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Left fringe unhinging to stop Democrat deterioration

The manufacturing of outrage against Rep. Steve Scalise tells us far more about the fortunes, strategy, and tactics of Democrats in an era of decline than provide any useful information about issues of the day.

Essentially (an excellent summation of the events is here), the Republican was invited 12 years ago to give a speech to a civic association in Metairie by his next-door neighbor who ran the group. What he didn’t know what the same guy also headed a small group that endorsed former state Rep. David Duke’s white supremacist philosophies and had booked in the same room later that day a meeting of the group. The room had no paraphernalia regarding that group visible at the time, and while the majority of the audience that heard Scalise’s 15-minute speech on state and local issues dealing with taxation, a pitch he apparently gave often that year as the state House of which he then was a member was dealing with controversial changes, some participants from the other group also wandered in. Joining Scalise were representatives of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and the American Red Cross.

Scalise did not remember the event (not surprisingly given its datedness and that he probably has spoken at thousands of similar events), and upon jogging his memory really only recalled the subject matter and that he saw no visible sign that any white supremacists lurked about. Even if he had known the group would be using the room later, he didn’t know specifics about the group, with this lack of knowledge being commonplace among Louisiana politicians (if former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston is any indicator), with the only public information about it apparently having been circulated in a lightly-read local shopper. The rest of the details reported in the media were filled in by the guy who invited him. This was why he made a blanket apology about the appearance even as he didn’t know of the presence of group members at the time.


Possible LA "Independent" party to make no difference

No, there won’t be a significant political party in Louisiana called the Independent Party beginning in 2015, because of the dynamics involved in why people identify politically as “independents.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate took notice of a change in state law in this year’s legislative session that removed the singular prohibition against a party in Louisiana giving itself that name for official purposes, beginning next year. To become an official party that has a label under which candidates for office may run, documents organizing such a party and a $1,000 filing fee can be submitted if the Secretary of State’s office has at least 1,000 people who registered with the identical label. In the state, at registration to vote if one puts down a label other than Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, or Reform, that is tracked but counted in the “no-party” category for classification purposes. The office reports more than 79,000 no-party registrants as having written in “independent.”

This led to speculation that such a new party could form. Since the 1960s, but particularly accelerating in the past two decades, Louisiana has followed the rest of the nation in the trend for people registering to vote not to choose a party label. Many appear to think that these people who refuse thereby signal overwhelmingly that they mean to desert the two major parties out of dissatisfaction with them and hunger for something else. They also point to the occasional success of candidates, in Louisiana such as state Reps. Dee Richard and Terry Brown, who label themselves as independents as the appeal a party with that could have.


Economics, liberties, rights endorse smoking ban

To understand whether New Orleans should ban smoking in public places and what impact this could have throughout Louisiana, it’s necessary to understand the arguments behind the issue that, on the whole, favor such a ban.

Its City Council has served notice that the issue will be considered sometime soon, with the initial contemplated legislation covering not just inside almost every place of public commerce or within 25 feet of the entrance of such a place or in the case of schools 200 feet, but also includes any publicly-owned property indoor or outdoor. The only exceptions would be some lodging rooms, some assisted living quarters, and places where large quantities of tobacco are sold or manufactured. State law sets down minimum standards where smoking may be banned but allows local governments to go further.

This argument occurs over three dimensions. The economic component looks to see whether far-reaching bans would impact negatively economic activity, which implies a loss of government revenues as well. Opponents to bans historically in many different locations trot out alleged evidence that bans would create such a negative impact.


Casino benefits overblown, 2 decades in NW LA show

Twenty years on, while the impact of the presence of casinos in Shreveport and Bossier City is unclear, with certainty it’s not unambiguously positive. And it provides potential validation for those place in the state that have rejected the siting of casinos.

This spring marked the anniversary of the establishment of the first in Shreveport, and by 2000 there were two on the west bank and three on the east bank of the Red River. Almost a year ago, the latest entrant camped in Bossier City. When in 1991 these were legalized beyond the one land-based casino in New Orleans, after a lengthy process of licensing then building, then-Harrah’s in Shreveport became the first to operate outside of New Orleans.

At the time, proponents said that not only would local governments cash in well with casino gambling, but also they would indirectly from sales and property taxes generated by employees of the jobs created. As it transpired, such sentiments have been proved questionable.


Christmas Day, 2014

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 (Easter always being on a Sunday).

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


Political vendetta continues against LA hospital plan

Politics continues to drive the issue of financing Louisiana’s transition from state-run to state-overseen hospital care for the indigent, leaving it uncertain whether the state will be forced to pay back some money to the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finally approved the state’s deals for the majority of its state-owned hospitals that turn over management to nongovernment concerns. Through the first year of operation by doing so the state has saved $52 million and expanded services. But HHS also alleged that part of the financing arrangement violated regulations in that it relied upon front-loading lease payments by the operators. It essence, it claimed that early delivery of these provided additional money for the state to use to obtain reimbursement of Disproportionate Share Hospital claims (the federal government typically pays about three-fifths of these), to the tune of $190 million. Regulations forbid anything that is not a payment for service, so if this interpretation were to be accepted, the state would have to pay that back.

