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Brees right on protest view and desisting

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees understands discretion is the better part of valor, even if by practicing that it empowers an ignorant and reductionist sports mob.

This week, a finance website highlighted comments Brees made about kneeling during the playing of the national anthem as a form of protest. He spoke consistently about that act he had criticized four years ago when a handful of National Football League players hopped on that trend, saying at the time
… there's plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn't involve being disrespectful to the American flag.
The great thing about this country is that we have the freedoms that allow you to speak out openly about any issue. So, I’m not commenting on the issue itself because any person has the right to speak out on any issue they want. That’s the great thing about being an American. But the American flag is what represents those freedoms. It represents the very freedom that [gives such protesters] the opportunity to exercise by speaking out his opinion in a peaceful manner about that issue ….


GOP challenged to enact SB 418 now, fix later

It’s time to see whether Louisiana Republican legislative leaders, especially GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, truly are serious about what they call a top legislative priority of this year and if they wish to supplant Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards as the lead policy-maker in the state.

The fate of SB 418 by Republican state Sen. Kirk Talbot will answer both questions. The bill reforms the tort system in regards to vehicle insurance, making Louisiana look much more like other states with far lower insurance rates.

Described by Republican legislators as a leading issue of the session in light of the economically depressive impact of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Edwards has threatened to veto the measure, and even after its passage in a watered-down form wouldn’t commit to desisting on that account. It passed the Senate, first in its original form then as part of a conference committee compromise, with more than enough votes to override any veto, but in the House while the version that went to conference passed with two more than the 70 votes required, the compromise version garnered only 66.


More history in offing at Edwards' expense

One historic session of the Louisiana Legislature down, one to go – and historic for more than one reason.

After enduring a regular session interrupted for about a month-and-a-half because of gubernatorial restrictions due to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the Legislature launched itself into a special session potentially a month long. It’s only the second time it has done so, and the first time it hasn’t restricted itself to a narrow agenda.

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards did take issue with the generality of the call, implying that it tried to do too much, although his claim rings a bit hollow. Of the 41 items, 14 deal with budgeting matters, some of which the chambers resolved in the regular session but left most hanging because of the shortened nature of the session. Another nine address the impact of Edwards’ actions because of the pandemic. A dozen concern tax matters, which in this even-numbered year the body couldn’t address during the regular session. Outside of these areas that timing has prevented to date their resolutions, just a handful of issues remain, and one named – tort reform – the Legislature successfully completed in the regular session.


LA tort reform bills realize different outcomes

Two (or two-plus) bills essentially addressing the same subject, but with two different outcomes in the Louisiana Legislature; why?

SB 418 by Republican state Sen. Kirk Talbot passed both chambers three votes higher than a supermajority. The bill would reform extensively tort law dealing with vehicular accidents in a way that, if the history of similar laws in other states provides any guide, will reduce both insurance rates and the size of court-ordered judgments, which garnered opposition from the trial lawyer lobby.

Those opponents include Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, on whose behalf a political action committee devoted to opposing tort reform in all of its forms spent $13.5 million that resulted in his narrow reelection. Edwards is using every last bit of his leverage to dilute the bill in any way possible, by promising not to veto the measure even as he doesn’t stand much of a chance in having such a veto stick, in order to save face. An overridden veto will reduce his governorship going forward to a cipher and even the smallest change that he could cajole from a conference committee picked by legislative Republican leaders would allow him with a straight face to refuse conceding defeat and to sign the bill.


Tort reform vote to force Edwards gamble

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards now faces the biggest gamble of his undistinguished career in the state’s top office.

Today, the House of Representatives passed HB 418 by Republican Sen. Kirk Talbot. The bill makes major changes to the state’s tort system as it pertains to vehicle insurance, containing features in the legal codes of many other states that have far lower personal vehicle rates.

Edwards, who before making it to the Governor’s Mansion worked as a trial lawyer, doesn’t want to see this threat to the wealth and livelihoods of his professional colleagues, not only out of comradeship, but because he owes his political life to them. Heavily backed by trial lawyers – who along with other beneficiaries to the current system gave to the special interest group Gumbo PAC $13.5 million from 2018-19 it spent on behalf of Edwards’ narrow reelection – he is considered by the special interests currently fleecing ratepayers as their guarantor that they can continue living the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed through vetoing bills like Talbot’s.


