana have shown.

One prize specimen comes from The Lens, an online publication that argues it tries to provide story content that “to report stories that others aren’t or can’t” in order “to advocate for a more transparent and just governance that is accountable to the public.” Leaving aside the larger questions of who defines what is “transparent,” “just” and “accountable,” this nonprofit organization produces stories on a range of subjects, including opinion pieces.

Recently, it put on offer one such piece by Tyler Bridges, a journalist best known perhaps for a book written in the aftermath of the short-lived political career of David Duke, which constituted a first-class rendering of the events involved, but a second-class analysis of the larger scope and meaning of that career. Essentially, the narrative propagated in his piece was Gov. Bobby Jindal was an oppressive meanie when it came to making sure his agenda remained unchallenged within state government.


Going over cliff brings some benefits to LA fiscal house

Hopes have dimmed considerably that the federal government will address the “fiscal cliff,” or the combination of tax increases and spending cuts created by last year’s budget deal among Democrat Pres. Barack Obama, a Democrat-led Senate, and a Republican-led House, before the Dec. 31 deadline, after which those go into effect. And that may turn out as a net benefit to Louisiana, at least as far as the direct impact of individual income tax changes.

Some have wailed and gnashed their teeth over the prospect. One estimate argues that the deal would cost the state 28,000 jobs as taxes go up on just about everybody and federal spending is curtailed. In addition, as federal income taxes may be written off from those for the state, an increase in those means less revenue for Louisiana.

Other complain that the impending changes will affect the poor negatively, especially in that Louisiana ties its earned income tax credit and child care tax credit breaks to the presence of the federal ones, which would go away. The former affects only the lowest income earners, while the latter allows disproportionately more money to stay in the pockets of the lower earners and subsidizes a special interest industry.


Internecine quarreling makes group, state look amateurish

What’s a holiday season without lots of bickering among family? That’s the situation facing auctioneers in Louisiana and provides an object lesson into why elected officials, despite far larger policy concerns, need to keep an eye on state licensing bodies.

In the state, one must have a license to be an auctioneer, and the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board regulates that and industry practices, being comprised of five members, one each from Public Service Commission districts who are licensed auctioneers, and two at-large consumer representatives. All are appointed by the governor, concurrent with his term, with Senate confirmation, and serve at his pleasure. Typically, there is much carryover from governor to governor, term to term.

But on Sep. 10, 2010, Gov. Bobby Jindal took the unusual step to remove one of his appointees, Robert Burns. No public reason ever was stated for this, but undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that increasingly Burns, often allied with another auctioneer member of the panel the Rev. Freddie Phillips, clashed with the remainder of the Board on some votes, where the Board’s voting history demonstrated typically unanimity, dealing with issues such as spending, procedures for charitable auctioning, and individual licensing decisions. In the past couple of years, Burns and Phillips separately have sued the association for alleged violations of procedure. The pair also went about creating a new professional association for auctioneers, the Louisiana Association of Professional Auctioneers, in competition with the existing Louisiana Auctioneers Association, Inc., citing their group as one that held itself to a higher ethical standard.


Christmas Day, 2012

This column publishes usually every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time 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 Independence Day or Christmas or New Year's when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Tuesday, Dec. 25 being Christmas Day, I invite you to explore this link.


Shreveport govt seems unaware of new law's pitfalls

After years of talk, Shreveport enacted a few months ago some kind of minimum property standards for rental housing. Its City Council every two months is to review reports on city enforcement of property standards. As the year ends, maybe it's time they looked how how Ordinance 11 of 2012 is working out.

Much as some think they can repeal them or pretend that they don’t exist, politicians cannot avoid the law of supply and demand. They need to realize two corollaries as they apply to the situation where people live in housing that does not have entirely working plumbing, electricity, flaws in construction, etc.: people may choose to live in this housing because it’s all they can afford, and by far leading reason why housing can deteriorate into this condition is because of the people who live in it.

Among many policy-makers and a good chunk of the chattering classes the idea that certain behavioral choices indicated a moral defect that thrust responsibility for the consequences of that behavior on its doers has fallen by the wayside in favor of the idea that circumstance beyond their control “forced” them to do certain things. Because fault no longer was assigned to them, instead parts of or all of society not only had to pay collectively those costs, but also had to permit and even subsidize continuance of the behavior.


Legislators want strong gov.; critics exaggerate to bash

Every so often, perhaps goaded by statements emanating from some legislative elites or other outsider malcontents over the direction of gubernatorial policy, it seems some handwringing must occur in Louisiana’s media about the presumed powerful office of governor. On these occasions, it’s important to remember just why this happens and exactly what it means – which is a whole lot less alarmist than some breathless advocates would have one believe.

Yes, Louisiana’s governor can find himself in a position to influence strongly policy emerging from the Louisiana Legislature. Remarkably, it does not come from the formal powers of the office, which, according to a long-standing metric created by an academic researcher to assess formal powers of governors, are modest ranking right below the top third of all the states. Rather, they come from using other means. Often, three of these less formal avenues are identified.

First, the governor enjoys a line-item veto power on appropriations bills, requiring two-thirds majorities on each cast in order to overrides, which seemingly cows legislators into supporting him as they value stuff coming into their districts that makes them look better to constituents for reelection purposes. Second, the State Bond Commission makes funding choices from capital budget requests forwarded by the Legislature, which the governor can control through allies who owe their appointments to him, which serve the same function by delivering stuff to constituents. They have these jobs because the governor helps get them elected to leadership positions in their respective chambers by marshalling coalitions through the chicken-and-egg process of promising assistance in making sure their pet projects avoid line-item vetoes.


