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Dynamics make Hollis Senate attempt quixotic at best

Quixotically, state Rep. Paul Hollis has launched himself into the U.S. Senate race of next year. Unless he’s entirely misreading the political environment, it can’t be because he thinks absent something on the order of a miracle he can win.

The Republican is entering his third year as a legislator, and during that period he scored last year 70 and his initial year 85 on the Louisiana Legislature Log’s ideology/reform index, where higher scores indicate more fealty to a conservative/reformist agenda. This averages out as among the highest in this period. But with just two years as an elected official, a just opened federal campaign account and his state equivalent having fewer than $5,000 as this year began, the obvious question to ask is why he’s running if he thinks he can win.

With Rep. Bill Cassidy already in the contest, and at last count his having about $3.5 million in the bank, Hollis must know that he stands to draw nothing close to that in 10 months as an alternative GOP contender – and also be able to compete for money against incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu as well. Hollis isn’t hurting as far as family wealth goes, but he must know that he would have to commit likely millions of his own resources into the campaign to be competitive.


Incorporation effort way to leverage new school district?

Might the whole effort to create a new city in southern East Baton Rouge Parish really be just to overcome the last resistance now cracking to create a breakaway school district there?

From the beginning, organizers of the effort to create the city of St. George, which would be comprised of unincorporated land, have said this is a way to facilitate formation of a district separate from the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. Within the past couple of weeks, at a gathering of area leaders, a couple of them reiterated that very point.

Historically, the state never has had a school district that was not coterminous with the boundaries of a parish or municipality, and the last one to come to life, Central Community School System, did so only after the separate city of Central was formed. In order to have a separate district in education, the Legislature must enable it by statute, and the Constitution must be amended to provide a funding mechanism. On its second try earlier this year, the enabling legislation was passed, but it cannot operate until funded.


Shreveport squanders through inattentiveness, gamesmanship

At year's end, it's useful to hold out Shreveport over the last 13 months as an object lesson to the lengths that government will go to keep their troughs full -- and why citizens are to blame to allow it to keep happening.

In 2013, Shreveporters ended up having to cough up, or beggar from surely other more pressing uses, a buck a person more because the Mayor Cedric Glover Administration was caught napping and he and the City Council want to increase chances of no revenue haircuts by the citizenry. In October, 2012 it was determined that the city was about to lose its tax collection authority for a quarter cent of sales tax, scheduled to expire after six years at the end of 2012. Because notification is required four weeks prior to the beginning of early voting in the case of a primary election, this made the City Council having to pass a resolution to approve of this occur within that period, meaning it could not be offered up without special state approval until the next scheduled election, termed the “general,” Dec. 8, 2012 where the deadline had to be 46 days out.

Ordinarily, that might not have necessitated any extra expense. The state and local government entity split expenses on local matters that piggyback on any state or federal matters. But as it turned out, no state or federal contest could have gone to the Dec. 8 election given the only electoral contests had just two opponents. By failing to make the deadline, the city had to pay at least a quarter of the $160,000 tab when it could have been less.


Markets best to decide voucher program participation

As previously noted, in evaluating Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program, competing arguments are heard about how to measure the quality of the participating proprietary schools. Its opponents often argue that a grading system like that used for public schools should be employed, but not only does this have implementation difficulties, it also serves as a distraction from the real issue at hand.

In the state, public schools receive an annual grade that is at least half determined by progress in learning with factors of diploma completion (high school) and course credits earned (high school and middle school), all the way to progress being the sole determinant (elementary school). Until this past year, with one exception the only benefit provided by this system was acting as an information device for families to get some idea of how their school matched up to others and to an ideal. The exceptional benefit was that schools which consistently had the lowest, failing grade could become subject to corrective action. Thus, the only policy benefit that the system had was to create an incentive for the worst schools to improve or lose autonomy of varying degrees.

This left the large majority of public schools in the state unaffected by any policy levers that the grade could induce to improve their performances. Scores might have public relations and morale ramifications, but they carried no consequences as A and D scored schools were treated the same. But with the advent of the voucher program, suddenly these grades mattered, for now students from lower-income families could bail out of a D school, and even a C school under certain conditions, along with those of the F (failing) schools.


Christmas Day, 2013

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


Opening for Dardenne on managerial competence

In a contest expected to focus on ideas and policy, to date Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne smartly has taken the lead in staking out the campaign turf of competence in administration, partly by design, partly by fortuitous happenstance.

The all-but-announced gubernatorial candidate in the span of last week found two opportunities to prod voters with the thought that he could run state government, and potentially well. In essence, one fell into his lap when comments by reality television star/accidental political kingmaker Phil Robertson sparked controversy, leading the network that broadcast his show to say he was “suspended,” meaning somehow he wouldn’t appear in episodes for some indeterminate period. This prompted the Robertson clan to announce they might well look for a new network home for the show if it continued.