LA medical marijuana scam budget booster?

So, this is how Louisiana solves it Wuhan coronavirus-induced budget problems? By stimulating demand for medical marijuana and becoming a bigger than ever pusher?

That’s the most logical conclusion that can be drawn from the Louisiana Legislature’s passage of HB 819 by Republican state Rep. Larry Bagley, which awaits concurrence and gubernatorial assent to become law. Because nothing else can explain why something almost useless in addressing medical maladies suddenly becomes considered a wonder drug whose manufacture the state happens to control.

In the past couple years since the Legislature created a viable production and distribution system (subject to, naturally, the usual politicking) its legal use has expanded rapidly from just a handful of state-vetted “recommending” physicians (because the federal government bans its use in any form with one narrow exception, so doctors in Louisiana cannot prescribe it) for a small number of maladies to now on the brink of anything goes. Bagley’s bill basically allows any physician to recommend it for any reason.


Conservatism supports smoking ban ordinance

Shreveport’s pending decision to enact a partial smoking ban in bars exposes the complex politics behind these.

This week, the City Council engaged in the first reading of an ordinance that would build on existing state law and corresponding city ordinance regarding smoking in public places. It would extend a ban on indoor smoking at bars and include vaping as a form of smoking, but would exempt cigar and hookah bars.

Appropriately, the more conservative members of the Council brought this forward. In justifying smoking in public, supporters often allege conservative principles back that preference, but that contention relies on misappropriating the foundations of liberalism.


Budget can kicking sets up day of reckoning

It’s a legally dubious effort which will draw a bipartisan blind eye allowing a traditional kicking of the can down the road in Louisiana budgeting.

This describes state policy-maker response to using federal CARES Act dollars in supplementing the fiscal year 2020 budget and the upcoming FY 2021 budget. The Legislature appears poised to approve within the week legislation affecting the former and to do the same with the latter in a special session in June.

The state has received $1.802 billion designed to offset costs at the state and local level for expenses related to combatting the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic over the last four months of FY 2020 and first six months of FY 2021. At the same time the associated economic shutdown, prompted by a series of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards proclamations as part of the response, prompted the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference to forecast of a loss of just over $1 billion in general fund revenue in this span.


Memorial Day, 2020

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

With Monday, May 25 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore this link.


Leftist bias in LA media outlets: case study

The next time an obviously leftist journalist sniffs and haughtily tells you the mainstream media, at least in Louisiana, doesn’t display a clear liberal bias, shut him up with this URL.

Ever since the end of the 19th century through the next half-century when changing market conditions diluted the partisan press into a more balanced kind of political coverage, the pendulum has inched its way from the center – but not in an increasing amplitude in arc, rather fixed ever more firmly on the left. It largely has continued (if now eroding) norms developed over a century ago – striving for accuracy and objectivity in reporting – but increasingly allows bias through other means.

These days, that takes the form of selective use of information and selective coverage. Bias enters the equation when reporters express incuriosity in comprehensively covering a story because what they see on the surface confirms their deep-seated political biases, and when editors make selections on what they deem worth covering or qualifies as news that mirror their political prejudices.


Brumley choice ends expansive reform era

It may be déjà vu all over again in some ways for the Louisiana state superintendent of education, but that’s least true in the most important ways and most true in the least important of ways.

Wednesday, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education installed Jefferson Parish school Superintendent Cade Brumley as the state’s top education official, with the bare minimum of eight votes. This means Brumley will helm the Department of Education through 2023, subject to favorable annual evaluations by BESE.

In some fashion his rise to the post echoes his predecessor John White. Both were young at their commencement, had not spent a lot of time in the classroom, but had plenty of administrative experience.

There are a couple of key differences, which in large part defined the politics of Brumley’s selection. His administrative experience, with the exception of the last two years in Jefferson, was relatively parochial, starting as a principal, then becoming superintendent in DeSoto Parish. Prior to his taking the job in 2012, White had spent years in high-profile administrative roles, first in New York, then as head of Louisiana’s Recovery School District – as well as a stint outside of government as the head of Teach for America affiliates, the organization which prepared him for classroom teaching. To put it another way, White never had run a school or answered to a school board of elected officials, while Brumley until he became Jefferson’s leader (when he added charter schools to his portfolio and had a significant nonpublic school presence) had little experience with anything but traditional ways in education.