Useless change shows what holds back LA education

One jilted politician went out with a flourish, reminding those who wish to rebuild Louisiana’s elementary and secondary education that the disease that has kept it back can be difficult to eradicate, and its effects may linger.

The rump Orleans Parish School Board, unlike all other districts in the state that have their elections in off-presidential election years, have its conducted during presidential election years. One casualty was outgoing president Thomas Robichaux, in a landslide. It had partly to do with race, since the district he had won in the post-Hurricane Katrina aftermath political chaos was majority black and he is white who faced black opponents, but was exacerbated by the board’s decision earlier this year to raise taxes, which was opposed largely by black residents.

So, Robichaux decided to manufacture an issue out of nothing as a parting gift. No stranger to giving the citizenry a Bronx salute, on the issue of ethics, he gave it another when he spearheaded a move to for the half-dozen schools the district still controls to prohibit the teaching of “creationism” or “intelligent design” in science classes or to allow teachers to use textbooks that in the Board’s opinion did that.


Hope fading for establishment to negate education reform

The fellow travelers of the educrat empire took a TKO with 19th District Judge Michael Caldwell’s ruling that most of Act 1 of 2012, which overhauled teacher evaluation and employment practices, was constitutional. But they stayed on their feet with the striking of one section of the law that without will make it marginally more difficult to realize the full effectiveness of the law.

In essence, the law requires demonstrated and consistent competence in order for teachers not to be discharged. State teachers’ unions have invested themselves with the rearguard strategy the left has tried to perpetrate to stop democratic majorities from making and implementing reforms, as it does not have the ability to persuade majorities to give it a majority as policy-makers, employing a series of court challenges. This one complained that the law had too many objects to, as the Constitution states there shall be but one object in a bill.

Which Caldwell correctly noted in this case was dealing with matters of teacher evaluation for continued job performance. However, he also decided that the part about school district superintendent matters, which included personnel matters dealing with teachers but also included personnel matters dealing with the superintendents’ jobs, did stray beyond that object.

To protect Louisianans, end pretend "gun-free" zones

A tragic mass shooting in a public school need not act as the only trigger to reevaluate security measures in Louisiana. But we must recognize that, until gun control restrictions are relaxed in Louisiana, these measures do little to prevent these kinds of tragedies.

School districts around the Baton Rouge area report increased vigilance and are taking another look at their school security policies in the wake of the recent incident in Connecticut where a mentally ill individual, after killing his mother, shot up a school. The semi-automatic weapon used is available in most states for carry as a concealed weapon for qualified users, where no state allows permitting of concealed carry by somebody with a history of mental illness.

The districts report increased visitation of security officers at schools and a review of emergency review plans. There is talk about increasing officer presence. Unfortunately, while these measures are better than nothing to reduce the possibility of a horrific event occurring, they are next to nothing in effectively dealing with the situation.


Even dramatic changes won't stop UAL bomb explosion

Another day, another discouraging reminder of the obvious: a report highlighting the precarious state of a Louisiana pension system, in this case the state’s largest Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. And while it’s never too often to be told that TRSL has astronomically-high unfunded accrued liabilities – at the recent $10.8 billion this will cost every Louisiana resident nearly $2,400 and that mark makes the entirely unrealistic assumption that the UAL will go no higher – it’s another matter whether the state will do anything meaningful about this very soon, if ever.

 That Louisiana ranks 11th worst-funded in dollar terms, 11th worst in per capita terms, and fifth worst in funded ratio, and that given the constitutional imperative that the unfunded status of this and all statewide systems must end by 2029 it means – again, making the entirely unrealistic assumption that the UAL will go no higher – an average annual cost of $636 million extra to the state, you would think there might be some policy-maker urgency to address the conditions creating over half of the state’s entire UAL, if not all of it.

Think again. Last year, exactly nothing was done about this except for the relatively small portion of TRSL that constitutes coverage of university instructors, where beginning July 1 new hires go into a cash balance program (already some higher education employees can participate in a related defined contribution program). This only prevents future hires from adding to the UAL and does not address the current crisis.


Cuts should prompt reflection on ways to prevent them

Another round of mid-year budget cuts must be endured by Louisiana, but more interesting than its causes and dealing with those solutions chosen is the reaction of one policy-maker in particular.

Given the overwhelming number of protections placed upon most spending in the state, the brunt of these reductions must fall on the two large areas of state government that rely for much of their funding on the state’s general fund, health care and higher education. The latter essentially was spared, by eliminating some unfilled jobs and by factoring increased, and higher-than-expected aggregate collected, tuition. Thus, health care took most of it, in ways to displease a number of policy-makers.

Those presumed concerned over the use of nonrecurring revenues for recurring purposes should note a lawsuit settlement was included in making up part of the $166 million the state was forecast to be short at the regular Revenue Estimating Conference meeting, plus the deficit in the Minimum Foundation Program because of increased school enrollments. Medical providers took another small haircut in reimbursement rates, but after several of these they do add up and may force cost-shifting or retrenchment of services. Some Medicaid optional programs that provided small savings will be terminated.


Subversion of popular rule raises anti-democratic worries

A troublesome development concerning Louisiana’s State Civil Service Commission points to the potential for future mischief and subversion of democracy, perhaps requiring constitutional amending to mend.

