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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.