Also, Brumley’s career followed the most traditional of traditional paths – a bachelors education degree, teaching in a traditional school, principal of one, advanced education degrees, then onto his superintendent jobs. Unlike White, he never became a policy entrepreneur with visionary ideas of where to lead Louisiana education, but took a pragmatic tinkering view of policy implementation to get results within the larger framework that White and BESE provided.

That’s why Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his three BESE appointees so enthusiastically backed Brumley. They knew, with a solid majority of reformers on BESE, that nobody could win appointment who lobbied to turn back the clock on a successful series of reforms White, with legislative and BESE cooperation, had launched, changes which began with increased accountability of all of students, teachers, schools, and districts and then moved to more rigor, effort expended, and subject area expertise conveyed in instruction.

But at least they could get somebody in there who would lift the foot from the gas pedal, figuring Brumley with his very traditional background would. The person they didn’t want ascending to the job was Assistant Superintendent Jessica Baghian, whose background and links to education reform plus longtime association with White within the department they oversimply saw as cloning White on policy.

And Brumley has shown he’ll carry water for the education establishment troika of school boards, district superintendents, and unions. In his last year in DeSoto, he served as head of the lobbying arm for district chiefs, which reflexively opposed White, and carried their criticisms to him.

These interests convinced enough of the reform majority to back Brumley, and thus breaks the string of unambiguous reformers (excluding interim holders) on the job stretching back to Paul Pastorek’s term starting in 2007. No doubt this thrills Edwards, his education policy fellow travelers among elected Democrats, and the troika.

At the same time, Brumley didn’t get this far without having political skills, and so he must know this: nearly on a daily basis, Edwards’ influence fades a bit more, well before the end of his term (the latest sign: Edwards trying to bargain to reduce even a little extensive tort reform he appears unable to stop). Large Republican majorities in the legislature, who see no reason to change existing education policy, remain entrenched. Reform sentiments still have sway over the BESE majority – and when voters almost certainly elect a Republican governor in 2023 with the same, the existing three anti-reform appointees will flip to pro-reform replacements ready to offer a new four-year contract to a superintendent that fits their views.

Brumley could buck these dynamics and try to take the state backwards on education, which one might do if the next career step envisioned takes you to a larger state where anti-reform elements rule over such policy, with no certainty that ever could happen with the inertia he would face that would lead to much conflict and little in the way of results to impress outsiders. Much more likely, in order to leave any kind of imprint and make his career prospects brighter whether he seeks another four years in Louisiana, he’ll realize he needs to go with the flow.

Revanchist education forces in Louisiana may celebrate because the Brumley appointment means no more bold reform initiatives coming from that office. Yet neither should they expect any real backtracking from those initiatives already in place.


Unemployment challenges Edwards agenda

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, in his quest to avoid right-sizing state government and introducing fiscal reform fueled by the imperative of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, finds himself wedged between a rock and hard place because of unemployment insurance changes.

Prior to the crisis, the state found itself in good shape on this account. States collect from employers (adjusted for experience) and employees (twice that for the self-employed) a tax that goes into a fund held by the federal government on their behalves, from which they can draw upon if current benefits payouts exceed tax intake. Louisiana collects and pays out in ranges and on average among the lowest amounts among the states, but had collected a nice cushion in its fund because of a number of policies – such as having no Short-Time Compensation program, typical earnings base and duration of benefits receipt, and (until Edwards waived it in late March) a waiting week for receive benefits – prevented aggressive distribution of benefits.

That thrift the federal and state pandemic responses now will put to the test, creating a two-fold budgetary problem. One is that unemployment insurance policy hastily created in the aftermath of the virus’ descendance onto society has the counterproductive impact of creating more unemployment and less economic activity, causing state government costs to rise and revenues to fall.


Casino closure canary or market firebreak?

The Wuhan coronavirus pandemic got the sick man of Louisiana casinos, in a region of the state that can ill-afford that.

Last week, DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City announced it would close its doors for good. The state’s longest-existing licensed riverboat casino gave up the ghost just shy of its 26th birthday, citing the pandemic as the coup de grace.

It had been on the critical list for some time. Over the years it had drifted to the bottom of the state’s revenue tables, in the most recent full month of operation (February) having the third-lowest total revenue behind two smaller boats and the lowest revenue per admission – although, interestingly it and Margaritaville were the only two of the six in the Shreveport-Bossier market to post year-over-year revenue gains.