Yesterday, the SCSC considered the layoff plan for the Southeast Louisiana Hospital, which has been deemed by the state as too inefficient to continue under direct state operation. With local governing authorities, it has worked out a deal to reopen the space to be closed (some continues to stay open under a previous contracting agreement from a couple of years ago) with a bed count of about half its recent size contracted to a private operator. This deal better fits market demands, costs taxpayers less, and promises continued quality care. However, it means that all current state employees must be discharged, and probably less than half would be rehired under the new arrangement.

Part of the Commission’s constitutional duties is to promulgate rules related to layoff, found in Chapter 17 of its rules. Essentially, the Commission must study each proposed layoff plan to see that it comports to procedure, where the plan must show it carries savings and that all necessary information and procedural steps were followed. This is to demonstrate that the action is not one where layoffs are being used to coerce employees into supporting electorally a particular political faction.


Reform needed to stop annual $1 billion taxpayer drain

At least someone’s trying with serious ideas. State Sen. Elbert Guillory announced his intent to file several pieces of legislation for next year to overhaul the state’s ailing pension funds, aimed that the two that have the large majority of members, the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, and they are needed.

Last year, Guillory helped to spearhead efforts at reform, designed to rein in the lucrative retirement benefits regime promised by the state disproportionately generous to what employees contribute. The problem has created a situation where each fund could pay off only a little more than half of its future obligations with present funding mechanisms and predicted investment performance. This has created increasingly massive unfunded accrued liabilities that the state constitutionally must pay off by 2029.

In order to do so, since 1989 the state has had continually to increase its extra portion paid in beyond what the system was designed to do. For example, for fiscal year 2012 TRSL paid in an additional 17.73 percent for employees under its largest of four plans, above its 5.97 rate while employees paid in 8 percent. Assuming this figure across all state plans (it varies and TRSL’s regular plan’s is lower than most; for some of the smaller ones, the figure was in the 30-40 percent range), and using average salaries and fulltime equivalent employment numbers and estimated full-time equivalent number of teachers and their salaries, this means an estimate of the extra that taxpayers had to contribute to meet the generous payouts was $1.045 billion in that year, or four percent of the entire budget and enough to have restored funding for health care and higher education to 2008 levels.


End begins for charity model with crumbled resistance

In the relative scheme of things, perhaps early December, 2012 will be viewed in Louisiana political history as the health care policy equivalent of the peaceful breaching of the Berlin Wall. The ending of the era of a state-operated charity hospital system has begun peaceably, and both clients and taxpayers are better off for it.

Yesterday, the Louisiana State University System that runs the state’s 10 charity hospitals announced agreements to begin the transformation of at least three of the facilities to have their operations leased to nongovernment entities. Other deals appear to be in the works. These initial agreements come in front of the LSU Board of Supervisors for ratification later in the week.

The state will receive a payment upfront, then periodically over terms to last several years, limiting its involvement to ownership of the property and overseeing executing of the contracts. Even though it will reimburse the operators at a higher rate than for others for Medicaid – the state sets rates subject to federal oversight as a large portion of the money used comes from the federal government – apparently given the lease payments, the federal matching funds that may be drawn from them, and eliminating most of the expenses associated with running a hospital, this still will result in substantial savings to the state.


Coming college crisis should spur reevaluation of spending

It has become fashionable in some quarters to lament the departure – some by retirement, most by taking jobs elsewhere – of higher education leaders in Louisiana, often blamed on a tough budgetary climate of reductions in the neighborhood of $425 million since 2008 (but a far lower amount compared to 2006). But not only are these concerns largely misplaced, they in fact present an excellent opportunity to improve higher education delivery.

For the salient fact, derived from an admixture of both (my 26-year employed career in higher education) experience and common sense, is that on the academic side most university administrators (those above the department level) earn in excess, sometimes far more, of what abilities they actually bring to the table, or of needs of the job, or even if the job is one that actually contributes meaningfully. Thus, people leaving these positions provide the chance for fresh faces to assume their duties, and usually at a salary level more commensurate with what the job requires.

That’s more important than ever these days in Louisiana higher education, where the beginnings of a fundamental transformation are in place, away from an input-oriented model to one focused on outputs. Some of these officials had come in under the past paradigm, or risen through the ranks under that paradigm, that is part and parcel of the higher education bubble that will force major changes and retrenchment in public higher education that, to some minor extent, Louisiana policy-makers already have recognized. The newer leaders hopefully understand this while a number of the departed undoubtedly do not and will find themselves unprepared for a contracting environment.


Runoff results end politician's, party's hopes for power

With the couple of Louisiana regional elections turning out as anticipated, presumed political consequences are confirmed.

For the Third District of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Charles Boustany won not uncomfortably over Rep. Jeff Landry in a contest pitting Republican incumbents because of redistricting. Boustany, given the new district contained more of his old one than it did of Landry’s old one, his several more years in office than the rookie Landry, and, related to that, larger war chest made him the favorite and he parlayed that to a win.

With records that made Landry only marginally more conservative than Boustany, Landry was in the position of trying to accentuate the differences between the two and to paint Boustany as more beholden to Washington special interests. If he could make it to the runoff against him, given the different dynamics in the runoff that would put disproportionately more ideological voters into the electorate that would turn out, if he could keep it close in the general election, Landry would have had a good chance to win. But when Boustany put up nearly 50 percent more votes than Landry in the general election, that sealed Landry’s fate absent a Boustany blunder.