And Dardenne was there, if needed, the help grease the skids. With the only constitutional responsibility to wait until the governor was not able to serve in that capacity temporarily or permanently, the office of lieutenant governor was assigned the duty of overseeing the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. Facing budgetary stress, Dardenne went a step further and subsumed he secretary’s job into his.


PAR report falters in analyzing state hospital transformation

News flash from the Louisiana media: the privatization of operations of, with one exception, Louisiana’s former charity hospitals may put the state at risk of paying more than anticipated a few years from now. Or, maybe it won’t. That was the astoundingly definitive conclusion of a report from the Public Affairs Research Council on the process, which is long on explaining what’s happening with it but very short in reaching any bankable conclusions of what will happen.

The explanatory part, similar to that of its analysis of the Medicaid expansion aspect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) of some months ago, is helpful to understand the complex financing process involved. But the report as a whole also suffers from the same drawback: less than realistically it considers the actual likely direction of future policy, and in fact appears to have somewhat of a dated quality already.

As a whole, the report notes all that has been going on and determines “there is good reason to be optimistic that care and access to services will improve” as a result of the transformation. Had it come out a few days later, perhaps it could have noted, to back up its relaying of state officials’ testimony in this regard of service expansion and access, the example of a pediatric unit reopening at University Medical Center in Lafayette by that new private operator that had to be closed by the state a year ago. This appears as one instance of how operating efficiencies are taking even a reduced amount of money than would have been required under state operation and yet still providing if not expanding services, to the benefit of clients and taxpayers.


Staying on sidelines put to test in voucher program audit

Long valuable as an instrument to determine whether government follows the law and to render a judgment on how well it does, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor retains this value because the office investigates impartially process and output of policy. Thus it’s an unwelcome development on the occasions where it begins to allow to slip into its products preferred policy positioning, as happened in a recent audit of the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.

This audit probed the implementation of the program that allows families whose children are in underperforming public schools to receive state money to attend a participating, either public or nonpublic, qualifying school of their choice. It made several recommendations for programmatic changes, either by law or by Department of Education regulation, that addressed implementation issues including that DOE oversee more closely that participant schools keep better financial and client records, that DOE provide better metrics to match school resources to capacity in serving voucher students, and that DOE institute specific criteria for determining whether schools should continue participation, for consistency sake and accountability purposes.

In this case, the LLA produced a “performance audit,” wherein the agency not only renders an accounting of how well the law was followed, but also may insert recommendations for program operation, either directly to the agency running the program or (in a “matter for legislative consideration”) as a legal change to be wrought by its boss, the Legislature. And it’s here where problems may creep in, for in recommending these things the LLA is tempted to substitute its own policy-making judgment for that of the implementers or creators of the program.


Polled attitudes suggest solutions in search of problems

Hey kids, guess what? A poll came out that showed an overwhelming proportion of Louisianans said that Ebenezer Scrooge should not treat his employee Bob Crachit so unfairly at work. That fictional creation parallels results from an actual recent poll, this part paid for by groups that seek to have those who practice homosexuality be given preferential public policy treatment, which revealed that – believe it or not! – almost all Louisianans think that those who identify themselves as homosexually-oriented should not be denied housing, nor not be protected from bullying in school, nor not be fired from jobs with secular employers. Meanwhile, dog bites man.

One group leader expressed surprise that the margins in each case were almost 90 percent or higher expressing these attitudes. Where has he been? It only confirms what each of us knows already, that attitudes like these are a matter of common sense and simple human decency. For the life of me, for example, I can’t understand why anybody would want to see somebody being bullied, for any reason. We are called to love our neighbors, and while there’s not universal agreement on that, to anybody sentient in this society from birth they should have realized there is a huge consensus that, at a personal level, an overwhelming majority think we must treat people fairly as we hope they will do the same for us.

Which is where the policy-making confusion enters. Groups behind the state-the-obvious questions say they will use these results as evidence that there is support for state laws, for example, that ban firings in the workplace over sexual orientation and in renting dwellings. (Although any change to anti-bullying would be nonsensical; the law already prohibits any behavior that is bullying regardless of motive.) But theirs is an apples-and-oranges comparison, because the questions did not address those kind of issues. They may have asked about people’s feelings about these things, but they did not ask them whether they thought that government should be empowered to restrict these kind of activities.


If not decentralized, LA tax administration reform still needed

Lost in the shuffle about the redistributive issues involving Louisiana income tax reform during this year’s legislative session was how administration of the state’s tax assessment and collection put a drag on the state’s economic development prospects. A recently-released report reaffirms the need for reform in this area.

The Council on State Taxation issued its triennial brief on tax administration in the states, where Louisiana bucked its recent trend of improving performance in the area of economic development by coming in dead last, tied with perennial economic growth-unfriendly California. Its “Scorecard on Tax Appeals & Procedural Requirements” grades along the assumption that, as the system for tax collection largely functions through voluntary compliance, practices that encourage this and make it easier produce a competitive advantage relative to non-adopters of such.

The report notes that Louisiana has significant aspects that tend to weigh the system against the filer in favor of the state, makes it more difficult to stay informed about complexities of the code, is needlessly complex, and creates extra costs. Tellingly, its worst category score was in the area of other issues, which were related to complexities and costs involved when disputes arose.