Lawmakers continue sidelining Edwards

Today, the Republican leadership in the Louisiana House of Representatives signaled again that a new sheriff had come to town.

The House Appropriations Committee dealt with HB 2, the capital outlay bill, dealt with $2.3 billion in cash the state had set aside for projects, as well as authorizing $3 billion in sales of general obligation bonds. But the real significance of its actions came over the use of $348 million in past surplus money eligible for spending on these kinds of projects.

This money came available from the fiscal year 2019 budget surplus, after shunting constitutionally-mandated portions to the Budget Stabilization Fund and to paying down unfunded accrued liabilities in state pensions plans. Besides these items and capital outlay, such funds also can go towards paying down state debt.


Edwards gimmickry rejects responsibility

Get ready for more smoke and mirrors than ever seen in Louisiana state government as Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards tries to save oversized government in the face of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, or at least score some political points in the process.

That’s saying a lot. Until the late 1980s, policy-makers routinely would adjust revenue forecasts however they saw fit to justify spending levels they wanted to achieve. While the advent of the Revenue Estimating Conference sidelined that tactic, others remained, with the most flagrant example being the Louisiana Recovery District that circumvented constitutional prohibitions of issuing debt to pay for continuing operations, budgeting over multiple years, and increasing taxes without supermajority approval in the Legislature.

At least these tactics passed legal muster, before constitutional changes voided them. Saturday, Edwards released plans designed to prevent busting the fiscal year 2020 budget and a proposed FY 2021 budget in the face of revenues dropping over $1 billion as a result of the economic slowdown caused by the virus spread and proclamations by Edwards stalling a significant portion of the state’s economy. Both plans must be regarded as dubious.


Dubious claims litter "news" piece on GOP

The incremental transformation of Louisiana’s political culture apparently has prompted some nose-growing at the Baton Rouge Advocate.

So far, 2020 has seen the first steps towards reversing nearly a century of acquiescence to oversized government. There have been others: a brief flare snuffed out quickly when Democrat-then-Republican former Gov. Buddy Roemer first came into office, then several years later under GOP former Gov. Mike Foster reversal occurred on a few specific issues such as education, and only a few years ago Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal mounted the most serious effort on a broad front, but one left incomplete.

But this time differs in that conservatives now hold every minor statewide office and command majorities in the Legislature, Public Service Commission, and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The last redoubt of the old order is the Governor’s Mansion, and it has seen its power wane to the point that it has lost control of the policy-making agenda that reduces it to revanchist defensive displays.


LA senators' virus fiscal bills fatally flawed

A number of fault lines have ruptured among Louisiana conservatives concerning a potential bailout of state finances as a consequence of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, reaching up to its highest elected federal officials.

Almost every state imposed some kinds of economic restrictions since the middle of March, and even those without these or those that had issued relatively relaxed and/or short-lived strictures have been affected by larger trends, such as the dramatic slowdown in air traffic, falling capital markets, and fear of virus transmission in the public. Combined, such dynamics have sapped revenue-producing mechanisms for states, costing them an as-yet untold amount in the aggregate.

This has led to a debate over whether the federal government, which already has apportioned $2 trillion to fight effects of the virus, should have its taxpayers pony up more to bail out state and local governments. And Louisiana’s two Republican senators have taken a leading role in this, to the consternation of many conservatives.


Delayed LA reopening shaped by politics

Declaring what all the data had indicated two weeks ago and what then seemed obvious to all objective observers except those under his authority, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards let more of his people go.

Monday, Edwards announced he would lift a number of restrictions encapsulated in several proclamations made by him over the past two months that brought large swaths of Louisiana’s economy to a halt. He outlined the contents of a proclamation he said he would issue later in the week, which would apply statewide at week’s end.

This came despite a pattern of data that largely replicated that of two weeks ago, when Edwards declared that because some regions in the state allegedly were not showing improved metrics the whole state had to continue to suffer under the bans. The conclusions drawn from that data as well were suspect, given that areas of the state under concern showed in terms of cases improvement and those deemed not troublesome actually showed increased incidence of cases.


Official bad budget news may prompt reform

It’s confirmed: Louisiana’s budgetary quagmire created by an economic shutdown related to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic is not as bad as expected for this fiscal year but worse for next fiscal year.