Budget reformers need to stop posturing, start working

Despite the trappings attempting to make the act seem one about constitutionality, the complaint forwarded by some Louisiana House of Representatives members about the current state budget was and always will be political. Therein lies the dénouement to the issue if any satisfactory end will come of it.

As noted previously, of the three different queries brought before Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell by state Rep. Kirk Talbot – that money predicted to be used as a revenue source from outside of the Revenue Estimating Conference procedure that they term as a “contingency,” cannot be used; that some of these funds are “fictional” because they won’t come about that money placed into a fund any that was initially determined by the REC as nonrecurring stays nonrecurring and cannot be removed from that fund for nonrecurring reasons – only the last may be questionable constitutionally because while to act otherwise does not violate the law, it denies its spirit. On strictly constitutional grounds, Talbot and his colleagues’ challenge had real little merit.

Thus, the real impetus behind it comes as political, confirmed by Talbot’s remarks that the group does not at present seek litigation to press their point, but that this does not preclude them from doing so in the future, as Caldwell said he would not rule on the constitutionality questions given the presumption that legislative acts are constitutional and that he would have to defend any challenges to them. While precedent heavily is on his side – almost never does an AG make such a ruling, restricting their pronouncements to questions of interpretation – it too serves a political motive: Caldwell would prefer not to touch off a crisis and thereby be considered, more than Talbot and his gang, the Grinch that stole the state’s budget at Christmastime.


Single-issue emphasis distracts from obvious vote choice

When was the last time Louisiana’s state party endorsed and Koch Industries donated the maximum to the same Democrat candidate for office? Probably never, and it illustrates the unusual cleavage cutting across and confusing the District 5 Supreme Court contest to be settled this weekend.

Current 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Democrat John Michael Guidry and Republican Jeff Hughes will meet in the general election runoff Saturday. While the district has nearly half Democrat registration, the majority of those whites under normal circumstances would join the vast majority of Republicans in voting for Hughes, while the remaining Democrats, most of whom are black with blacks comprising about a third of the district, would vote for Guidry. This means Hughes wins.

But circumstances may not be normal. Hughes is rated as generous to trial lawyers in liability cases, despite comments to the contrary to the very organization that publicized this, and received major backing in the general election and has continued to through the runoff. This has caused several interest groups who normally back candidates who speak as Hughes does on most issues to either issue no endorsement in the contest, or to back Guidry. It also has spurred a donation by Koch to Guidry, of whom the brothers who run it routinely are made villains of by the conspiratorial-minded hard left in Louisiana and beyond, which typically gives only to the most conservative candidates in any kind of contest.


Special interests lament hospital deal that wins for all

The agreement among Louisiana, St. Tammany Parish, and a private Florida-based firm to run some of the space (not already operated by another entity since 2010) at Southeast Louisiana Hospital wins for all – unless you are a true believer in the faith that government must run health care facilities and lots of other things, as are some stick-in-the-muds who complain about the deal.

Under extraordinary budget pressures stemming from a sudden federal government decision to reduce Medicaid payments significantly to the state, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration decided to close abruptly the psychiatric facility. As both the region and state are well above average in beds available, no real crisis existed, but if the market would bear more, an operator would come in.

And one did, at least for a smaller number of beds, enabling the state to save about $200 per patient, reducing the economic effects of the retrenchment, and providing more care options. Better taxpayer value, gainful employment, services rendered – one would think this would make everybody happy.


Hainkel home tussle illustrates populism staying power

Like metastasized cancer, the legacy of populism infects the Louisiana body politic in so many ways, making it difficult for the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and reformers to eradicate the disease so interwoven into not just the state’s political culture, but culture in general, as the struggle for the state to exit substantially the nursing home business demonstrates.

Only a few years ago, for the developmentally disabled the state ran several large residential facilities located in various part of the state to warehouse these citizens, paying much more per client than comparable nongovernment providers. Since then, during Jindal’s terms most of these places have been turned into non-residential resources centers, with just one continuing to operate on behalf of clients with the direst of situations of developmental disability. The remainder of former residents either has been placed with nongovernment providers or made the transition to home- and community-based settings.

Yet another outlier exists, because of the political history of the John J. Hainkel, Jr., Home and Rehabilitation Center, or the “Hainkel home.” In 2009, the state wanted to privatize or sell the state-owned facility, as by regulation state operation inflated costs that made the partially-full facility a risky proposition for taxpayers going forward. But the state representative in whose district the place sits, Neil Abramson, successfully sabotaged those efforts.


Split decision on contested law strongly favors reformers

The politics behind the decision made by state District Judge Tim Kelley are murky to discern, but, despite an adverse ruling in part, the decision actually favors reformers, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, supporting the scholarship voucher program.

Essentially, Kelley faced two tasks, a procedural and a constitutional ruling. The procedural concerns were about whether everything was followed correctly according to the Constitution, statute, and chambers’ rules when the Legislature passed the law that created this program to allow students at lower-achieving schools to use state money through the Minimum Foundation Program potentially to attend private schools. The constitutional concern was about whether the funding could come from the MFP.