Logically speaking, HHS’s never has been a convincing argument. A lease payment is a lease payment regardless of its timing and does not turn into a “donation” just because it’s early. And it makes perfect sense for these kinds of early payments as an inducement for the operators to stay on the job; in fact, amendments forced upon the state in this review process made it easier for operators to bail out earlier, magnifying the value of this tactic. If an operator shows good faith to see through the length of the contract by paying more of it up front, then it is likelier not to terminate the contract early if it know its payments are going to go lower in future years. Making all lease payments equal only encourages instability in the program.


Experience confiming Medicaid expansion bad for LA

Undoubtedly spendthrift Democrats looking to back up certain special interests and media mavens with pretensions of moral superiority will jawbone legislators and Gov. Bobby Jindal to accept expansion of Medicaid starting next fiscal year in this upcoming spring’s legislative session. They will do so only by ignoring the mounting evidence that, in any form, it proves a bad deal for Louisianans.

Expansion would provide free insurance to those making 25-100 percent of the federal poverty income limit; currently, these people obtain medical care by appearing at a health care facility where they must be treated or referred at no cost to put them out of medical danger. The state estimates that through 2023 expansion would have cost the state at least hundreds of millions of dollars. In the most likely scenario, by 2030 the cost to taxpayers would end up about $1 billion extra under expansion than under the current regime. Under the least optimistic scenario, costs would have been over $2 billion extra through 2023.

Jindal has pointed to the Medicaid program’s structure as a major reason for the considerable costs, and proposed his own federal overhaul to make it more efficient. Those ideas translated to the state level were passed into law this year, but would need those federal changes to implement. With that unlikely to happen until election of a reform-minded president in 2016, some supporters have tried to grasp onto other states’ efforts that don’t ask for major federal reform but with tweaks.


Market forces may turn to STP Luddites' advantage

The first round went against the inhabitants of Fortress St. Tammany. Likely, every round will. But, in the end, part of their inconsistent ideology may end up winning the fight for them.

Last week, Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation ruled that Helis Oil & Gas should receive a permit to drill a vertical well in a tract in the parish. It’s not like this is unprecedented: dozens of wells dot the parish. That the company could come back several months later from doing such and then petition to drill horizontally is what has gotten the attention of the parish’s resident Luddites.

St. Tammany, if going by voter registrations and records, is perhaps the most conservative parish in the state. By way of example, on Nov. 4 for the U.S. Senate it graced (short-time) hometown boy Republican Rob Maness with 19 percent of the vote where he only got 14 percent statewide, and on that day Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy got 52 percent of the parish vote as opposed to his 41 percent statewide. Then on Nov. 6, Cassidy galloped into the Senate with 56 percent of the vote statewide, but hauled in a whopping 72 percent in the parish.


Bossier City fiddles while arena burns taxpayer dollars

Last week, Bossier City lawmakers shot down a pay raise for employees, where having no such hikes has become the norm over the past few years. Maybe if the city hadn't played venture capitalist in the name of economic development, this would not have happened.

This comes from about a dozen years existence of what’s now called the CenturyLink Center. Flush with cash with the introduction of riverboat casinos in the 1990s and with the familiar gnaw of Shreveport envy tugging, the city’s elected officials (with councilors Jeff Darby and Bubba Williams still with us from then, and current Mayor Lo Walker having ascended from being the city’s chief administrative officer) decided to build the mid-sized multipurpose arena on the taxpayer dime. Of course, had a market existed for this, the private sector would have obliged, but politicians charged on, telling the public it could be done for under $40 million but which ended up costing half again more.

That and controversy over its siting (which drew big opposition from residents in the areas around the Jimmie Davis Bridge) cost some city council members their elective careers in 2001. It’s just plain cost taxpayers since, with a total deficit running into the millions of dollars since its opening in 2000, as reflected by the fact that in all of those years operating revenues exceeded operating costs except for two, meaning the city has transferred in through 2013 approaching $5 million that could have been spent on other city operations.


Event tempts some to contradict university's mission

The staging of an event at Louisiana State University Baton Rouge’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center has raised the question about whether events at state facilities ought to be censored over free speech concerns of its sponsors, and is worth some exploration.

A prayer rally termed “The Response” is scheduled there Jan. 24 of next year and has caused controversy because the main sponsor behind it is the American Family Association. The organization has gained recognition for organizing boycotts of and registering legal complaints against television programs and movies that show higher amounts of graphic sex, violence, or language, and generally supports traditional morality in public policy. As a result, it strongly has condemned the practice of homosexuality and laws that legitimize it in the public sphere, such as same-sex marriage.

In turn, supporters of the concept that policy should protect expressions of homosexual behavior bitterly oppose the group. The absurdly-named Southern Poverty Law Center – being as its assets are over a quarter billion dollars – quaintly calls the AFA a “hate group,” which is the standard appellation it levies on groups who promote an agenda to which it disagrees, rendering it the genuine hate group of them all. Elements that apparently agree with that assessment seek to protest the event and to change policy concerning facility rental. To make matters more interesting, the event’s guest of honor appears to be Gov. Bobby Jindal.