The Revenue Estimating Conference recognized a $123.1 million reduction in general fund revenues, which may be spent on a variety of things, from the last forecast of 13 months ago for this fiscal year and $867.5 million for next year. Another $239.5 million fewer is projected for dedicated funds, which go to specific purposes, for this year and $165.1 million fewer for the upcoming year.

A couple of weeks ago, I pegged the fiscal year 2020 downdraft at around $550 million, but Republican Pres. Donald Trump and a Republican-led Congress salvaged matters. Their 2017 legislation that cut federal income taxes meant Louisianans deducted lower federal tax payments against their state income taxes, resulting in higher collections than forecast even into 2019 of over $200 million. As well, the increased number unemployment insurance payments, which are taxable, with as much as 15 percent of the workforce drawing these and supercharged by the across-the-board federal $600 monthly bonus through July also will boost these collections.


Rogue GOP senator imperils LA tort reform

There’s a fox in the henhouse of Louisiana Republican effort to implement tort reform, state Sen. Louie Bernard.

Maybe a missed red flag was that Bernard, who spent most of his working life in government, won election as Natchitoches Parish clerk of court six times, up through 2011 as a Democrat. Or that as clerk of court he rubbed elbows with a lot of personal injury lawyers. Or that trial lawyer and Democrat former state Rep. Taylor Townsend, one of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwardstop campaign finance bundlers, gave to the limit to Bernard’s Senate campaign, as did Townsend’s uncle party powerbroker Democrat former state Sen. Don Kelly, and also their law firm as well.

The payoff began last week when Bernard cast in committee the only GOP vote for Edwards-backed insurance regulation, positioned as faux tort reform, that actually would raise the cost of Louisiana’s already ruinously-high vehicle premiums. The next day, he proved his anti-reform vote was no fluke.


Edwards loses with failed faux reform bills

A win for Louisiana automobile ratepayers turned into a loss for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.

This week, the Senate Insurance Committee torpedoed a trio of faux tort reform bills backed by the governor, who practiced as a trial lawyer prior to election to the state’s highest office. In his campaigns , he has enjoyed massive direct and indirect support of personal injury lawyers, who use the nation’s most consumer-unfriendly laws to transfer wealth from ratepayers to themselves by foisting the second-highest average vehicle insurance rates onto drivers to fund the more and larger awards the current set of laws allows.

Louisiana Republicans have for years attempted to ameliorate this situation, and with a nearly veto-proof majority in the Legislature they have a real prospect of carrying it off this regular session. To play defense, Edwards adopted a set of bills forwarded by Democrat state Sen. Jay Luneau, a trial lawyer, as a counterweight, to posture as tort reform in competition with a slew of GOP-backed bills that address genuinely the issue.


Improve bills addressing LA spending limit

A pair of bills that address how the Louisiana Legislature deals with the state’s expenditure limit marginally improves the current method, but further alterations build a much better case for their passage into law and adoption into the Constitution.

HB 464 and HB 469 by Republican state Rep. Beau Beaullieu would amend the Constitution and amend statute to alter the formula to compute changes in the expenditure limit and set a cap at five percent increase annually, both overridden only by two-thirds votes of the legislative chambers when in session. The statute also would set the limit annually at the lower of appropriations or the previous limit with the factor applied to both. Long overdue in concept, the details need adjustment or too many opportunities exist to make the cap much less effective.

The House Appropriations Committee started that process by removing language that would allow changes in the formula and cap outside of a specific legislative instrument, leaving less room to manipulate the amount between sessions for political reasons. But further tweaking needs doing to improve the bills even more as these advance to the full House and beyond.


Edwards closes barn door two months late

It’s a classic from liberalism’s playbook: create a problem through its policy failures, then propose a harmful, drastic solution to address that. Whether consciously, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has come full circle in this way with his recent closing of the barn door two months after the horse escaped.

In this instance, the barn door was pursuing a timely test and trace strategy that would have kept blockaded a more pernicious spread of the Wuhan coronavirus – the horse. Edwards now predicates lifting or not extending further restrictions he began putting into place in the middle of March on the state’s ability to accomplish this. Despite no real evidence that certain regions of the state had experienced increased numbers of or rates of infections, last week Edwards used that excuse and what he regarded as insufficient testing capacity to continue restrictions indiscriminately across Louisiana through the middle of May.