While the Constitution, statute, and rules in question were not crystal clear in application, more connecting of the dots had to occur on the procedural end of things, with more inferring necessary to sort out those questions, meaning the greater ambiguity increased the chances of an judge choosing to find violation. The constitutional question of the use of MFP money seemed much simpler, given the wording of the Constitution that indicated it was permissible, hence more creative judicial reasoning would have to be employed to counter that.


Populist echoes put LA in tough property, budget spots

The reason why Louisiana finds itself caught short on a real estate deal with larger budget implications is the populist obsessive-compulsive disorder too many politicians have with state ownership and provision of things.

When after 2011 the state contractually was free to do what it willed with the 17.22 acres comprising what it had run until 2009 as the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital, the plan that evolved during this past legislative session, as constituted in Act 867, was to lease it to the neighboring Children’s Hospital in an arrangement that hoped to bring the state $35 million, or the value at which the state had insured it. In turn, that money, presumed realized by no later than Aug. 1, 2013 (as the last bills of state government for the prior fiscal year came due), was to be treated as “one-time” funds eligible for use.

But now it turns out that the property’s appraisal is just $20.9 million. There’s some room for debate there when accounting for a different use – for example, put down some streets and drainage, sell 50 lots of a third of an acre in size with houses to match, and being prime Uptown property in the shadow of Audubon Park you might get a million bucks a house and a developer might be willing to fork over $35 million for it as is – but it’s all hypothetical because the law doesn’t permit that. It only allows for negotiations exclusively with Children’s until Feb. 1, 2013, and then adds for the next six months anybody else willing to conduct health care operations to bid, which if not executed then the property reverts back to the Louisiana State University System. The one thing it doesn’t allow is sale of the property, even if it were for health care purposes.


Don't tinker with, but repeal, fuel price ticking time bomb

Unintended consequences earlier this year in Louisiana caused a needless government flap over something that could have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars for a purpose never imagined. A related time bomb remains that could hit the pocketbooks of the citizenry that not only does the state continue to seem unconcerned about, but also willing to extend.

Poor drafting of a law allowing huge tax credits on vehicles that could run on fuel that was a fraction non-petroleum-based, never intended by the Legislature, had the state on the hook for a potential large sum, until rescinded by Gov. Bobby Jindal on a technicality. But in the same past legislative session that did not, through (depending upon your view of certain legislators’ motives) lack of information or dalliance, address that issue, part of a bill made technical changes to an alternative fuels law that could hit the public harder.

In 2006, the Legislature unwisely passed Act 313, creating R.S. 3:4674 that mandates production of alternative fuels comprising at least two percent of fuel sales in the state if a substantial minimum (with the lowest trigger being 10 million for diesel fuel) got produced annually. That target never has come close to being reached; in fact, of the 28 states that produce any, Louisiana most recently ranked dead last in both capacity for and production of all alternative fuels at 1.5 million gallons.


Ruling promotes spendthrift govt, race-based attitudes

Local government arrogance and perverted judicial overreach have combined to create a court decision that will be stayed faster than Democrats can jump in to blame Gov. Bobby Jindal every time a sparrow falls to the ground, with its overruling to follow.

Yesterday, Federal District Judge Ivan Lemelle ordered a halt to implementation of the state’s new voucher and teacher hiring laws in Tangipahoa Parish, saying those laws conflict with court orders in the parish’s decades-old desegregation case. Lemelle oversees the consent decree over that case, and declared that, under one law, students using the program to move out of public schools, in one of the worst performing districts in the state, to private schools threatened funding the previous court orders requiring the district to build new schools, to improve existing facilities and to maintain magnet programs. He also said in regards to the other that it interfered with court-ordered procedures for the recruitment and retention of black teachers and administrators.
Yet any rationale behind such reasoning borders on condoning policy-maker irresponsibility, if not signaling racist assumptions. Concerning the funding issue, it assumes that immediate harm has come from 50 students taking advantage of the program, which, according to the plaintiff’s rendering, comes to a cost of the $69,393 local contribution to the Minimum Foundation Program. This is despite the fact that overall savings to state taxpayers is $124,368.


Jindal no hypocrite, but must move on from 2012 diagnosis

Let’s assume the gossiping and connect-the-dots reveals this: Gov. Bobby Jindal latched onto the 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign and when it started to go well started stumping for a high appointive post had it succeeded, but when it failed soon thereafter launched a couple of criticisms of the candidacy, leading some former campaign insiders to accuse Jindal of hypocrisy. Then, in fact does this make Jindal a hypocrite and what does it mean for him politically?

That’s a big negative on the first question. No surrogate, whether volunteering for campaign assistance or employed as a policy-making extension of a chief executive, is going always to agree with the boss on every issue or action. But that doesn’t matter so long as he loyally supports without public dissension of whatever the candidate/executive does; that’s all you can ask. And if that support cannot be forthcoming, then the subordinate resigns to avoid disunity.

However, the campaign is over and it’s Ann, not Jindal, who married Mitt. So if Jindal wants to point out flaws that he saw in it, he’s right to do so, regardless of whether it’s from the goodness of his heart to improve his party’s chances of winning elections and/or because identifying himself with that criticism improves the prospects of his political career. It doesn’t make him a hypocrite to have kept his mouth shut during the campaign about, then after it criticize, the remark that Romney made that said he had an uphill climb when 47 percent of the population was in families receiving some kind of benefit from the federal government, followed up by Romney calling many of these transfer payments “gifts.” It makes him loyal as long as there was something to which to be loyal.


