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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.