Watering down TOPS subverts its beneficial impact

A recent opinion piece by a private university leader in Louisiana suggests less in the way of achieving educational excellence for those who attend college in the state than it does to encourage increase lining of his school’s pockets.

Dillard University Pres. Walter Kimbrough, upon reviewing the results of a recent report concerning statistics about the state’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which pays tuition at the highest state-school level for any university in the state for students who have graduated from high schools in state, or who were home schooled, or who meet other special qualifications if certain qualifications are met, declared the program “is more of an engine of inequality than it is of opportunity.” The program began out of a private effort by philanthropist Patrick Taylor to fund college for at-risk children in New Orleans who were able to graduate from high school.

But when the state institutionalized this into law using public money in 1998, the program as a tool to send students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to college became only one goal for use of that money. Incredibly modest merit standards were put into place for qualification to earn it, which today means that a student graduating from a high school to pursue non-technical study must pass there a certain number of core courses, achieve a 2.5 grade point average, and score a 20 composite on the American College Test.


2014 scenarios should prompt end of blanket primary

For some time this space has argued that Louisiana not only should return to closed primaries for Congressional elections, but for all elections. In the wake of 2014 elections favoring Republicans in the state, other voices have joined in perhaps through surveying GOP wins that might have turned out differently that could not have if the blanket primary system had been junked.

Perhaps most strikingly, Republicans nearly threw away a safe seat on – and thus the effective majority on it – the Public Service Commission as the stealth candidate phenomenon came calling to its District 1 contest. In the general election, incumbent Eric Skrmetta polled only 37 percent of the all-Republican field, one point behind Forest Bradley Wright with the remainder of the vote but not enabling him to make the runoff going to perennial candidate Al Leone.

But Wright only two years earlier had run as a Democrat in a different district (there is no residency requirement for these), gaining just a fifth of the vote, and had not changed his hard left environmentalist agenda. However, enough voters in the heavily-conservative district became aware of this so that Skrmetta pulled out a win by about 4,000 votes in the runoff.


Mitch Landrieu candidacy can't resurrect Democrats

While a proper understanding of the precarious political position Louisiana Democrats find themselves in certainly globally would assist the party, perhaps no one would benefit more from knowing this than their own New Orleans Gov. Mitch Landrieu in terms of what to do with his political life. And while those options don’t look great, his chances of maximizing them depends upon comprehending the most valid interpretation.

As previously noted, the blowout loss of his sister Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu to Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy to retain her present Senate seat has been understood poorly by many on the political left. Some wish to ignore its root causes and plan to sail on without learning its lessons: when leftist candidates are seen for what they truly are, which will be the case going forward in Louisiana, they cannot win statewide nor legislative majorities in Louisiana. The trick to recovery, then, is for Democrats to preach less in the way of the extreme liberalism that emanates out of today’s White House and (in a month) the minority parties in Congress, not to double down on it.

An objection to this argument declares that a moderating strategy that became more like a less far-reaching version of conservatism than like liberalism ultimately would fail because Democrats would end up echoing Republicans and voters torn between the two would still side with the real thing. Instead, this view holds out hope that traditional modern liberalism can appeal on economic issues to win back enough voters to make the party competitive, if not able to win majorities.


Better choices out there for LA governor than Cain

It might surprise readers to know that the idea of the warden of Louisiana’s most prominent prison running for governor is neither unprecedented nor futile: the only man ever to defeat Huey Long in an election was Henry Fuqua upon winning the governor’s race in 1924, with his only political experience and also previous job title for eight years having been the warden at the Louisiana State Prison in Angola. Yet that shouldn’t mean an embryonic candidacy of the current chief there Burl Cain either is realistic nor desirable.

While the state’s media may report the notion of Cain’s jousting for the state’s top spot, apparently juiced by anonymous social media postings, as something novel, in fact this talk has circulated previously, as noted warily by the far left in reference to the 2011 election. Cain has carved out a history as a prison reformer that puts the locus on reformation of the individual from within, that believes good, hard, honest work spurs such reformation (or at least helps the miscreant square his debt to society), and that religious belief and its expression does wonders to subsume and control man’s tendency towards evil.

In Cain’s nearly two decades heading up Angola, he has achieved near-celebrity status on the basis of helping to turn what once had been a dreadful operation into one that prides itself on its safety (a large portion of its population is murderers and the large majority are lifers), its multitude of enterprises that pay for some of its operations (including loaning itself out for documentaries and feature films), certain high-profile prisoner-run aspects such as its rodeo and newspaper, and the relatively high proportion of evangelization spread among its inmates. Critics maintain that Cain treats some prisoners too harshly (the most recent allegation being over its ambient death row temperatures) and severity depends upon whether they embrace religiosity, especially of his evangelical kind.


Lack of Democrat self-awareness dooms their fortunes

Some obviously get it; others don’t. As activist Louisiana Democrats fall into the latter category, that only serves to reinforce the prediction made recently in this space.

