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Kennedy demagoguery raises questions for his future

Readers interested in Louisiana politics got another reminder recently of the maddening inconsistency of state Treasurer John Kennedy’s thinking, and why, should he decide to pursue the matter, any attempt he makes to be elected governor in 2015 should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Sometimes on issues he hits the nail square on the head, as he did recently concerning a hastily-considered law that had the effect of expanding substantially state retirement benefits for two individuals. He correctly understood that the law passed unconstitutionally and that legal action should be taken to have the courts invalidate it. Further, he continually agitated for that until, in effect, that was the outcome.

But on other issues at times he goes into full demagoguery mode that shreds facts bound by illogical inferences. He displayed that recently in an opinion piece concerning the changes coming in the state’s employee and retiree (and for some school employees) health benefits. Generally, while some will see these lowered, many clients will see higher insurance costs when taking all of premiums, co-payments, and deductibles into account as a result of those changes.


Will PSC race signal end of liberal populism in LA?

Human nature dictates that we often don’t recognize qualitative change at its very beginning, but only when observing the obviousness of it as it near completion. Depending on outcome, the Public Service Commission District 5 contest, with north Louisiana as its entire battlefield, could serve as the latter.

That features as its incumbent the last of Louisiana’s significant populists, Democrat Foster Campbell. He started his political career during the second gubernatorial administration of Prisoner #03128-095, who currently is running for Congress under his given name Edwin Edwards, with election to the state Senate. While entirely different in personal comportment, one thing they do share is Manichean political rhetoric, blaming the state’s problems on the alleged ability of certain bogeymen to get too much power and wealth at the expense of the larger public, necessitating redistributive policy to right the reputed wrong.

In 2002, he successfully made the natural move to the PSC, where he could be one of five regulators of an industry he regularly singled out as a villain, oil insofar as pipeline regulation. It also gave him an opportunity to rail against other regulated industries such as utilities, often carping that they were allowed too much profit at the expense of ratepayers and taxpayers (even as roughly half of his political contributions since 2009 have come from regulated industries and interested parties). At the same time, he has championed certain special interests in decisions that actually cost ratepayers and taxpayers more, such as in favoring solar energy and energy efficiency concerns.


Caddo/Bossier voters need to reject new taxes

Voters on both Caddo and Bossier Parishes, but especially the latter, face some Trojan Horse proposals that likely will raise their taxes come late this year and early next year if they approve these.

In both parishes, a new 2 percent tax would be levied on hotel rooms and camping sites, with proceeds going to the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau’s Sports Commission to attract sports events, the Independence Bowl Foundation for it to beef up payouts for the bowl game and to get Division I schools to play neutral site games at Independence Stadium, and essentially to subsidize Shreveport Regional Airport so that it can pay carriers to provide added service. It is estimated it would bring in over $2 million a year.

As usual, supporters argue this only can bring benefits to the area because “others” will be paying the extra fee, not area residents. And, just as typically, this ignores that the added cost to lodging will discourage. So maybe bribing events, teams, and airlines might get more of them to come to the area – only then to jack up lodging costs for teams, fans, and other area visitors that drives up their lodging costs, which serves as a disincentive to want to come. There’s no evidence to suggest that the cost of lost jobs and negative spillover effects on local businesses by an artificial increase in lodging prices will be less than any presumed gains from increased visitation on the tax coffers of local governments.


Policy-makers roll dice on factoring in bonus bucks

So the state lost track of around $320 million starting in 2002, and it’s out there available to be spent. Whether that means the state won’t need to reduce services over the next few months is another matter.

By Aug. 15, the state knows its funds inflows and outflows from the previous fiscal year ending Jun. 30, and reports these results in early October. Part of the revenue side of the picture is money taken from dedicated funds transferred to another agency for use and self-generated monies by agencies assigned to specified uses. But apparently since 2002 if any excesses existed after transfers or generation, unused for their intended purposes, they lay fallow. Now the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration wishes to put them to work, especially as without those leftovers fiscal year 2014 resulted in about $141.5 million of outflows over inflows.

Constitutionally, after Oct. 15 the administration reports to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on the status of the previous year’s actual figures. If a deficit is declared and the JLCB concurs, this allows the governor to impose mid-year budget cuts to make up the previous year’s difference. It’s something policy-makers rather would avoid, which has seen since 2008 $1.122 billion in such cuts, with FY 2014 being the first since then not to have any.


After court confirmation, take next education reform step

As expected, the Louisiana Supreme Court flushed home the slam dunk on the state’s 2012 revolutionary education reforms, and having resolved that leads to the next question of how to progress further in improving education in the state.

Last week, the Court essentially laughed away a challenge to the law. Its reforms addressed a number of different facets about education, and the suit was based upon the very fact of diversity in the law. Having already warned an obstinate lower court judge that the law should not be taken to violate the single object constitutional standard for legislation, only to have him stubbornly insist that it did, the Court conclusively decided otherwise unanimously. The legal tactic by the plaintiffs, a motley collection of American Federation of Teachers state and local units, was a cover to try to cancel policy they didn’t like, most controversially for them making teacher tenure more difficult to attain and basing that decision for about 35 percent of all teachers on a value-added measure anchored on standardized testing.

In the short term, this changes nothing. Given the wrenching changes from implementation of and the debate ongoing about the Common Core State Standards, the use of a VAM, defined as changes in student scores from one year to another on standardized tests, as an input into tenure and retention decisions was delayed for the last and this school year. Even as CCSS is expected to increase the profile of standardized testing and expand it to be able to include more teachers (assuming state policy-makers don’t pull the plug on it, as some will attempt next year), education leaders, including Louisiana’s, are wondering whether testing needs to be more selectively applied.