Another suit tried to reverse LA Democrat election losses

If you live in Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District, you just got used to its new boundaries after having to endure three elections in it over the past year. But until discretion became the better part of valor for some people with fanciful hopes of trying to rewrite the U.S. Constitution have, you might have found yourself starting over in a new one in order for Democrats to gain a partisan advantage.

Earlier this month, former executive director of state Democrats Chris Whittington filed a suit on behalf of some citizens claiming the six districts created in the state in 2011 are unconstitutional, on the basis of racial gerrymandering, meaning they were drawn in order to prevent of blacks to Congress from the state. Currently, in a state where about a third of the population is black, five representatives are white Republicans, and the remaining one is a black Democrat. Without explanation, the suit was withdrawn yesterday.

This briefly saw the light of day despite the fact that, as the law then read, the U.S. Department of Justice engaged in preclearance of the boundaries that created only one of six majority-black districts, meaning that it saw no legal problems with the plan that varied in population by fewer than 162 people among all and created the sprawling, spill-shaped Fifth District in the northeast and central part of the state and the streaky Second District sprinting from parts of Baton Rouge to parts of New Orleans. But the suit argues that the situation has changed because of this summer’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that said preclearance no longer could be required because the method by which would determine whether preclearance was judged was no longer valid, meaning the state could not claim that not having the proportion of minority-majority districts roughly similar to the proportion of minorities in the population was justified by avoidance of retrogression, or that minority representation could be reduced, in explicitly drawing districts that focused on race.


Caldwell suit handling invites more political damage

As Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell’s cachet with conservatives erodes as a result of his hands-off approach to dealing with a questionable lawsuit, recent statements made by Louisiana’s Legislative Auditor now increase his political vulnerability further.

Earlier this year, the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East filed suit against 97 companies claiming their actions had violated the law in their oil exploration and extraction activities, claiming damages. From the start, the politicized jackpot justice tactic behind it seemed obvious, but it also appeared dubious on legal grounds, as it seemed to have skipped certain steps to give it the authority to take both this action and the manner in which it pursued this.

Many of these uncertainties tied into a contingency contract negotiated with a private law firm that also provided payment if the SLFPA-E voluntarily dropped the suit. Caldwell’s office gave it assent as mandated in law, but is not counsel, and also needed and not given was approval from the governor’s office. Further, the law appears to dictate that the AG must be counsel and any other counsel must be authorized by an explicit set of justification, which do not seem to appear in the resolution to hire the firm. Finally, a past court interpretation of the law states that only legislative approval would allow for a contingency contract, which was never given (and legislators hinted when they convene next year that they will do the opposite to invalidate the entire effort.)


Replenishment, UAL should precede I-49 S completion

No sooner has the good news come in than various parties wish to divide up the fatted calf. Some suggestions to do so are better than others, and they do not include allocating it to more spending on existing programs nor on the idea to expedite completion of the southern segment of Interstate 49.

Louisiana’s Department of Revenue came up with a firm estimate of what it thinks the state’s first round of tax amnesty will hit. The $435 million figure of course must fund the $200 already allocated, plus expenses of $78 million. And since some creditors paid in film tax credits, which represents money that might have been paid in without these but not definitively, as much as $67 million more represented by these could disappear from the final total.

That leaves $90 million, and it is in addition to a projected surplus for this fiscal year just ended estimated at $163 million. But given that the Revenue Estimating Conference, the state board with the authority to determine whether the money represents recurring revenues and therefore rules on whether it can be spent on operating expenses, has signaled it is unlikely to declare the entire lot of it as recurring, this excess probably will be put into the nonrecurring category, limiting its use to a small set of items focused on capital items and long-term liabilities. While creative accounting could try to wash that money into recurring form as previously has been done, alerted to that possibility policy-makers risk raising the ire of any one member of the REC (a decision must be made unanimously or the money never can be used) by such a brazen move, so probably they will accept its declaration as nonrecurring. Again, not using these for operating expenses simply makes good prudent sense, especially as some good portion may have beggared future projected revenues.


Trendy law empowers Shreveport govt at people's expense

Continuing a trend for decades as a result of Shreveport’s economic stagnation, too often the political establishment’s reaction to this slow wasting is to make reactive policy that concerns itself more with image than with beneficial substantive effect. Recent passage of the so-called “Fairness Ordinance” provides another example that does nothing helpful and, worse, creates a bad precedent in privileging certain behaviors with detrimental consequences to individual freedom.

The ordinance echoes parts of state law in that it disallows discrimination in provision of services or accommodations, hiring and applying personnel practices to hired employees, and renting and selling of real estate on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, age, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or political or religious affiliations – but with sexual orientation and gender identity added as they appear nowhere under state law. It exempts businesses with fewer than eight employees, landlords of fewer than five units, and religious organizations.