The inevitable postmortems of the collapse of their state party as a result of the blowout GOP wins by all kinds of its candidates over all kinds of theirs came out about the same time as the syndicated version of this space produced its version. Some of the more thoughtful observers, such as national political newsletter writer Stuart Rothenberg who noted increasingly partisan politics based upon ideological differentiation explained Rep. Bill Cassidy’s swamping of Sen. Mary Landrieu in her futile reelection attempt, and my professional colleagues who understand that issue preferences are driving more than ever voting behavior in the south and their differenences between parties have become starker as national Democrats continue to champion ideology at odds with the majority in Louisiana and a vast majority of its whites, creating a dilemma for the party’s success.

But the problem facing Democrats is that if these voices are listened to among the party’s supporters, activists, and leaders, then they are being disregarded. Some merely misread the environment, such as state political newsletter writer Jeremy Alford. He explains the Landrieu blowout ultimately came because “the GOP pushed emotion, not necessarily a candidate.” In reality, for many voters in that contest emotion had less to do with their decision and issues more, much more than perhaps ever for a U.S. Senate contest in the state.


Voters acting in own interests sideline LA Democrats

Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014 marked the end of the transformation of Louisiana’s political party system, as every imaginable Republican defeated, and then some, every imaginable Democrat, a scenario unthinkable when Sen. Mary Landrieu first got herself elected to statewide office in 1987.

In these elections for Louisiana to fill its slate of federal elected officials, Democrat Landrieu struggled in her reelection bid against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, in the process becoming the first incumbent to lose from the state in over 80 years. Even as she lost by 12 percent, compared to her down-ballot colleagues she didn’t do badly.

In the Fifth Congressional District political newcomer Republican Dr. Ralph Abraham rolled up over 60 percent of the vote in triumphing over Democrat Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, and in the Sixth Congressional District longtime political aide and appointee Republican Garret Graves did the same against Democrat former Gov. Prisoner #03128-095. This will leave starting next year the only such Democrat in Louisiana being Rep. Cedric Richmond.


Change desire expressed by Shreveport, Caddo voters

When looking at the sum total of local elections in Caddo Parish this year, throwing out bums, or at least not letting them into office, erupted as the overall theme among voters.

Not entirely accidentally the highest profile contest, Shreveport mayor, saw the two quality candidates least connected to previous electoral office advance to the runoff. Rank amateur Victoria Provenza dispatched a sitting city councilman and state representative, while winner Ollie Tyler only had executive experience as a political appointee to run the parish’s largest government (by operating budget the Caddo Parish School District) but her first election try which brought victory now puts her in charge of the entity in the parish with the second largest budget.

Tyler defeated Provenza, a white no-party candidate, because she was a black Democrat in a city where 41.7 percent of registered voters are black Democrats. More interesting is that the other two major officeholders who didn’t make the runoff also were black Democrats. These electorally experienced candidates got rejected. While Tyler was perceived by many to be the choice of outgoing Mayor Cedric Glover, she does represent something of a break with a mayor under whose leadership Shreveport seemed to stagnate.


Moribund Democrats look to put up stealth candidates

As Louisiana Democrats find themselves sliding into political oblivion, they find on offer two strategies to become meaningful again at the statewide level: adapt to the median voter’s issue preference, or to rely on subterfuge. Early indications are their hardheaded leaders will rely on the latter.

As the party as a whole, mimicking its national superstructure, has drifted away from the preferences of Louisiana’s majority, not surprisingly voters have turned away from it. It lost its legislative majorities shortly before the 2011 elections, not long before the switch by Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to the GOP gave the state all Republicans in statewide state elected offices. The year before, the U.S. House of Representatives delegation had gone all Republican except for the sole black-majority district in the state, and now with the rout suffered by Sen. Mary Landrieu last weekend in her bid for reelection, no one elected statewide is a Democrat. Keep in mind that two decades ago Democrats held all statewide elected offices, all but two U.S. House districts, and 85 percent of the seats in the Legislature.

Voting publics do not shift so radically in preferences, but party elites do, and thus if they wish to be more successful electorally they must persuade the public to vote for them – clearly unsuccessfully – or moderate their extremism in issue preferences. Yet as the campaigns of Landrieu and other Democrat competitors for House seats this fall – who endured defeats worse than Landrieu’s – showed, Democrat elites don’t exactly seem open to that.


Luck doesn't save Landrieu this time, gets crushed

Almost two years ago this space identified data showing Sen. Mary Landrieu’s reelection bid was in trouble. As more became available, some 375 days ago it noted “it’s now questionable that she isn’t a distinct underdog.” Eight months ago, speaking to Landrieu’s (as the headline read) “desperation,” data were to the point that this space could declare “It’s now Rep. Bill Cassidy’s 2014 Senate race to lose.” Her defeat for reelection tonight only validates what was obvious for a long time.

Recently noted was the main reason Landrieu lost, and convincingly so: societal and technological changes made this kind of election evolve into one where ideology became important, and with Landrieu being so out-of-touch with the state’s majority no amount of fig leaves courtesy of a few deliveries of pork and lip service about energy could cover the massive number of ideological warts her voting behavior blemished into her.