Recently, he has said testing and tracing capacity should ramp up to make for greater ability in identifying individuals in contact with those infected and administering tests to them as well. But his newfound enthusiasm for this course seemed absent in late February, even though he had warnings and models to follow.


Democrats flail futilely against GOP majority

Let the gamesmanship begin, as legislative Democrats brought a knife to a gunfight with Republicans.

Louisiana Democrats, particularly Gov. John Bel Edwards, want to circumscribe the state Legislature in whatever way possible, because they barely muster a third of its membership. The longer they can jawbone their way into impeding the Legislature, the fewer policy defeats they will suffer.

The resistance has manifested in various forms. First, attendance for the chambers when they met, which seldom has more than a few members missing, were down considerably with just 78 of 105 in the House and the Senate had 23 of 39 (a few more would filter in, disproportionately in the Senate, as their legislative days progressed and had their names added as present). About half of Democrats played hooky as a form of protest to getting the people’s business done because they fear they won’t like the policy outputs, even as they present weak arguments to obscure that.


GOP can put Edwards on path to irrelevancy

The next month will determine whether the governorship of Democrat John Bel Edwards becomes irrelevant, or merely slides into semi-irrelevancy.

It’s over immediately for Edwards as a significant agent in Louisiana’s policy-making process if a petition to attenuate, if not overturn, his emergency proclamations regarding the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic succeeds in the next couple of days. Despite scant evidence to support his claims, last week Edwards alleged he needed to continue the series of restrictions (absent very minor modifications) imposed over the past 45 days on gatherings and business activities in the state, and issued the appropriate proclamation. This irked mainly Republican legislators, who wish to utilize state law to reverse some, if not all, of those restrictions through a majority in at least one legislative chamber.

If they pull it off, it’s open season on Edwards’ agenda from there on out. Proven impotent by majorities who demonstrated willingness to use their power, he will lose much of the informal authority derived from the office’s formal powers. For example, with this proven ability to defy what’s to stop the logrolling that produces line-item capital expenditures in budgeting from gathering majorities to hold quick veto override sessions where two-thirds votes wipe out gubernatorial line-item vetoes? Chamber GOP leaderships will tell Democrats that if they want line items in budgets, they’ll have to join in the overrides, and they’ll know they can’t depend upon Edwards to bail them out.


Data contradict Edwards statewide ban claim

The Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration fed Louisianans a demonstrably false line to back his extension of Louisiana’s economic shutdown.

Earlier this week, Edwards said just about all of the current restrictions countering the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic he had proclaimed into place would apply statewide through May 15. A number of Republican legislators questioned this approach, noting that infection rates varied considerably across the state and so a regional strategy that would focus on local governments imposing restrictions would serve the twin goals of leaving the vulnerable parts of the population less so going forward by the swifter acquisition of herd immunity among the healthy subset and in reviving livelihoods. As justification, he said that three of the state’s nine health care regions showed an increase in virus incidence and one held steady. Additionally, several parishes had some of the nation’s highest infection rates among counties.

That explanation never made sense. Imposing statewide restrictions on less-affected areas beyond what local authorities would deem prudent in no significant way would do any better in controlling the virus anywhere, and following Edwards’ tactic to its logical conclusion means no state should loosen restrictions (or the several that don’t have any at the statewide level should impose these immediately) until the absolutely worst case (at this time, New York) feels that it can. (And even New York will take a regional approach.)


Looming LA financial disaster unaddressed

It’s an abacus reading nobody wants to see. Or, apparently talk about in Louisiana to this point, at least among the policy-makers who matter. But they can’t avoid the harsh reality of the disaster state finances will encounter both this and next fiscal year, and perhaps even beyond.

Every state will take a noticeable hit from the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and the significant economic slowdown it has triggered for more than a month, with more to come. However, Louisiana remains more vulnerable than just about any, with its oversized energy and tourism sectors, underperforming economy, and inefficient fiscal structure. Two different assessments place the state as the sixth-most and the most vulnerable economically to the crisis.

The math is painful, both for this concluding fiscal year and the next. One analyst sees the state encountering a 40 percent shortfall from its current budget, which in state-supported dollars means in the neighborhood of an $8.3 billion haircut. Some back-of-the-envelope calculations don’t support such an extreme view, but produce sobering numbers nonetheless.


Edwards continues botching virus response

I don’t suppose leopards change their spots. And now the Legislature must act.