LA REAL Act law exposes change, hypocrisy choice

If you say you’re going to do something, then do it; don’t start doing the opposite and claim you aren’t really acting that way. In essence, that’s the dilemma Louisiana finds itself in over the REAL ID Act as it is complying substantially with it even as state law prohibits that.

Passed in 2005 to override a less-structured version, the Act’s purpose is to have states produce identification such as drivers’ licenses securely in a very tamper-resistant way. Some funds, not enough to cover the anticipated costs, have been provided for the purpose, and its deadline has been extended on a few occasions to Jan. 15, 2013, with rules issued in the interim to guide implementation. The penalty for noncompliance is refusal of federal agencies to accept state identification for things such as air transport.

A number of states, Louisiana included, did not act enthusiastically to the law’s presence. In fact, in 2008, state Rep. Brett Geymann authored what would become Act 807, passing handily with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature, joining laws from other states prohibiting the state from implementing its provisions, citing several reasons among which was it made it more likely that the state Constitution’s right to privacy could be violated.


Thanksgiving Day, 2012

This column publishes usually every Sunday through Thursday after noon (sometimes even before; maybe even after sundown on busy days) U.S. Central Time 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 Independence Day or Christmas or New Year's when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, there are six of these: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.

With Thursday, Nov. 22 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore this link.


PR campaign doesn't change fact of LASERS deterioration

As faithfully as the sun rises and sets, whenever it faces criticism about its viability and performance, the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System shoots out a stock fill-in-the-blank press release to entice media coverage, full of selective information that tries to put on its best face possible. Here we go again.

In June, the Pew Center on the States released a report broadly critical of the health of state pension plans, singling out Louisiana’s as one of the most endangered fiscally. This prompted a release from LASERS, subsequently effectively rebutted by Pew and in this space. Only weeks later, it sent out a release crowing about its investment performance – which in reality wasn’t anything to write home about.

This month, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, first in a news article, and subsequently and more obliquely in a piece by an opinion columnist, criticized the underfunded nature of LASERS and other state pension funds. Thus, LASERS issued a release deflecting from a couple of points made in the article but in no way disputing the facts – like the other major state fund, the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (which also tries, less strenuously, to fight its own rearguard action against deserved criticism) is badly underfunded. Its defense? At (then) 58 or so percent funded, it isn’t really in bad shape.


While flawed, opinion request does raise valid issues

While the rationales offered in a request by members of the Louisiana House of Representatives are inadequate to produce a result they will like, the exercise of asking for the attorney general’s opinion of the law and Constitution on this matter might serve a broader and more useful policy-making purpose.

Spearheaded by state Rep. Kirk Talbot on behalf of 17 fellow members who fancy themselves as fiscal hawks (more symbolically than in substance), the request made of Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell claims the current state budget runs afoul of the law and Constitution in three ways. First, it claims that money predicted to be used as a revenue source from outside of the Revenue Estimating Conference procedure that they term as a “contingency,” cannot be used; this budget uses such funds. Second, it claims that some of these funds are “fictional” because they won’t come about; this budget includes as in the general fund money from an unused hospital building and expected recoveries of excess paid out funds. Third, it claims that placed into a fund any that were initially determined by the REC as nonrecurring stay nonrecurring and cannot be removed from that fund for nonrecurring reasons; this budget takes money declared nonrecurring, puts it into a permissible fund, then removes to the general fund a like amount of money from that fund for spending on recurring purposes.

Interesting questions they are, but on closer investigation the assertions of legal violations do not hold up. The contingency portion of the Constitution is designed to address things along the lines of, “if something else by statute happens leaving a funding source unavailable without backup, this creates an impermissible hole.” However, this is not what was done in the budget. Here, the dispute simply is over the estimation of available funds – the concept of having to forecast what will be out there and available a principle applied to every cent of revenue that is declared as “there” by the REC.


Wary nat'l, combative state media deal with Jindal future

Perhaps more interesting than the things he actually says is the reaction of both the national and state media to the concept of Gov. Bobby Jindal as a politician of national concern. That they invest themselves in this love/hate relationship with him tells us they think he is a threat to what they hold dear.

In the almost two weeks since the implosion of the former Gov. Mitt Romney presidential candidacy, it has become increasingly clear to all observers that the era of the Republican Party acting more as an echo of rather than presenting a choice to Democrats will not survive the 2016 election cycle. The GOP’s greatest successes in this post-Pres. Ronald Reagan period have come when its congressional party as a whole offered a conservative vision (1994, 2010), nor is it an accident that its only presidential winning candidate was seen as a conservative with moderate tendencies (Pres. George W. Bush) while all the others who were seen as moderates first with conservative tendencies lost.

By the content of the three interviews for the national media Jindal has given in this period, he gets the Reagan understanding that explanation and education of the center-right public of America of a conservative agenda wins elections. While there is a race on by Pres. Barack Obama and his fellow travelers to transform the country’s culture, this perverting hardly has begun, needs extended time for consolidation, and can be reversed through candidates and campaigns that articulate the basic principles of conservatism in an accessible way to the public.


Tackle looming LA deficit with nearly painless policy shifts

Discouragingly, the preliminary budget numbers for Louisiana point to anear billion-dollar deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. Had different spending and revenue-exempting choices been made the problem would be far less severe. But the good news is, many of them still can be made in next year’s regular legislative session.

