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Present form of spill award bill invites tax increase

It’s the ultimate in windfall money, but strings attached to some of its use threaten to create a budget situation where spending the bonus on recurring expenditures ultimately leads to a tax increase.

HB 1241 by Rep. Cameron Henry would take money from a resolution of court claims by Louisiana against BP for various damages because of the Macondo oil spill of 2010 according to state law (although the case will be heard in federal court), even as the company is on the hook already to the federal government, state government, and individual citizens for around $15 billion. No one know what the amount will be, or when it will be.

But HB 1241 anticipated it will be in the $1 billion range at least and come within the next fiscal year, and has plans for the dough. Through some legal machinations, the state is required to cough up about $356 million for the Budget Stabilization Fund, and even if the proceeds are coming from something unrelated to a state savings account, in the spirit of the BSF as a repository of windfall money, that’s an appropriate and none-too-soon, given the legal imperative, place for it to go.


Mutated contracts bill to cause more trouble than worth

The paradox about a bill to reduce contracting costs by Louisiana is that in order to save its intent you have to destroy its intent.

This session’s HB 142 by state Rep. Dee Richard is the latest iteration of these efforts from past sessions. Years ago, it started off as a meat cleaving, indiscriminate 10 percent excision of money spent on contracting, as determined by agency heads. Even as the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration pared some contracting expenses over time, the bill continued reappearing in evolving form.

This year’s version initially called for the same 10 percent reduction, although exempting some areas of government with critical need to contract out certain functions, for a single year and taking that money and placing into a fund for higher education. This would put that fund at an estimated $528 million, from which investment earnings could be used to fund higher education. But with these only in the $25-50 million range realistically any given year, it was hoped that, after spending a year on a contracting diet, having realized the world didn’t end as a result in succeeding years the state would continue the practice and shovel the dollars not spent to needs of higher priority, where the author and its major cheerleader Treasurer John Kennedy hoped higher education would become the beneficiary.


Just one certainty to CD 5 race: no repeat of last time

Candidates for Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District have started percolating to the surface, with at this point the only sure things about the election being it won’t be won by incumbent Rep. Vance McAllister or somebody with anything like his pedigree.

McAllister earlier this year got busted in a tryst with a married woman not his wife, leading to his disclaiming of intent to run for reelection. He seemed to hedge on this recently, but any reversal on his part cannot be taken seriously and would lead to his electoral defeat.

Besides being heavily in debt and short on cash, additionally unsubstantiated rumors about a potential bimbo eruption plaguing him should more than discourage his participation. And after having announced deferral to improve familial relations at home, it seems hardly credible that in a short period such repairs would have been made. Voters will see through this and gauge his reanimated interest in the office more for power’s sake than anything else such as genuine desire to serve constituents. He cannot win under these conditions.


Fortress St. Tammany goes crazy over Coke bottle

A: Horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

Q: What is the Coke bottle in St. Tammany Parish?

In 1980, a small-budget South African movie called The Gods Must Be Crazy hit the big screen. In it, from an airplane flying over a tribal region of Botswana a Coke bottle was tossed. It lands among the natives who, while finding it useful, become rent with dissension over it. Believing it came from the gods who provide everything but feeling compelled to reject the malevolent thing, one of their own is dispatched to return it to them, with the ensuing hilarity of someone who never has had contact with anything but primitive cultures suddenly now coming to grips with the outside world.

If you’ve ever seen the film – which became the highest grossing foreign film in America at the time – you can’t help but get the same feeling observing the reactions of the natives in St. Tammany Parish when confronted with the possibility that somebody might frac a well into existence on their sacred ground. These natives also have been blessed by the gods, with wealth (ranking in the top three parishes in the state in all of per capita, median family, and median household incomes) from having a major metropolitan area nearby yet a lake to separate them from the grubbiness of the hoi polloi and all its problems to the south. They also suddenly have something alien tossed into their midst, and struggle to fit it into their own paradigm that is detached from the rest of the world.


If they must redistrict, at-large plan best for BR courts

A complex constitutional situation is being made even more complicated by resistance to a bill that may or may not be necessary, putting Louisiana at the forefront of the evolution of voting rights that affects Baton Rougeans.

Controversy surrounds HB 1151 by state Rep. Erich Ponti, which would replace the current districting system of the City Court of Baton Rouge from single-member districts, presently constituted with three majority-white and two majority-black subdistricts, to five at-large elected members. The imperative behind this bill stems from the threat of a federal court order to dismantle the system – the power of it do so not entirely clear itself.

Until the early 1990s, in fact the city did have an at-large system. But as a result of court decisions, the at-large districting system for judicial elections was decided to be potentially discriminatory, depending upon certain factors that could have come into play, and so the Legislature changed the law to create the five subdistricts (and also did so to several other judicial districts in the state). After 2000, as the city was nearing a black majority, it drew these extant subdistricts. However, since then, confirmed by the 2010 census, the city now has a black majority population even as by the numbers three of these remain majority white and two majority black in population composition.