Immediately striking is the intellectually slipshod way in which the protected classes are amalgamated. Most of the list concerns immutable factors about human beings – your DNA makes you of a certain race and sex and disability, your circumstances and life history determine your disability, origin, ancestry, and age – but also includes four behavioral attributes. While discrimination prohibition against what people are is of a grave concern to government, because they are what they are and there has to be an extraordinarily compelling reason to treat people different on that basis, in allowing government to specify acceptable attitudes and behavior in treating people differently on the basis of attitudes and expression of them through behavior invites tyranny and must have a high standard of proof to allow for it.


Stop bonus funds shell game with needed legal change

Machinations and fortune are combining to make the ultimate disposition – and therefore the fate of a balanced fiscal year 2014 budget for Louisiana – of the latest version of state tax amnesty more and more interesting, and political.

Turns out that the nonprofit (if funded by both politically neutral and leftist sources) news source The Lens got hold of a memo from state Rep. Joel Robideaux that described past tactics in dealing with amnesty money. The first phase of this version has been completed with a goal of securing $200 million that appears to have been exceeded. Each of the next two fiscal years also features smaller, less-generous versions to delinquent taxpayers.

In it, Robideuax lays out a strategy of funds transfers that he said for fiscal year 2010 laundered amnesty dollars for use in the operating budget. Any money that arrives in excess of forecasts by the Revenue Estimating Conference, which explicitly excludes amnesty proceeds, when forecast subsequently by the REC, unless it designated otherwise is classified as nonrecurring and thereby becomes unavailable for use in the operating budget. Robideaux described a process that shifted money, some designated by the statute setting up the amnesty and another portion declared by the REC as nonrecurring, and essentially sanitized it all into recurring money thusly eligible for use as operating funds.


Real ethics gold standard in reach of LA policy-makers

Maybe Gov. Bobby Jindal and reform-minded members new and old got the Legislature to install the silver standard of ethics laws for itself almost six years ago, but it seems clear that getting to a geniune gold standard is going to take some work, given some of the attitudes of its more revanchist members.

Last week the Joint Governmental and Affairs Committee (that is, each chamber’s respective committee of this kind) met to gather data as a result of state Sen. Jody Amedee’s SCR 78 passed last session. The bill asked to study the appropriate use of campaign funds and the administration and enforcement of laws within the jurisdiction of the state’s Board of Ethics. It is to deliver a report on the subject in just under three months.

Board and interest group representatives urged it to ban certain freewheeling practices legally allowed with campaign dollars. For example, lawmakers may use such money to pay for event tickets at which they are not invited guests and for meals and to lease vehicles of any quality for “non-personal” use as long as they have some remote connection to campaigning or performance of office duties. Serving as an example for the ordinary members of his chamber, Sen. Pres. John Alario spent since those reforms passed through last year over $52,000 on an auto lease, around $57,000 on events, and thousands more on fine dining.


Desperation drives T-P flogging of dead expansion horse

If you are feeling a bit like Sisyphus or Phil Connors when perusing the editorial page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, you’re not alone. There’s a reason why you keep reading again and again what seems to be the same editorial touting that Louisiana should expand Medicaid eligibility courtesy of the Patient Protection and (Un)Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) – ideological intransigence in the service of trying to save this law that its editorial writers worship.

No fewer than seven times, about once a month since April, has the T-P regurgitated the same thing, that the state, if not the Legislature then Gov. Bobby Jindal, should take the option to expand Medicaid eligibility. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared invalid the part of the law that the federal government could force states into expanding it, leaving that as a state-by-state option. The law also allows for the federal government to pay for the entire expansion starting in 2014 and next couple of years, and then the state begins picking up a share until it levels off in 2020 at 10 percent (far less than the roughly 40 percent or so that changes annually under the current, more stringent eligibility requirements).

The basic argument remains the same: so much federal money flowing in, it’s “free” for the first few years, the moderately poor should have it instead of depending upon uncompensated care, hundreds of thousands could benefit, ad nauseam. It appears to continue belting out one of these rehashes each lunar cycle because Jindal never complies.


Edwards' polling, statements reflect poorly on candidacy

Some recent information about and statements made by state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the only officially announced for governor in 2015, if they actually want to win the office may have Democrats looking for a more capable candidate.

The leader of his party caucus didn’t fare well in a recent poll about that, corralling less than 10 percent of the vote and trailing considerably three Republican names put forward. However, it’s early and the question did not indicate partisanship, which would have boosted his totals somewhat (although having the same last name as Prisoner #03128-095, for whom some segment of Democrats in the state would vote for even if it were revealed he rooted for the University of Alabama and played poker with Nick Saban and who appeared on a sub-literate reality television show, should have provided some cachet to increase John’s totals), so on that basis alone, as a standard-bearer for Democrats’ aspiration here he might do.

Unless he goes around saying stupid stuff, and he does. Witness his remarks to the Louisiana State University Baton Rouge Faculty Senate (historically not exactly the most distinguished policy thinkers in higher education or anything else) where he provided his analysis of funding policy in this area over the past several years that concluded there has not been enough will to fund higher education in the state.