And you didn’t need polling data to understand the environmental dynamics that, at best, made her even money odds to retain the post to begin with as soon as Cassidy entered the contest. She faced a well-financed challenger (of course, understand that candidates that can snare a lot of donations demonstrate they are quality to begin with) as the state continued to turn more conservative in its political behavior (witness increasing Republican registrations and rapidly declining numbers of registered Democrats) in a year where no winning presidential candidate could juice turnout for her or during a midterm election without a president of the other party to give reason to vote for her as means of voting against him (typically in midterm elections the party of the president loses seats in Congress, almost always in the House but more often than not in the Senate, for this reason). The situation for her was marginal already without including a disastrous voting record.


LA job creation tax breaks need overhaul, reduction

The excellent series on the value brought by tax exceptions continues in the Baton Rouge Advocate with a piece on property tax exemptions and payments for job creations by large firms, complementing earlier information about enterprise zones. Together, they point the way to needed reforms of these jobs credit programs.

Large projects either may qualify for money doled out by the state on a case-by-case basis that could include money up front but also requires performance standards on metrics such as money spent and jobs created by the employer, or qualify for rebates or exemptions through programs built in state law. In the case of the former, the state can claw back money if the targets aren’t met.

Enterprise zones spending constitutes a tax rebate for employers that expand their workforces by at least 10 percent by having 35 percent of those hires living in a zone, which are areas judged as distressed economically by the state using metrics such as high unemployment rates, low income levels, and the number of residents living below the poverty level; or if they received public assistance; or if they lacked basic skills; or if they were “unemployable by traditional standards” because they lacked training, had a criminal record, or were physically challenged. Previously, the law stated only that an employer locate in a zone.


Vitter nature more than politics explains CCSS switch

So Sen. David Vitter flopped/evolved on the issue of the Common Core State Standards, pursuant to his quest for the governorship of Louisiana next year. It should have come as no surprise, given what strategy has taken him to his present lofty political heights, but it likely won’t make much policy difference even should he win.

The Republican has ascended to becoming the most consequential of his party in the state’s history because he has done well to meld principled conservatism with the anti-conservative populism declining but still ingrained in the state’s political culture. While never being mistaken for anything but a genuine conservative – his lifetime American Conservative Union voting scorecard record in Congress being 92.4 – his occasional forays into populist issues that seek to portray him as fighting for the common man against oppressive bureaucracy that favors special interests at the little guy’s expense allow him to tap into the political right’s less-reasoned, more-visceral conservative strain of populism.

Common Core is an issue made to take on populist interpretations, on which both the left and right have jumped wholeheartedly. While the left spins fables that the enterprise, which identifies learning methods and creates learning goals that should be reached by these, constitutes some kind of corporate takeover of education designed to line pockets of bogeymen and to grind teachers into dust, the right has more rational concerns that standards of achievement will mutate into national control of education content by an aggressive federal government. Either line fits into a populist paradigm.


Ceding ground, Cassidy still maintains control of race

Heading into Monday night, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy had only two missions to accomplish against Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in the post-general election debate: not say anything stupid and rebut her accusations of his corruption. After the hour expired, so had her reelection chances.

Until last week, Cassidy only had to perform the former. Every indicator revealed him on a clear path to victory, with Republican candidates garnering 57 percent of the vote in the general election, his enjoying a double-digit lead in polling, and early voting statistics having swung in his favor. Perhaps more precisely, even as they can be imprecise, early voting totals cast foreboding over Landrieu’s campaign, with Republicans increasing their turnout while Democrats’ dropped, especially among blacks, where post-election statistics and exit poll results that Landrieu got 94 percent of the black vote but only 18 percent of the white vote suggest 64 percent of the votes she received were from blacks makes that especially troubling for her.

Then accusations that Cassidy didn’t work enough hours to fulfill a state contract surfaced, regardless of whether there was plausible deniability that it tacitly was coordinated by her campaign. For most of his time in Congress, Cassidy worked a few hours a week overseeing medical students and in consultations, being the only specialist in his discipline in the Louisiana State University hospital system and having that employment authorized by the House.

Put comprehensive LA tax reform back on agenda

Taking a cue from this space, the Baton Rouge Advocate ran an excellent piece amplifying the issue of the distortive effects of Louisiana’s tax exceptions for corporations. But it didn’t go so far as to point out the policy direction to take to ameliorate the problems, which this space now will address.

Echoing many of the concerns noted recently here, the article points out that several large breaks (although it missed the fact that in its gigging of the solar system tax credit that this goes away at the end of 2017) have grown dramatically in recent years – an important point because while from 2009 to 2013 the proportion of the total state-generated tax revenues that the total amount of all tax breaks represented varied only between 47.8 percent and 52.8 percent, this was only 0.4 percent higher in 2013 than in 2009. This means that clipping just a very few, high-volume programs (which was done to solar in 2013) could bring a significant reduction in revenues lost, so long as the revenues gained from their existence did not exceed the amount paid out.