The projected level invites another roughly 4 percent drop in state government spending. No doubt when the Revenue Estimating Conference coughs up its next set of numbers as early as the middle of next month, these will show slack revenue growth behind the rate of increase in predicted spending. This stems from problems faced by practically every state, a national economy with the faintest of recoveries ready to slip back into recession held hostage by national government policy that relies on government by continuing resolution at levels locking in too high wasteful and counterproductive spending.

Understand that this is by design, courtesy of 2009-10 unified national rule by Democrats who still hold veto power to change it. Beggaring of the states is part of the long-term strategy of Pres. Barack Obama in his quest to transform the culture from an opportunity to entitlement mentality. One of the effects of the deliberate debasement of a private sector-led economy is to dampen state revenues, and since all but Vermont must operate balanced budgets, the left’s goal is to force them into tax increases and thereby the acceptance of larger government in a way to make this increase nearly permanent (as it is trying to do at the federal level), or to have them beg for bailouts that increases federal power over them. Either way, the aim is to defeat, at least temporarily if not permanently, conservatism, fiscal rectitude, and alternative power centers.


Jindal wise to continue rejection of exchange, expansion

Despite adverse election results that signaled no fundamental change was coming to the flawed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration correctly continues to opt out of both expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the establishment of health care exchanges optional under the law.

Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein informed the federal government of rejection of the latter, after Jindal immediately after the recent reelection of Pres. Barack Obama didn’t respond to calls from the political left to rethink his position on the former. Overall, state-run health exchanges don’t make medical economic sense, and, among other things such as they would force applying the employer mandate and beggar the private insurance market while driving up costs to individuals, they would cost states additional money to run them.

While those costs then would get paid by the federal government, this means in aggregate there are no savings nationally and some would be passed on to Louisiana taxpayers. But there is no money appropriated for the federal government to do that, and every state that opt outs increases those costs, making it easier for a Republican House of Representatives to ensure that Obamacare is partially or totally defunded, rendering it unable to operate at its 2014 target date except for its more popular and sensible mandates. Therefore, in pursuit of the goal of negating the harmful effects of Obamacare, the more states that opt out of exchanges, the better.


Fine recall scofflaws to present teachable moment

Perhaps one major reason why Louisiana elementary and secondary education has so underwhelmed is too many educators are like many of the children they teach who need discipline – spoiled, unaccountable, and not all that bright. Those characteristics are on full display in the attempt by teachers who filed failed recall petitions against Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to get fines waived for violations of campaign finance law.

Behind the Kleckley ousting attempt, the explanation for why the required report on it was 56 days late according to Brenda Romero is (cue violins) “she misunderstood the filing requirements for filing the report…. She simply did not understand that she was obligated to file a report within 45 days of filing the recall petition…. she contacted the Campaign Finance division for clarity. She spoke with staff, and was under the impression that if small amounts were collected from individuals, then she was under no obligation to report it at the moment. She maintains that staff answered all of her questions and did everything to help her understand, however, she obviously misunderstood. Ms. Romero maintains that it was not until when she saw a media report that claimed she failed to report in a timely fashion, that she knew she missed a deadline.”

And here’s the excuse from the one behind the Jindal attempt, Angie Bonvillian (cue violins again): “the group of four teachers that started the recall effort, did not know what they were getting into. She further stated that the first letter they received about the start of the recall had information that they did not know was important. She states that she read the letter, but did not really understand it. She maintains that they did not know that they were obligated to file a report within 45 days of filing the recall petition. Ms. Bonvillian maintains that it was not until when she read an article by a reporter that she understood the filing requirements. She states that she then contacted the Campaign Finance division for clarity. She spoke with staff, and asked more about the filing deadlines. Ms. Bonvillain states that had she known and understood the importance of filing the report, the 45 day report would have been filed.”


Study shows not much racism, but researcher carelessness

Maybe it’s a story about the ever-declining ability of people to think critically. Or perhaps just one where analysis gets overwhelmed by wishful ideological thinking. Regardless, Louisiana meriting a small mention in this effort brings to this work rigorous analysis that leads to the dismissal of its narrative.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune (or what’s left of it) picked up on a piece, mentioned in several, mostly trendy lefty, media sites, about an investigation of Twitter microblog communications (“tweets”) by a group of geographers in the runup to election day last week that contained what they coded as “racist” in nature. It proclaimed that Louisiana was the fifth-highest location of such tweets, at 3.3 times the norm.

The idea found its inspiration from the website Jezebel, not exactly celebrated for the analytical quality nor the intellectual heft of its post-feminist contents and writing (as of this writing, its lead article weighed the question no doubt every intelligent woman of high self-esteem routinely ponders, “Some Things to Consider When You Think You Want to be a Prostitute”), where somebody bored enough decided to collect some post-election tweets with decidedly anti-black language. The geographer crowd at a group called Floatingsheep picked up on it, produced results and extended commentary, pronouncing conclusions echoing a mildly ersatz version of the identity politics/post-Marxism all too prevalent coming from academia: “Racist behavior, particularly directed at African Americans in the U.S., is all too easy to find both offline and in information space.”


Paper misses real story behind Supreme Court contest

Last week, this space mused whether the reason Republican Appellate Court Judge Jeff Hughes outpaced Republican rivals in the contest for the Fifth District seat to the Louisiana Supreme Court was because he dared express support for issue preferences. Apparently, this caught the eye of the Baton Rouge Advocate which proceeded to run a story that implied something must not be right with this, even as it uncritically accepted his runoff opponent Democrat Appellate Court Judge John Michael Guidry’s explanation for his success.