Stupid remark may doom Claitor bid from start

The omnipresent yet mythical tome on conducting a political campaign says you kick it off by wrestling into your possession all of the low-hanging fruit in sight, creating a first impression that dunks it home for your partisans and intrigues those who may have soured on other parties’ candidate offerings. Then here comes state Sen. Dan Claitor who in introducing himself to Sixth Congressional District voters decided he should scale the highest, most dangerous ladder to pick fruit high up the tree, risking an immediate fall onto his ….

And he may have done just that. Claitor, after well-publicized hesitation, yesterday announced he would contend for this spot, the contest to date having attracted no one in elected office, and immediately launched into alienating key Republican constituencies, the party label he claims, using the language of the left. It wasn’t so much that he swore he would not serve as a doctrinaire Republican or conservative – even as his voting scorecard average for the Louisiana Legislature Index of 65 for his five years of service is around the GOP average for the chamber and definitely more conservative/reform than liberal/populist – but that for reasons of poor political judgment he disempowered his own effort while helping his opponents.

At the very time when he needed to make a good first impression, Claitor said a reason he chose to run was that he was “not excited” about unannounced opponents, who in his estimation “have questionable associations with ‘hate groups.’” This apparently referred to a rumored candidacy of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which advocates for public policy based upon traditional social values, as it is defined by the group of hypocrites that comprise the Southern Poverty Law Center.


Same story, different views aid LA public, print media

Isn’t it just swell that New Orleans and Baton Rouge have sort-of turned into two two-newspaper towns? It increases the chances of readers to receive multiple perspectives – and provides the opportunity of the legacy media to reverse its diminished influence in state politics.

As it has begun doing in recent months, the Legislative Fiscal Office released its internal publication (and no doubt one it paid huge sums to consultants to name) “Focus on the Fisc,” wherein staff members take state fiscal topics, shoot out some information, and mix in a little opinion to produce analyses of varying qualities. The latest edition, among many other fascinating topics (as opposed to the previous one, between this set of parentheses is content not facetious; most of the newsletters’ content is pretty interesting to me, but, as my bachelor’s degree is in public administration, my masters’ is in business administration, and then there’s the doctorate in political science, consider the source), discussed the state’s forecast tax revenue performance and whether the state may have to chip in more money to pay for medical expenses.

The New Orleans/Baton Rouge Times-Picayune took the glass half-full approach. Its story about the latest issue concentrated on the slowly but surely brightening state revenue picture that produced a $175 million actual surplus to forecast for the Fiscal Year 2013, which the newsletter typified as “seems to be more good news than bad news” and then went out on a limb to argue that “cautions are not immaterial” that could serve to squelch the “optimism for only modest improvement.”


Elite instransigence cause of possible EBR breakaway

Has it come to this: people exercising their constitutional rights, whose policy preferences are given second-class status because they are less numerous than those in the wagon that they pull, are selfish for doing so?

That’s an apt description of the reactions from opponents of the drive for south East Baton Rouge Parish to incorporate itself into its own separate municipality, proposed to be named St. George, removing itself from a metropolitan government that would have only the northern and central parts of the parish that are not the municipalities of Baker, Central, and Zachary and the city of Baton Rouge remaining. This presently southern unincorporated area of the parish would create a city of around 107,000 people and become almost as large in land area as Baton Rouge itself.

The process is simple: collect signatures on a petition without time limit representing a quarter of the registered voters in the area, which then triggers an election where a majority of those voters can approve of the new municipality. The politics behind it, by contrast, are complex.


Move beyond SPS data to understand vouchers' impact

As Louisiana progresses through its second year of its statewide Student Scholarships for Education Excellence program, data produced still can’t reveal whether the program is improving significantly the lot of children or what effect if any it may have, even as it succeeds on a cost basis.

Some data came out this week from the Department of Education, in the form of School Performance Scores for students who accepted vouchers through the program. Children who once attended subpar schools are eligible to receive state money to attend a nonpublic or higher-ranked public school, if space is available. DOE for each school where adequate data could be collected computed a ranking of that voucher cohort, as if it were its own school, and released that data.

They showed a wide range of success for the cohorts treated as schools, but overall most were not terribly different from the underperforming environments that the students had left. Almost half were scored at the D or F level, equivalent by definition to the scores of their previous schools (students at C-ranked public schools also are eligible for the program, but only if space is available after the pool of students from the lower-ranked schools in an area is exhausted).


Privatize waste pickup, water rather than milk Shreveporters

At least Bossier City seems to get it some of the time, whereas Shreveport can't even make that much progress.

Last year, Shreveport politicians discussed charging fees, including an extra buck on water bills, to deal with residential waste pickup that often was out of bounds from ordinance. Originally, significant cost hikes were talked of to Shreveport households for those with multiple containers and those disposing of significant yard waste and furniture curbside. Heretofore these actually have been against ordinance but never enforced. The $1 monthly fee was discussed to be added to water bills, which was claimed would go to paying for street cleaning and litter abatement, but the city seemed to lose enthusiasm for that rate increase as well.