And it’s unlikely that they do, for while almost no benefit/cost studies currently are performed on these, for one of the biggest it is legally required every other year – the motion picture investor tax credit, which only makes a dollar back in tax revenues for every seven forgone (the article claims one in four, although that may include local tax revenues as well but, if so, errs in not accounting for local film tax credits that some jurisdictions give out as a total cost in tax revenues). The article tries to build the case for the others anecdotally in noting that there didn’t seem to be changes in industry behavior due to the credits, although sometimes that explaining clumsily; while natural gas activity that could take advantage of the horizontal drilling credit obviously fluctuates closely with the price of the resource, that doesn’t mean at the margins more gas won’t be produced with the credit and in fact this probably is amplified because the credit only is in play during the most productive portion of a well’s life.


Landrieu mudsling unlikely to alter runoff dynamics

The “Hail Mary” to try to burnish embattled Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office-holding credentials came earlier this month. Now has come the “Hail Mary” that seeks to damage the front-running opponent to unseat her Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy – and neither will get the job done,

Polling shows Landrieu trailing badly in the runoff phase of her reelection attempt, after disappointing electoral returns in the general election. Immediately after Nov. 4, where she barely led Cassidy but came up way short of a majority mainly because of the presence of candidate Republican Rob Maness, she tried to shore up a main support to her campaign narrative, that being allegedly her effectiveness and indispensability to the state, by trying to get through the Senate a bill to override Pres. Barack Obama’s objection to the extension of the Keystone XL pipeline. That effort failed by one vote, so the spin there became that at least she had gotten it to a vote after years of obstruction by Senate Democrats.

The next phase in the operation was to find a way to impugn Cassidy. To wit, right before Thanksgiving, ostensibly separate accounts essentially simultaneously hit the Internet about how Cassidy, who worked on a contractual basis with the Louisiana State University Medical Center in Baton Rouge while as a Member of Congress, had seeming inconsistencies in his performance to fulfill it. Basically it was argued that he had shortchanged the school about an hour-and-a-half a week in that salary.


Voters thinking ideologically explains Landrieu failure

If we seek to understand the political behavior in and political culture in Louisiana, we must interpret correctly what the capstone 2014 elections signal in regards to electoral preferences in the state. Incomplete, if not erroneous, attempts to do so fail to accomplish this.

It’s not that 2014’s results, which will culminate in the dumping of the last statewide elected Democrat likely for some time, represent some kind of sea change. Rather, they stand as marker of the completion of a process that began some decades ago. As previously noted, Louisiana’s political culture has changed significantly in this time period as in-migration brought a competing political culture, educational delivery improved substantially that increased the cognitive capacity of the public as a whole by which to evaluate politics, and informational channels exponentially enlarged, freeing citizens from overreliance on established elites such as politicians, political organizations, and the traditional media for knowledge about politics.

These forces have transformed the political culture into what the instrument that symbolizes that the tipping point has passed, Rep. Bill Cassidy, calls the “post-pork” paradigm of Louisiana politics. To expand on this, that means that a critical mass of voters have formed that place issue evaluation before candidate image and (what actually happened long ago for many people calling themselves Democrats) partisanship. For national contests now, a controlling bloc of Louisiana voters now are enabled to understand policy implications emanating from issues important to their well-being, to know with accuracy candidates’ preferences and actions relative to those issues, and to relate the two.


Restructure LA elderly services to improve efficiency

The next step in state Rep. Joe Harrison’s war on efficiency in state government may end up backfiring in becoming the impetus to more efficient government in the area of elderly affairs policy.

For the past few years, Harrison has tried to birth an entire new bureaucracy in this area, commencing when the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration sought to fold oversight of all elderly affairs matters into the Department of Health and Hospitals. This would have threatened the absurdly decentralized system that empowers and directs money to local nonprofit agencies, one in each parish, known as Councils on Aging. Federal law has states designate Area Agencies on Aging to disburse federal dollars, overseen by a designated state agency, in Louisiana’s case the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs.

GOEA’s functions would have been subsumed by DHH, but resistance from COAs, where Harrison became their legislative point man, resulted only in a partial transfer. Unlike other states, most of which create a dozen or two AAAs as implementers, in Louisiana half of all AAAs are COAs, with four others acting as umbrella organizations directing the other half. This creates much inefficiency in administration, with many functions duplicated and lack of standardization of processes and procedures that falls to GOEA to coordinate. Worse, it gives COAs as a whole outsized influence in this policy area with little incentive to induce efficiency as that would scale back their individual authority and budgets.


Certain tax exemptions to blame for budget woes

Once again, budget adjustments towards the middle of Louisiana’s fiscal year have had to be made, illustrating a particularly problematic part of the state’s fiscal structure that hampers ability to budget accurately and to capture revenues efficiently without hampering economic growth.

The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration announced it wrung cost savings of around $50 million from government operations, involving noncritical services and mostly from a spending freeze, vacant job eliminations, and contract curtailment, of which about five-eighths must be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, and cobbled together about $130 million more revenues to close the gap of $181 million. Of the revenues, about $24 million comes from a funds sweep, around $74 million from underestimating revenues dedicated to other purposes that could be repackaged into the general fund, and the remainder was bonus tax amnesty receipts. None of the revenues found can be counted upon to show up in the future.

