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Legislators whine about LA govt working as intended

Rightly so that Louisiana’s fiscal structure deserves blame for the state’s chronic inability to fund chosen priorities properly, but unhelpful attitudes persisting in the political culture also hamper the state on this account; in fact, beliefs of some policy-makers about the scope and role of government that determines policy choices made run counter to the ideas about these inserted into the U.S. Constitution.

Musings about the efficacy of terms limits brought such thinking to the surface. My Baton Rouge Advocate colleague Mark Ballard did a story on that topic on the angle that term limits may have had something to do with the heightened level of conflict within the Legislature over the past few months. In short, according to the piece imposition of limits “sapped legislators of historical knowledge, hardened political positions, and undermined the relationships that are essential ingredients to actually operating the machinery of government, some lawmakers, lobbyists and political operatives say.”

Those taking that position include Sen. Pres. John Alario, state Sen. Francis Thompson (the two together have served as legislators for nearly a century), and longtime political operative Roy Fletcher. Their quotes revealed a pining for more compromise that they thought lacking these days, particularly in dealing with this fiscal year’s budget that ended in a compromised position – two billion dollars in taxes raised, but with half a million dollars in reductions from previous baseline spending (although the addition of new programs, most prominently Medicaid expansion, produced a budget almost $2 billion higher).


Better late than never for Bossier City policy-making

Bossier City made another move towards entering the 21st century when, years if not decades late, it outsourced its water and sewerage operations. Baby steps now could turn into real progress – but this would require an unlikely sea change in elected officials’ way of thinking, if not substituting out the faces currently occupying its City Council and mayor’s office.

Historically plagued by a government-as-venture-capitalist vision, leading to well over a hundred million dollars of spending on items best left to the private sector that have turned into money-losers, and a big small town mentality, such as costing the city millions of dollars and land in a bait-and-switch maneuver with a local developer, over the past two decades Bossier City political leaders squandered an opportunity to make the city a low-tax haven with economic development beyond opening more retail establishments and call centers. A citizenry generally with shallow roots in the community where the even less successful governance of the sun around which it orbits, Shreveport, obscures its leaders’ mediocre-to-bad performance has allowed this state of affairs to continue despite several election cycles to make corrections.

Yet maybe Bossier City policy-makers finally are getting it together. In 2013, after years of contracting with Shreveport for solid waste pickup, the city finally privatized that – although not so much out of willingness to save ratepayers some bucks but because Shreveport’s price went too high. It then proceeded to negate any savings from that and then some by needlessly hiking water and sewerage rates, a choice made necessary by prior poor fiscal decision-making, even as consultants then told lawmakers – all but one reelected a few months prior to that along with Mayor Lo Walker – the increase would obviate any more hikes for many years.


Bossier City lawmakers hope future trumps past

As city elections appear in the distant horizon, it appears Bossier City lawmakers might want to make voters forget about the last major decision regarding water and sewerage just months after the last elections.

Recently, the city authorized a private firm to operate its water and sewerage services. But concerning the last major policy changes for its handling of waste in 2013, for the citizenry it was one step forward, two steps back. Then, the city's object of privatization was its solid waste collection, now in its third year.

True, clients for the city’s water and sewerage saw an $8 hit per month increase under privatization of garbage pickup. That wasn't intolerable, because Shreveport, which had provided the service contractually, did not anticipate well its own cost structure and found costs rising significantly faster than what it had charged the city under the previous deal. On top of that, the city also subsidized about a quarter of those payments out of the general fund.

So the increase was not unreasonable given the existing rate – although mind there had been subterfuge in that for years, where a hike a decade ago really ended up offsetting shortfalls in money for emergency services and mowing grass that could have been prevented had the city not blown some $85 million (then) on a money-losing arena and parking garage tied to a retail facility that went into receivership – and the start-up costs necessary for the contractor. Over time, a privatized operation should demonstrate more efficient operation and reduce, if not eliminate for many years, any rate increase, which so far has been the case. That’s the step forward.


Lowering LA recall level increases accountability

The case of the recall of Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal demonstrates the merits and demerits of Louisiana’s recall laws, indicating the changes necessary to make it a more practical tool of accountability.

Ackal has come under indictment for some serious charges, so if convicted would have a felony rap that constitutionally would bar him from holding office. However, some Iberians have decided they want him out regardless and have started a recall petition against him. Louisiana’s recall provision applies to all elected officials except judges of courts of record (they have a separate judiciary-run mechanism to deal with their disciplining), any official within six months of finishing a term, or one who has faced a failed recall within 18 months. An effort does not rely on any special reason and requires valid signatures of a third of jurisdiction’s registered voters within 180 days of filing a petition for recall (unless the jurisdiction has fewer than 1,000 such voters, when two-fifths are required and the deadline is 90 days).

Compared to other states, only 28 others grant citizens such control over their officials. Of these, some (10) restrict efforts to certain causes and some (17) limit applicability only to certain officials. Six include appointed officials, with four including any official at any level of government.