Some reform made sense. Putting out large immovable items does put a strain on solid waste collection for the space but even more for the time involved to get it in and compacted in a truck. Eventually, the city decided to issue fines rather than extra charges.


Thanksgiving Day, 2013

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. 28 being Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to explore this link.


Amnesty may not yet stave off LA budget cuts

While congratulations get passed around various state agencies regarding the 2013 version of the state’s tax amnesty program, celebrations could prove to be premature.

Usable in this current fiscal year was a predicted and therefore budgeted $200 million, devoted to the financing of health care and higher education. Louisiana’s Department of Revenue announced that after this amnesty period ended this past week that collections hit that mark, and could go a bit higher. But having this funding fulfill its part to make sure budgets get met is another matter, for two reasons.

One is that the Revenue Estimating Conference will meet in about two weeks to come up with the fiscal forecast that will be used to prepare the executive budget for next fiscal year and to provide a marker for budgetary performance this fiscal year. If the forecast is lower than had been anticipated when budgeted, this could cause cuts in state spending effective nearly immediately.


Bad poll news for Landrieu, good for Vitter continues

A poll about the fortunes of Louisiana U.S. Senate candidates next year and gubernatorial candidates the year after provided excellent news for Republicans in federal office and highlighted the continually deteriorating position of Democrats in the state.

Among other things, the recent survey by Southern Media and Opinion Research looked at answers for likely voters for the offices of senator and governor. For the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mary Landrieu, she led U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy 41-34 percent, with another Republican challenger recent state arrival Rob Maness at 10 percent.

Ever since Cassidy formally announced his candidacy and data like this from time to time would surface, this space has pointed out the problematic chances of Landrieu’s reelection even as other analysts continued to imagine strength in her bid not reflective of the actual data. Not so this data, which not only showed she would lose a general election runoff to Cassidy, but also contained information that of the representative sample less than half approved of her job performance, over half said someone new should be elected, a large majority of the undecided and those who would not reveal a choice would vote against a candidate who favored the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that she favors, and that as its members discovered more about Cassidy, who unlike Landrieu has much lower name recognition, his approval ratings improved. Perhaps these results finally should disabuse anybody of the notion that Landrieu is favored in any way in the contest. In fact, it’s now questionable that she isn’t a distinct underdog.


McAllister: more like Jefferson Smith or Barack Obama?

While, whether he realized it, Republican Rep. Vance McAllister echoed the fictional Jefferson Smith in words, his going to Washington, DC might have more in common with Democrat Pres. Barack Obama’s entry into the White House.

In 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes the Washington, the protagonist is a political rube, appointed to fill an expiring term of a senator precisely because he is thought to be malleable by sinister forces wishing to control him, who expresses that he’s never been to the nation’s capital. This leads to a humorous interlude where he disappears from his handlers to go on a tour of Washington with other, ordinary out-of-towners.

McAllister, who also came out of nowhere, differs in that he was elected last weekend in his own right, and based upon a carefully-crafted rather than a happenstance image as a political outsider. As part of that credentialing, he repeatedly mentioned that he’d never been to D.C., although is more politically aware than Smith was initially in the film. The question is, despite his protestations of not being a politician, perhaps he’s a little too politically aware for the good of the district’s majority – or the reverse.


State must appeal court attempt to rewrite Constitution

While both sides claimed victories of sorts in the initial ruling regarding Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program, the basis on which the state’s gain rests is too contingent on accepting a jurisprudence that rightfully needs challenging.

Last week, federal District Judge Ivan Lemelle opined that the state’s Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program had a right to exist, but at the same time the state should have to turn over information to the federal Department of Justice for review that could alter some results coming from the program’s application, so long as this did not bring the program to a halt. Both parties were given a couple of months to figure out how this would work.

The case came about when DOJ initially sued to stop the program, claiming that the outcomes of the program violated the desegregation orders across a number of school districts stemming from the Brumfield v. Dodd case. There, in the early 1970s the state was found to have been colluding with private schools to create a kind of segregation, and as a result it had to introduce requirements that would prevent private schools from acting in a discriminatory manner by race in admissions to them if they received any state aid, even indirectly.


Shreveport GOP abandoning hope of mayor's office?

It would appear that what’s left of the Republican Party in Shreveport has thrown in the towel to run that city – and may have better policy outcomes for it.

With the next mayor’s race just a year away, long-rumored candidate state Rep. Patrick Williams recently put on a fundraiser. What raised eyebrows among observers was the number of elected Republicans who had signed on to play a supporting role in this endeavor for the Democrat – and this effort didn’t include only moderates like Caddo Parish Commissioner John Escude’, but also conservative stalwarts like state Sen. Barrow Peacock.

That most of the local GOP legislative delegation signaled support for a black Democrat shows that they have written off the chance for their party to capture the spot their party held for most of the 1990s. As a candidate, Williams makes some sense from a conservative perspective – if you believe the only kind of candidate who can win is a black Democrat. On the Louisiana Legislature Log voting index over his six years in office, Williams’ average score is almost 46, where a score of 100 means voting a perfect conservative/reform record, and a 0 means voting a perfect liberal/populist record.