The sixth of these in seven years begs a few questions, starting with why the powers that be involved in revenue determination, essentially the staffs of both the Governor’s Office and Legislature Fiscal Office, seem to miss on revenue projections. In fact, from the first budget over which Jindal had control, fiscal year 2009, through the last fiscal year for which data are complete, FY 2013, the average overestimation was about $375 million – and FY 2009 actually turned out to be underestimation of about that magnitude, meaning successive years had much higher overestimations. And in reality the estimations usually are pretty good on the general fund side, which is mostly income and sales taxes, where over the FY 2009-13 period all but one year had forecasts barely under the actual results, that being FY 2010 when the forecast overshot the actual by nearly $1 billion.


Schedler dissent unwisely attacks free speech rights

Louisiana’s Sec. of State Tom Schedler seems all out of whack about a constitutional exercise, for reasons that don’t appear obvious or even fathomable, as the first phase of the state’s fall elections has come to a close with the remainder in full swing.

Over the past few weeks, not only in Louisiana but in many places across the country, the group Americans for Prosperity, a social welfare organization best known for gaining vigorous support from industrialists David and Charles Koch, whom the political left demonizes as the Svengalis of American politics, has been sending out postcards to some registered voters. In Louisiana, they appear to take the form of indicating whether the voter has voted in the past two national elections, while in other states reports are these also may include neighbors’ voting frequencies.

AFP has access to this information because the public does. It’s a matter of public record, and in Louisiana Schedler’s office will be glad to sell that information to anyone. Other organizations also make this information public, often through subscription services. Yet Schedler got all upset about this, fuming that “When you put [voting histories] on a postcard, I don't think that is appropriate,” and averring that he will want legislation next year to limit what can be placed on the outside of a piece of mail.


Reliance on dwindling group hampers LA Democrats

If we needed any confirmation of why Democrats have fallen from any meaningful power in Louisiana, we need only observe the intervention of the base upon which it dominated state politics into the congressional campaign of Prisoner #03128-095, the microcosm of the old Louisiana political culture, in the guise of Juror 68.

His given name being Victor Durand, he gained notoriety when during the 2000 racketeering trial of the Democrat ex-governor formerly known as Edwin Edwards he managed to get himself removed for repeated violations of juror standards, such as potential telegraphing of his presence on the jury to Edwards, refusing to participate in deliberations, bringing in study aids such as a dictionary to jury deliberations, and leaving these with notes, and then initially lying about it. He claims he had said aloud he thought Edwards likely was innocent and was subjected to intimidation as a result, and this he charged was why he got removed.

Had he carried through on his alleged stated intention, that would have thrown the case into a mistrial and, as in 1986 on a related influence-peddling case, Edwards could have been tried again (in that instance, he skated), or not. But as was confirmed both at the appellate level and at the Supreme Court, where judges (unanimously at a panel at the circuit level and the Court turning down hearing an appeal) noted the district court had acted properly in the matter, this did not detract from Edwards’ guilt. While Edwards may have made claims since then that he was railroaded by political enemies, it seems extremely far-fetched that circuit court judges and justices of the Supreme Court were out to get him as well. He merited his felony conviction that landed him in the klink.


Tyler in control of off-script Shreveport mayoral race

Most remarkably, to date the 2014 Shreveport’s mayor race has refused to play to form, but it probably will do so in its last stage.

As the year began, state Rep. Patrick Williams was maneuvering to become a fusionist candidate between races and major parties to position himself as the main opposition to forces behind Mayor Cedric Glover, whose ally City Councilman Sam Jenkins appeared poised to represent those forces. No white candidate then appeared emergent to rally Republican votes against these black Democrats.

But then Jenkins made what turned out to be a temporary suspension of his campaign, and elites connected to Glover’s city hall appeared to coalesce around former Caddo Parish School District Superintendent Ollie Tyler. Meanwhile, as many Republicans remained sanguine about putting up a candidate in the wake of the miserable showing their favored candidate had four years previously, the independent and political novice Victoria Provenza stepped into the void.


Don't ask LA citizenry to subsidize Obamacare more

Like herpes, the Patient Protection and (Un)Affordable Care Act, known derisively as “Obamacare,” is the gift that keeps on giving, this time threatening to bring additional injury to Louisiana taxpayers over salary payments to teachers.

Because of the law’s provision that any non-small organization offer and subsidize health care insurance to employees of at least 30 hours a week or pay a $2,000 fine for each, either way this would cause a substantial increase in costs. Thus, many school districts across the state are reducing the number of hours a substitute may teach, for generally after three days a week of substitute teaching another day would bump them over the limit. In turn, this is reducing the amount of available hours from the existing pool of substitutes, leading in many places to a shortage of instructors.

In response, one affected superintendent conjectured that an increase in the amount a retired teacher could gain in salary as a substitute from 25 to 50 percent of pension income, set by state law, could alleviate the bottleneck. Except for positions of critical shortage that do not have to follow this standard, the cap prevents teachers from retiring and then double-dipping to any large extent, but by relaxing this requirement, theoretically as substitutes they could double their hours (and for those that would go over 30 hours as a result, insuring them should be moot as they already would have as part of post-employment benefits, largely paid by the state) and take up the slack now thrust upon districts by Obamacare.