Having botched the initial response to the coming of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, perhaps it should have been expected that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards wouldn’t do much better when it came to start handling the back end. Yesterday, Edwards announced the status quo on gubernatorial-ordered restrictions until May 15, with the small exception that elective medical procedures could commence that are time sensitive and that some interactions may increase, such as with outdoor dining and curbside delivery.

Edwards argued that Louisiana’s high per capita infection rate mandated the feet-dragging, which is ironic because Edwards policy decisions in no small measure needlessly aggravated the crisis. By not preparing adequately for a clearly coming threat and then issuing draconian directives indiscriminately applied, he permitted increased chances at infection, decreased opportunity for herd immunity to be acquired in low-risk populations, and now is delaying the ability of the public to get back on its feet economically.


Reckoning here for underfunded LA pensions

Even as Louisiana seems to have Wuhan coronavirus pandemic expenses covered and adequate unemployment insurance reserves, it will see significantly higher expenses from Medicaid and the earned income tax credit as a result of the economic attenuation from gubernatorial responses to the virus. But the real busting of its fiscal year 2021 budget comes when adding in extra pension costs.

Currently, those two extra expenditures for the budget year starting Jul. 1 track at about $140 million. But this doesn’t include additional obligations due to pension funds because of the large market downturn as economic consequences of the pandemic began to bite.

This is because accounting standards dictate that a government pension fund should not have an excessive unfunded accrued liability, or the amount predicted paid out minus contributions and investment changes, 30 years in the future. Thus, in Louisiana each year a computation is made about the amount left unfunded and amortized over the next 30 years, which then should be paid that year above forecast investment gains (according to statute an assumed rate of return fixed by a panel) and contributions. These contributions are a mix of an employee share, 8 percent for most, and an employer share which starts at a base but then elevates to whatever level necessary to make the next year’s payoff of the UAL.


Smart reopen can redeem botched lockdown

Having botched Louisiana’s response on the upswing of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has a chance at partial redemption on its downhill side.

Tomorrow, Edwards is expected to outline his next response to the dwindling crisis. As of today, the seven-day rolling average of new cases registered only a two percent increase and deaths rose just four percent. Further, the outbreak largely remains confined to St. Tammany, Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Lafourche, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. James Parishes, which have only 29 percent of the state’s population but 61 percent of the cases and deaths.

Compared to his neighbors, Edwards is well behind the curve. A week ago, the governors – all Republicans – of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee announced measures continuing through this week of substantially reopening their economies, although local officials retain the authority to impose more restrictions. Independently, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has done the same. Nothing along these lines has come from Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, because Arkansas, along with a handful of other states, never imposed measures to shut down large swaths of the economic sector.


LA EITC negative impact increased by virus

Just as Medicaid expansion exacerbated the coming fiscal crisis Louisiana will face for the next year or so, so does the presence of and 2018 increase to the state’s earned income tax credit.

With Louisiana’s unemployment claims shooting up to a third of a million this week because of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, which could produce an unemployment rate of 22 percent, more income tax filers than ever will find themselves in a position to claim this. Essentially, at lower earnings levels it refunds income tax liability. For many, it can act as a rebate greater than that liability, resulting in government subsidization lauded by some as a form of welfare that rewards willingness to work.

A minority of states offer this, which piggybacks onto the federal income version. Louisiana for most of the history of the credit offered it at 3.5 percent of the federal level, but as part of legislation that renewed partially the 2016 tax increases in 2018 for five more years, it also received a temporary hike, to 5 percent.


GOP vigilance needed after elections mistake

Earlier today, a pair of Louisiana Legislature committees debased the next two upcoming elections, and maybe more for decades to come, in the state for no good reason.

Last week, the same House and Governmental Affairs and Senate and Governmental Affairs Committees rightly rejected a proposal by Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin, with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ blessing, that would have expanded absentee voting by mail to make almost anybody eligible to partake of it, nearly doubled the time period for early voting, waived the requirement that registration by mail voters participate in person, and other technical changes that mostly would serve to reduce the chances of large congregations at polling places.

This plan had many faults. With such open-ended justifications not to vote in person, Louisiana would have resembled closely the all-mail elections of Oregon but without added ballot security that would discourage fraud. Particularly troublesome, the waiver of statute requiring in-person voting for mail-in registrants (including over the Internet) created a huge opening for the registration of individuals (whether they existed alive) whose identities could be manipulated by unscrupulous operatives in elections for decades to come.