The piece reviewed the content of Hughes television ads and statements and said they “contrasted” with Louisiana’s Code of Judicial Conduct, which in Canon 7A(10) states that a judge or judicial candidate shall not “make any statement that would reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending in any Louisiana state court.” But, as Hughes pointed out, in saying he supports gun rights, the traditional definition of marriage, and capital punishment merely echoes existing Louisiana statutory and constitutional law, and if these were to change he would follow whatever changes occurred in his adjudication.

Further, during his campaign Hughes never addressed any specific pending matters, making the application of the canon in question moot in this case. Finally, as Hughes also mentioned (and one would hope as a sitting judge he knew of this), the U.S. Supreme Court in Republican Party of Minn. v. White (2002) ruled that judicial candidates had a right to express opinions on issues of the day, as expression does not imply a judge would not apply the law even-handedly, that the state cannot presume that judges do not have predispositions about issues that may come before a court, and nor do those expressions if made create any kind of promissory situation that would bias case decision-making.


Remove reform opponents' only recourse by attentiveness

The predictable passage of the contract to hire a third-party administrator for the state-run employee and retiree health care plan was unremarkable, but the maneuvering and recriminations before were not and are illustrative.

This contract, now estimated to save the state in administrative costs anywhere from $11 to 18.3 million (the back-of-the-envelope calculations done last year in this space predicted $17.3 million in savings), came out approved by a joint House Appropriations/Senate Finance Committees meeting a week after it appeared the House portion would reject it. Then, the House panel voted to bring the matter to a vote where it appeared in would be defeated, causing proponents to withdraw it for slight modifications.

Eight days later it passed, but with some wacky things happening in the interim. Seven Republicans, six of whom might ordinarily be expected to vote for a conservative policy preference such as this privatization of administration, essentially voted against it then, as a symbol of other grievances against the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration. As a result, Jindal ally Speaker Chuck Kleckley moved against two of them and booted them off the committee. The two new members subsequently voted in favor and most of the remaining defectors, although state Rep. Brett Geymann didn’t bother to show up for the vote and state Rep. Rogers Pope, the least reliable of the Republicans, remained against.


LA winners & losers, who ran & did not, in 2012 contests

As usual, election results produce their share of winners and losers, and Louisiana politicians have no special immunity to this. Thus, from the latest quadrennial elections, we find:

WINNER: Gov. Bobby Jindal. While a Pres. Barack Obama reelection will continue to create governance headaches for him and all governors, on a career level that Rep. Paul Ryan (safely reelected to his seat) did not win the vice presidency and Republicans will not be the party of the White House leaves him with more options and more upwards potential. Should Jindal fancy the presidency any such quest would have been out the window for the next eight years, and even then Ryan would have become the favorite to carry the party banner in eight years. Now, they are more on terms with each other and Jindal has more control over timing of attempted moves.

For a politician ambitious to the highest level, a cabinet position does no real good and perhaps even harm, so a Republican presidency offering him such a position conveyed no real benefit. Without that kind of job, his only real option to keep the momentum going would have been to run for the Senate in 2014. Even as those chances now are enhanced as a result of the election, he could skip that step and go directly to running for the presidency at the end of his term in 2015.


LA 2012 elections produce winners, winners-in-waiting

Although the election calendar claims we’re going to have some contests in Louisiana on Dec. 8, in reality all statewide contests substantively will have been settled over a month earlier. Yet this outcome wasn’t the most interesting one in state politics from this election.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Public Service Commission District 2 contest did end without further voting with former state executive branch official Scott Angelle winning a majority. Considered the favorite with his fundraising ability as evidence, he proved strong enough not to need a runoff. This demonstration begins a solid electoral base for him to build on should his ambitions grow for more prestigious offices in the future.

By contrast, in the contest to fill the open Supreme Court District 5, the demographics suggested that Democrat 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Michael Guidry would face any of several Republicans in a runoff where the Republican would win and to some degree every Republican was competitive. The thinking was that whoever wound up second would have become so narrowly, but instead another Republican from that court, Court of Appeals Judge Jeff Hughes surprisingly created some separation from the others to claim that spot while all but one of them ended up with roughly the same number of votes.

LA ready to punish Obama for politicized disaster slight

The problem with the Macondo oil well blowout was it happened at the wrong time. Lesson: with a big government liberal in the White House, in a conservative state you better hope if a disaster comes it’s close to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in years divisible by four.

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy pushed ashore New Jersey, Pres. Barack Obama, among other things, authorized the waiving of the Merchant Marine (Jones) Act of 1920, which allows foreign-flagged vessels to transport between U.S. ports directly. Upon request in an emergency situation, the law designed to bolster the U.S. marine industry and its unions in this instance gave way to concerns of shipping in fuel to the stricken area. Former Pres. George W. Bush had done likewise when Katrina plowed into Louisiana in 2005 to facilitate rescue and relief.

But in 2010, despite at least one known request to do so, Obama refused to allow waiving of the law when BP’s well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out, where in this instance the floating sheen advanced on the coastline and skimming vessels badly were needed to try to ameliorate the potential devastating effects. Officially, the Obama Administration feigned ignorance of the know request and asserted the law did not apply. Unofficially, this would serve to steer more resources into the hands of unions and placate environmentalist interests, as a broader strategy of turning down any foreign assistance.