Operating funds, not roads, deserve highest priority

Drowned out in elections hoopla was the annual fall exercise of members of the Louisiana Legislature’s transportation committees hitting the road to solicit input on funding transportation items. In the course of this, one member, Chairman of the Senate Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee state Sen. Robert Adley, made some observations about funding that raise an interesting policy question worth some pondering.

Adley noted that, of the about $12.3 billion in identified spending on infrastructure in the state, this year only about 5 percent of that will get addressed. That means in 20 years it all could be taken care of, except that, of course, new things continue to emerge. So, practically speaking, the backlog on some items may go on for at least a decade.

It’s an issue he and other legislators have voiced concern about in the past, most recently when some of them complained about the state giving extra money than statutorily required for roads to parishes and how other dollars dedicated to roads were siphoned off to be spent on state police. Besides stopping these practices, Adley has thrown out another idea to whittle down the backlog.


Change incorporation laws to increase process fairness

With the incorporation petition for the proposed municipality of St. George undergoing vetting for validity, that very process plagued with political ambiguity, the Louisiana Legislature would act wisely to reform the process for that and annexation next year.

Given the legal parameters as currently exist, organizers opted to turn in the petition, on which there was no time limit to gather signatures, earlier than they had anticipated, the main problem being that nobody really knows what the law has to say definitively on the matter. During the roughly year-long collection effort, Baton Rouge-based interests not wanting the formation of a competitor city next to it annexed parcels of land designed to make a new entity less financially viable, so the actual number of signatures needed – one quarter of the area anticipated to be incorporated – is unknown because the boundaries kept changing, the eligible signatures kept changing, and the amount of them needed kept changing. Even though organizers wanted 20,000, well over the presumed target in the neighborhood of 17,750 (although it may be closer to 16,500), they turned them only a few hundred above that number, cognizant that time was working against them in terms of signatures remaining eligible (some who signed may have moved away or annexed out in the interim) and in legal motions Baton Rouge interests were making that try to invalidate the whole operation.

The entire episode pointed out shortcomings in the existing law regarding the creation of new cities and adding to those already in place – a timeline where petitioners could choose when to submit on the basis of estimated success in getting valid signatures and at the ballot box (through this in essence being able to choose when on the election calendar the item appears) and cities being able to subvert the process through defensive annexations that creates confusion and potentially thwarting electoral processes – and thus begs for statutory clarification. That does not mean an unwise embargo on all of these efforts, as attempted in one effort that fizzled last session, but by a reconceptualization of the process that brings order and fairness effective at the beginning of the state’s next fiscal year.


Despite electoral result, Maness political future dim

Defeated Republican Senate candidate Rob Maness apparently on his terms endorsed Rep. Bill Cassidy for that office. Which leads to the question of whether he really got anything politically out of that as it relates to any elective future he might have.

Despite almost immediately after it became clear that he would not advance to the Dec. 6 runoff that will feature Republican Cassidy and Democrat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu he said he would endorse Cassidy in short order, it was not until six days later that Maness actually did so. Whether he held out the endorsement in exchange for being given a prominent place at or even putting on a “unity” event where he delivered it is unknown. However, that he did not endorse immediately suggests some kind of bargaining went on.

That was a wasting asset of sorts for Maness if he expected to have any future political career, for the longer he held out, the more Republicans would suspect his interests in running for office has little to do with party-building and assisting with implementation of the Republican agenda. The more quickly he bestowed his imprimatur, the more favorably the majority of Republican activists who doubted his commitment to the party’s fielding winning candidates – after all, his presence in this one cost Cassidy an outright win – would come around to embracing him as a future stalwart in office-seeking endeavors, if not becoming a part of the state GOP’s activist network.


UNO political science Ph.D. program worth keeping

We interrupt an important election season and therefore also a steadily-building backlog of local and state policy issues that deserve (and will get) discussion to bring you what may seem trivial to many, but which is near and dear to my heart: the University of New Orleans looks to want to move forward with the elimination of its doctoral degree in political science. On the whole, there are better alternatives that should be pursued.

It’s hard to blame UNO, battered as it has been by the aftermath of the hurricane disaster of 2005. Not only the considerable physical damage done to the campus that prevented holding traditionally-delivered classes for months and cost so much to repair that siphons money still, but also and worse were the demographic changes that sapped enrollment. UNO was designed explicitly to serve as an urban university geared towards non-traditional students, and when that market became somewhat hollowed by the disaster, enrollment tumbled and today is barely half of where it was a decade ago, exacerbated by the ongoing effort to right-size the overbuilt higher education sector in Louisiana, which shifted more revenue-raising to tuition rather than from taxpayers, making enrollment an even bigger factor in funding.

As a result, the school engaged in a self-study to determine which programs to retain or to restructure in order to bring costs more in line with identifiable revenue generating activities. That report has been issued, with the president Peter Fos to deliver the final recommendations to the University of Louisiana System in December. A couple of dozen programs are recommended to be reconfigured, and a few eliminated.