State correct to call DOJ bluff over voucher program

Gov. Bobby Jindal managed to be both right and wrong in his latest communication about the U.S. Department of Justice’s suit against Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program: the Pres. Barack Obama Administration has shifted tactics, but its goal to rewrite jurisprudence in the way it finds ideologically acceptable remains the same.

Earlier this week, Jindal proffered publicly his approval that DOJ had changed its stance on the issue, where it had withdrawn a request for injunctive relief in the courts. While characterizing this in a way that it had dropped the suit, technically that remains alive and set for a hearing later this week. And that was old news in a sense, for DOJ had said it no longer was looking to impound and delay program operation a couple of months ago and earlier this week the court ratified that. But what was new explains why, contrary to Jindal’s description, the suit hasn’t been withdrawn.

Previously, DOJ had asserted it could stop the program until the courts reviewed each and every assignment of a voucher for compliance with desegregation orders where they existed. Now, it has proposed dropping the compulsory aspect and asks instead that the state to send it this information before the state makes the assignments official, hinting that it will have input into these decisions and if it doesn’t like them it will seek relief from the courts. The court date where conceivably the compulsory aspect could be manufactured is still on, and for the federal government needs to be in order to keep the pressure on the state to submit to this agreement.


Myth vs. fact surrounding CD 5 special election result

In the aftermath of Rep.-elect Vance McAllister’s surprising special election win for the Fifth Congressional District, its unanticipated nature has spawned more myth than fact about its meaning present and future. A sorting out of these statements is in order.

The result served as a personal rebuke to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Myth. The perception that the McAllister campaign and others tried to create was that Jindal worked in cahoots with former Rep. Rodney Alexander and defeated runoff candidate state Sen. Neil Riser to time Alexander’s departure with an appointment by Jindal to be Louisiana Secretary of Veterans Affairs. While Jindal never endorsed Riser, each expressed admiration for the others’ record.

The shortcoming to this is it’s unlikely that more than a trivial proportion of voters even considered this to be an issue that, frankly, only a small segment of the public was interested in and debated. Candidates who ran explicitly on this theme, trying to distinguish their own self-articulated conservatism to contrast themselves with Riser’s fared poorly in the general election, because they missed the real issue at hand, being …


Eliminate potential impropiety by making PSC appointive

While it lacks important contextual background and sometimes reads as if it supports a hidden agenda, a series about campaign finance law regarding donations by The New Orleans Times-Picayune and WVUE brings up an interesting question regarding donations to Louisiana’s Public Service Commission. But, just as the best answer to questions about limits to candidates for statewide executive, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and legislative spots is perhaps not what the series authors would support, so is the best answer to the same question regarding the PSC also not something that its commissioners or self-styled reformers would support.

The argument for restricting donations to candidate for these other positions not only is for the most part intellectually lazy, but it also tramples free speech rights. The case against donations because they buy influence is almost without qualification rejected by political science research, although they do serve to buy access. Still, with access easily obtainable this way by a multitude of interests, and with independent-minded policy-makers out there who are expert at playing off interests against each other constrained only by their constituents, it’s clear that no one interest has any structural advantage over any other.

Better supported as a point of concern is the notion that contributions may put a donor close to the head of the line in terms of appointments to boards and commissions, although almost all of these officers have little power and do not receive a salary, but as appointees are expected (or at least anticipated) by appointers to follow that person’s issue preferences, their decisions end up reflecting by and large the will of the majority of the public who put the appointers into the offices where they may appoint. Thus, there is no problem of democratic deficit or having certain interests with outsized influence here, either.


McAllister play to left, expanding base pays off

The unprecedented, if not entirely shocking, victory by Vance McAllister in the special election for the Fifth Congressional District demonstrates just how wacky elections of this nature can turn out, but also points out how such elections results can be produced.

An awful lot of somewhat unlikely things had to happen for McAllister to claim victory over state Sen. Neil Riser in this contest. Trailing Riser by 14 percent but only getting 18 percent of the vote in the general election, the numbers for McAllister to pull this off were daunting. Given the previous results and demographics involved, he simply couldn’t make an appeal to the “anybody but Riser” faction in the electorate, built upon the quaint notion that Riser was an “insider” and he an “outsider.” At a 17 percent turnout level, he would have to win about 70 percent of the defeated candidates’ votes. At 15 percent, it would be 80 percent. Therefore, he needed to boost turnout past these historical norms.

Also, he needed not just to get defeated candidates votes, he had to grab new ones. This would dilute the advantage Riser had by the creation of these new, so to speak, votes for him. Finally, Riser had to do the opposite; that is, his campaign could not expand the electorate much nor attract new voters in order to allow McAllister to eat into his natural advantage coming out of the primary.


