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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.