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Jindal must lead on LA campaign spending reform

If there’s going to be change to Louisiana’s laws regarding the use of campaign funds, it won’t come this year, and it won’t come from legislators. But it can, and must, come.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune and WVUE-TV in New Orleans continue their series on campaign finance matters, now focusing on spending habits of elected state officials. As opposed to thier efforts reviewing donations, which was plagued with sketchiness that provided poor context for understanding the nature and scope of the significance and impact of donations, especially relative to the First Amendment, this investigation is much more solid in its analysis. It underscores that the general wording of statutes regarding how campaign donations may be spent leads to much leeway that threatens to pervert the intended and essential nature of these offices.

For example, if you spot state Rep. Steve Pugh dining out, go by and have a chat with him. By doing so, he can follow his past practice of ringing up his entire meal from his campaign account, an apparently legal practice such are the open-endedness of the laws (although don’t do it too often: at the end of 2012 he was down to less than $5,000 in that account so he might have to cut back unless he had a good 2013 fundraising year, details on that coming within 10 days).


TOPS reform must address both standards and cost

Another calendar year, another attempt to reform Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students comes to the Legislature. It’s actually a retread of failed previous legislation by state Sen. Blade Morrish, and it continues to make incomplete progress towards the real solution needed to both contains costs and to make the free tuition program work more efficiently so that the state’s higher education system works more effectively.

Morrish’s SB 34, similar to last year’s SB 83, which would cap tuition paid by TOPS by an inflation index for higher education. Currently, it pays the tuition charged at a state school if attending that, and for any other school pays a weighted average of all state school rates, adjusted every two years. This is in response to escalating program costs, thought to total $235 million for this fiscal year, in large part driven by tuition increases now allowed without legislative oversight if schools hit performance benchmarks that mostly have replaced the taxpayer dollars that previously funded higher education.

While it’s a start, the bill does not address the real issues behind the program that now costs nearly a penny on every dollar spent by the state, because it adopts the confused idea behind the program. What started as a need-based enterprise in name was made into a scholarship program, but never has operated as a scholarship program because its standards – basically the same as admissions criteria to get into most baccalaureate-and-above public universities in the state – are relatively so low. It’s more like a promise that if one can get into directly from high school that kind of college, tuition is free, making it really an entitlement more than anything else as its merit standards are undemanding. For that reason, about 70 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen entering in a fall semester end up qualifying.


Obama keeps negating Landrieu campaign narrative

You know, maybe all of those counterfactual assertions that Rep. Bill Cassidy is a stark, raving, closeted liberal are true. That’s the only explanation as to why Pres. Barack Obama is doing everything possible to see that Sen. Mary Landrieu loses her reelection bid to him.

Poor Mary keeps getting the beatdown from her fellow Democrat and Dear Leader, even though she was the crucial vote that foisted the more expensive, worse performing, wealth redistributive overhaul of America’s health care system onto her suffering constituents, among the many other vigorous tail-wags she has surrendered to her master. Worse, the manner in which she continues to get whipped by him negates what she perceives is her major selling point to a Louisiana electorate increasing skeptical of what she professes to be.

Landrieu knows she votes as a liberal, as any voting scorecard will tell you, but a large portion of the voting public doesn’t know about those even as majority of them would reject her if they did. So her gambit has been to try to create the impression that she’s a political moderate, deviating from her party’s unrepentant liberalism on the issues that matter most to Louisianans. Further, she hopes to leverage that figment by claiming her seniority and experience gives her an advantage to any rank newcomer to the Senate (even though Cassidy will have spent six years in Congress by election day 2014), much like an aging prostitute tries to make up for the bloom being off the rose by enticing customers through tantalizing them that she knows a few tricks that the less seasoned girls don’t.


Fix sales tax collection system now, abolish breaks later

A growing dispute over sales taxation never may have happened had the Legislature addressed the matter more decisively and rationally – not because clarity could have been provided, but because it hasn’t fixed the controversy it created in the first place.

Act 298 in 2007 created “cultural districts,” which afford sales tax breaks to “original art” sold in them. Earlier this month the state sanctioned four more of them to create 67 total that includes a pair in Shreveport and one in each of Monroe and West Monroe.

The problem comes from enforcement. The statute creates an exacting set of standards for what qualifies for exemption from state and local tax. For example, if one makes by hand beads and then strings these together, that’s undeniably considered art. But take prefabricated beads and do the same, and it’s not. Sometimes furniture, photographs, rugs, and even clothes are; most of the time, they would not be. Generally, this is left up to self-enforcement by sellers, but government has an interest in some oversight.