Given the state’s populist political history, is it any wonder Louisiana legislators won’t stop doling out considerable corporate welfare to the newspaper industry when they think it’s their obligation to submit to a shakedown by it?
Yesterday, HB 141 by state Rep. Kevin Pearson got tuned up so badly by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that it got put up life support with the plug scheduled to be pulled by session’s end. The bill would have scrapped the requirement that at least 60 days before introduction any bill affecting retirement systems have notice of it printed in the state’s official journal, currently (as it has been for decades) the Baton Rouge Advocate. The Constitution requires this publication, at no cost to the state.
In front of the committee, Pearson laid out a very simple case for it. There’s nothing special about these bills that forces their publishing in agate that could not be done elsewhere. For example (one he did not use but which his bill would permit), why not put them in the Louisiana Register, where the effort to put them out there might cost pennies a bill, if even that, as opposed to the estimated $40 apiece coughed up to The Advocate?
When he ran in the special election for the Fifth Congressional District, the question was whether novice Republican candidate then, now Rep. Vance McAllister was politician enough to win. Then when he took office the question mutated into whether he was politician enough to hang with the big boys and girls. If the latest media reports on him are any indication, we’ve already got an answer of affirmative – and then some.
McAllister’s win largely occurred because he effectively tapped into a populist base but also was able to position himself as the more flexible conservative in the contest that could suck in leftist voters. By tapping into the conservative populist wing of the Republican Party, it gave him the base necessary to get ahead of all but one candidate in the field in the general election. In the runoff, against the odds his assumed flexibility got him to the head of the line and swoons from the mainstream media, all bubbling about how his presence could allow more liberalism to be injected into public policy than otherwise with a Republican elected to Congress from Louisiana.
Key to all this was McAllister, by tapping into a conservative populism that distrusts anything big but most of all government and the groups that use it to benefit themselves and by intimating he would not show national GOP orthodoxy on all issues, presented himself as an anti-politician. The great irony, of course, is that you must be a consummate politician in order to do this. And, so far, McAllister has shown the political chops to succeed in maintaining this image.
There are good forms and bad forms of presumed government paternalism, as the disposition of one bill and the discussion about some different others filed this session in the Louisiana Legislature demonstrates.
State Rep. Steve Pylant’s HB 961 would force municipalities that receive more than half of their revenues from speeding tickets to post signage on state roads around their borders advertising the municipality is a “speed trap.” If they failed to do so, money from these fines would head to the state. It passed committee although with some dissent, albeit of the less than thoughtful kind.
State Rep. Terry Landry argued that to allow this would put a “stigma” on the municipality, and state Rep. Barbara Norton said it was a motorist decision to go too fast and thus there appeared to be no reason for a municipality to have to pay extra for a sign. But Pylant said if the main objective was to stop speeding, then that would be accomplished by putting yet another warning out there, and additionally this would have the salutary effect of impeding municipalities trying to finance salaries and positions beyond any genuine need by squeezing out as much revenue from non-residents (he claimed residents typically were let off with warnings) as possible. For example, in Pylant’s backyard is Baskin, estimated population 252, that nevertheless paid in fiscal year 2013 a part-time mayor over $12,000 a year and spent over $143,000 last year on public safety on fine revenues of over $285,000 (down nearly $100,000 from the previous, probably because they got wind that Pylant was going to move this legislation), or 78 percent of its total revenue.
One thing that veteran politicians count on in the electorate to become veteran politicians is for the electorate to have a short memory. That attitude went on full display at a House Appropriations Committee meeting last week and adds to the continued confusion over state tax policy of the last several years.
In this meeting, Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret gave a summary of encouraging economic statistics, principally the 4.9 percent latest (January, 2014) unemployment statistic, which places Louisiana tied for 11th lowest among the states and District of Columbia. This led to questioning, principally by committee chairman state Rep. Jim Fannin, that improving numbers did not seem to be reflected in state revenues. Compared to last year’s budget baseline, they have improved incrementally and do not seem poised to do any better for next year.
Particularly Fannin queried about the causes of improvement on indicators translating poorly into revenues, and he and Moret batted around some ideas, which Moret emphasizing that a sputtering economy under the stewardship of Pres. Barack Obama would keep a lid on state revenue growth. In the end, Fannin seemed most concerned over the role that tax exemptions of all kinds played in turning away potential revenues from the state, which Moret acknowledged was increasing in size at a fast rate.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while policy-makers should take heed of a warning presented by a source not normally associated with a quest for academic excellence when determining how to judge the performance of Louisiana’s higher education institutions, neither should this cautionary detail derail a bill setting up guidelines for such a system.
State Sen. Conrad Appel is trying again to put together a framework for state university and college governing heads to derive a measure of their institutions’ quality. His SB 337 would set parameters included in creating this instrument “as deemed appropriate,” including one that seeks to measure fidelity to alignment with workforce needs and high-demand occupations. Funding then would depend upon quality measured. A similar attempt last year failed over personality conflicts.
As with last year’s version, policy-makers must be concerned that any ensuing instrument does not allow schools to game the system, for example such as by lowering standards in order to boost retention and graduation rates. But another issue raised specifically this time around came from the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Steve Monaghan, who usually stumps for items that decrease his members’ workload as much as possible for as high pay as possible. Anybody with teaching experience knows that the higher the quality the instruction, the greater the effort that needs to be put into it.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 13:01