Desperate McAllister pandering to left likely fails

You’re a conservative voter eyeing the Fifth Congressional District’s special election and don’t know who to vote for? A desperate statement gives you a good answer to that question that will need resolution this Saturday.

Last month, in the general election for this seat triggered by its early surrender by current Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Rodney Alexander, the majority of voters, mirroring the district’s demographics, chose candidates that held themselves out as conservatives on all issues. However, the majority of them split between the leading vote-getter, state Sen. Neil Riser, who despite having served only six years in the Legislature as his sole elective office was seen as the most establishmentarian candidate, and the one behind him but ahead of all others Vance McAllister, who many saw as the most outside of politics with no elective experience at all. Fueling these perceptions were the vast number of endorsements from other elected officials and influential organizations that Riser received, while McAllister drew support from populist, politically inexperienced sources such as area reality television stars.

As both had run as conservatives, differing impercetibly on issues, this crude “insider/outsider” cleavage served as the only real distinction to a large swath of the electorate. And given that, the numbers from that initial contest, no doubt supplemented by polling done by both Riser, who has pulled in large funding from across state and country, and McAllister, who almost exclusively funded his own campaign to match Riser dollar for dollar, showed that Riser had the advantage, and that a lot of things would have to go wrong for him and/or right for McAllister for Riser not to win the runoff – if that dynamic held.


Limiting remedial teaching best for taxpayers, students

While it may seem an intramural debate to some, much larger implications for taxpayers and students come from decisions where to offer college remedial coursework as well as what role this has in Louisiana’s system of higher education.

Now into its second year of evaluation, the Board of Regents is experimenting with offering these courses at both community colleges and baccalaureate-and-above institutions. The literature seems inconclusive on whether these should be offered at just community colleges or at both levels. For entry into senior institutions, first-time freshmen students must show proficiency in at least one of English and mathematics through minimum American College Test scores well below the national average in each to gain admittance. If coming up short in one, a remedial course must be taken.

The case for not having them taught at both levels is that they dilute these institutions’ resources that should concentrate on students who already have demonstrated capability to succeed. More crucially, faculty members at these senior institutions are a more expensive resource to utilize in this endeavor, which gets passed on to the taxpayer and student, because they have additional service duties and research expectations.


Failed series' exploitation echoes EWE's reign in power

And so The Governor’s Wife crashes and burns, but in a weird way it can serve as a metaphor for the politics that its male lead, Prisoner #03128-095, inflicted upon Louisiana. And the gift keeps on giving.

Known outside the prison walls as former Gov. Edwin Edwards, this reality television series sought to chronicle the trials and tribulations that the octogenarian faced with a wife some five decades his junior, both thrice married and twice divorced, as they blended families and sought to become parents. After a sustainable draw of over a million viewers at its debut, viewership appeared to drop off rapidly and led to the network showing it to offload the remaining episodes quickly and throwing its reruns onto a sister network.

But the drive-by-slowly-to-rubberneck-an-accident quality to it, which leading trade publication Variety called “creepy,” overlay a much darker aspect to it all that no doubt turned off potential viewers and sent others who actually laid eyes on it reaching for their remotes. It was exploitative, of its most prominent victim willingly on his part, and on others not so willingly.


Veterans' Day, 2013

This column publishes 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 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 Monday, Nov. 11 being Veterans' Day, I invite you to explore the links connected to this page.


Empirically defeated, DOJ clings to radical reasoning

The champions of bigger government and the government monopoly education model, having realized the data are against them in their lawsuit against Louisiana’s school voucher program, continue to cling to the hope that judicial fiat produces a radical shift in American jurisprudence to eviscerate the policy.

The Pres. Barack Obama Administration sued Louisiana and its Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, which pays for students in underperforming schools to attend private and public schools that qualify for the program, on the basis that it defied desegregation orders. The remedy it initially asked for was for courts to halt the program, but it amended the suit to asking for court review to give approval for each and every use of a voucher that took a child out of a public school and into a private school in order to see whether, in the court’s opinion, this ran counter to desegregation efforts.

That alteration happened because it soon became apparent just how big of a deviation from the existing jurisprudence on the subject this suit represented. The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education took issue with that attempt by pointing out that the presumed beneficiaries of desegregation, minority race students, were in fact the overwhelming beneficiaries of the program.


Faulty media review of campaign finance hides agenda?

While the series being run by the New Orleans Times-Picayune and WVUE-TV on state campaign finance is marginally helpful, it often leaves readers with misimpressions and misses the obvious reform that would cure the system’s real ills as well as those imagined by the authors.

Over a period of months these media collected publicly-available campaign finance data from 2009-12, essentially duplicating what the state presents already, but added some value in trying to discover among donors common employers and creating an index that can sorted by candidate and geographical area. It then produced several stories highlighting various aspects of the system, hinting that this is in pursuit of some kind of agenda, reform or otherwise.

But while there are no factual errors in the series, the information often is presented in a way that would leave the reader not properly informed about the issue, or with the wrong idea about it. A perfect illustration of this misleading comes from the very title of the series; “Louisiana Purchased.”