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Times, attitudes change about center's hoard

Funny how times change to make what once drew screaming opposition now has those same who complained eager to go beyond that option that so vexed them.

Increasingly, policy-makers and the public have caught on to understanding the sinkhole that is the Ernest N. Morial Exhibition Hall Authority. It runs tens of millions of dollars a year in surplus, largely derived from taxes on tourists but also on residents, leaving it now flush with hundreds of millions in cash – most egregiously from a tax collected for nearly two decades ostensibly for building something that over a decade ago it abandoned as an idea.

Meanwhile, the city of New Orleans surrounding it has trouble with infrastructure needs, from inadequate handling of water to insufficient mental health facilities for prisoners. So, in order to justify having all that free cash and its continued diversion into its pockets, the convention center proposes any number of Ceausescu-like projects that unlikely ever would pay for themselves, according to researchers who cite a flat national convention market due to changing economics – and even want taxpayers to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies.


No need for Legislature to hike LA gas tax

Louisiana’s Secretary of Transportation and Development Shawn Wilson has it right: don’t expect the Legislature to raise the gasoline tax at the pump this year. Because nothing it or Wilson have done changes the fact that no increase is needed.

Wilson says, correctly, that political factors intervene. With 2019 an election year, legislators typically loathe tax hikes right before facing voters, He even figured out that the constitutional amendment some years ago that allowed the Legislature to take up tax matters in regular session only in odd-numbered years, requiring special sessions in even-numbered years, purposely discourages increasing any taxes at all.

Still, in 2015 lawmakers increased taxes by altering some business credits plus adding to taxation of tobacco, so it’s not impossible. Then, the state had an operating budget deficit to overcome. Now, in regards to roads, it has a huge backlog (Wilson says $14.3 billion worth, five-eighths of that in bridge work) of capital expenditures with which to contend.


Opinion illuminates Edwards' sanctimony

Louisiana’s Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne lied on the pages of Louisiana’s most prominent newspaper and won’t take responsibility for that. Both reflect his boss’ wishes.

Last month, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget received an executive budget from Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. But instead of using the official revenue forecasts from the Revenue Estimating Conference, it incorporated numbers the Edwards Administration wished to use, contrary to law. The official forecast has remained the same since the middle of last year because one REC member, Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras, would not accept revised estimates showing more revenue mainly out of an abundance of caution over wildly gyrating oil prices. REC numbers become official only when all members agree to these.

I wrote about this in one of my last columns for the Baton Rouge Advocate, publicizing the tendency of the Edwards Administration to disregard the law when it didn’t suit the governor’s political agenda. This prompted Dardenne to pen a letter to the editor where, among other things, he defended use of the unapproved estimates by alleging “There has been no revenue forecast by the REC for Fiscal Year (FY) 20. The only FY20 forecast was in June 2018 as part of a long-range projection of revenue, not as an ‘official forecast’ for FY20.”

That was untrue. In a subsequent blog post, I pointed out that the documents from that REC meeting clearly showed it had adopted numbers for those years as official estimates.

And last week an attorney general’s opinion confirmed that. In Opinion 19-0038, GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s office concurred with me, bluntly noting that “the REC adopted an official forecast for fiscal year 2020 at its June” meeting, meaning “it is legally wrong to claim that no official forecast exists for fiscal year 2020.”

Summoning the entirety of facts and logic he could to support his contention, Dardenne’s reply was, “He’s entitled to his opinion, we just happen to think it’s wrong;” in other words, when the facts don’t fit your argument, ignore the facts. He then tried to deflect from his being caught out by declaring the whole issue would become moot upon eventual recognition of the revenues, as if this exculpated him from breaking the law.

(It also causes other problems. Because Dardenne didn’t follow the law, this affects the numbering of the general appropriations bill for legislative consideration. House rules specify designation “HB 1” for the governor’s budget, but since one did not get legally submitted, that cannot be used.)

For the reason Dardenne specified, it’s unlikely that any legal action will occur against him for this, so the judiciary won’t have a chance to weigh in. Still, it provides more exposure of sanctimonious behavior by Edwards, who rode into office emphasizing the honor code of his alma mater: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”


For her own good, Peterson should resign

That may explain some things. But it can’t be the end of the story.

Over the weekend, state Sen. Karen Peterson acknowledged she has a gambling addiction. She became the second legislator in two years to do so, following state Rep. Dee Richard who said he had an addiction while taking medication. That came to light when he paid a fine to settle with the Louisiana Board of Ethics for using campaign money to fund his habit, after he said he had kicked it.

Peterson got caught in the act. Apparently, she has engaged in this for many years, and in an attempt to stop herself, she voluntarily filed to bar her entry into casinos and to draw a legal citation if found in one. She picked up just such a charge last month, and a reporter apparently got tipped on it. The reporter made a public records request, found the infraction, and her outlet disseminated the story, leading to Peterson’s public admission.


Perkins' moves roiling Shreveport boards

It seems Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins can’t win. People he doesn’t want to keep on city policy-making panels criticize him for that, and another faults his appointee for a job change that allegedly endangers that person’s tenure on a city board.

Recently, Perkins has caught flak from commissioners of the Shreveport Airport Authority over his handling of a new director of airports. Sec. 18-32 of the city ordinances mandates that the panel of five nominate a director “for appointment by the mayor,” who then would need City Council confirmation.

The Perkins Administration forged ahead with the process, selecting three candidates without Authority input. Three members – all of whom publicly supported former Mayor Ollie Tyler who Perkins defeated and whom he has said he will replace – objected to the ordering, and mused whether Perkins’ plan to oust them had something to do with the director hiring.