Crisis made worse by Medicaid expansion

With one stroke of his pen four years ago, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed Louisiana farther down the road to a fiscal nightmare exacerbated by Medicaid.

By expanding Medicaid, Edwards committed Louisiana to spend an extra over $300 million next fiscal year on some 450,000 people, almost all of whom are working-age adults without adult children, and of whom roughly a third to a half already had health insurance mainly through employers that now taxpayers must pick up. It capped nearly two decades of exploding state growth of Medicaid as a proportion of state revenues; by 2017 Louisiana paid out 22 percent of these to Medicaid, an increase of 11.5 percentage points since 2000 that was higher by far of all the states, tying it for the fifth-highest proportion spent among them.

Then came the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, and the decision by Edwards to close up a good portion of Louisiana’s economy by proclamations attempting to stem the spread of the virus. Almost 300,000 people make unemployment insurance claims now, meaning at a minimum the unemployment rate will rise to over 19 percent at the end of this month. A portion of those now unemployed will lose employer-sponsored health insurance.


Jobless claims another LA fiscal time bomb

It may not affect budgeting in Louisiana now, but the state’s remarkably higher unemployment claims will create a ticking time bomb that could stress the state’s fiscal health for years to come.

As a consequence of proclamations by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to ward off ill effects from the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic that has shut down large swaths of Louisiana’s economy, claims for unemployment benefits have mushroomed. Through Apr. 11 from Mar. 14, claims have soared from around 16,000 to 293,000.

(Note that despite this cratering job market the state’s workforce expanded in March by some 42,000 from February. This is because to draw unemployment benefits you have to maintain that you actively seek work, which then counts you for statistical purposes in the workforce. In other words, attracted by extending the special $600 a week benefit to people who normally wouldn’t qualify for regular state unemployment insurance, out of the woodwork came these people many of whom otherwise would not have intended to work anytime in the near future but now suddenly have been handed a guaranteed basic income for the foreseeable future.)


Events further mooting Edwards clampdown

As the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic enters the backstretch in Louisiana, it’s time for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to drop his stubbornness to a nuanced, balanced approach in dealing with the crisis.

One thing hasn’t changed about how the virus has struck the state is that it remains a New Orleans area problem, and to a lesser extent heading upriver to Baton Rouge. As of today, Orleans has a 64:1 infection ratio (although the good news, if you can call it that, is that all but two of New York’s downstate counties have higher ratios – lead by the almost three percent in Rockland – as do two New Jersey counties) and Jefferson 77:1. Surrounding parishes St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Lafourche are at 200:1, and heading north up the Mississippi River through St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, Iberville, Ascension, and West Baton Rouge, that’s collectively at 136:1. Stop after St. James and those nine parishes account for 63 percent of state cases but only 29 percent of state population.

One thing that has changed is that curves definitely have flattened. The seven-day rolling average of infections statewide as of today has slowed to a two percent increase and for deaths six percent. And some areas of the state have seen far lower infection and death rates, even in urban areas. Infection ratios range from 583 to 630 in Calcasieu, Lafayette, and Rapides – lower than the statewide figure (194) and also that excepting the above-listed parishes, all urban parishes, and Tangipahoa (478)  – and their mortality rates per capita are less than 100 per million, compared to the statewide ratio of 279 and the “all other” parishes number of 123.


Worst LA elections option rightfully rejected

Quite properly, Louisiana legislative committees yesterday rejected an unnecessary softening of the state’s ballot integrity as it pertained to postponed presidential preference, party governance, and local elections, an action which can lead to a far more elegant solution that seeks a problem.

Already pushed back from the beginning of April at the behest of Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin and verified through a Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards proclamation due to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the two tag-teamed again to delay these again from Jun. 20 to Jul. 11, and any runoffs from Jul. 25 to Aug. 15. They pursued this despite increasing evidence of the pandemic’s subsidence, as yesterday the seven-day rolling average increase in cases came to just four percent.

However, this time the two went further than just wanting to change dates. They also jointly endorsed a plan to increase vastly the potential for mail-in balloting as well as increase from 7 to 13 days the amount of time available for early voting, also changing up a few early voting and polling places. Ardoin explained he had to set all of this in motion now because of logistical concerns such as ordering supplies, ensuring availability of adequate numbers of personnel, and possibly finding extra protective gear.


In virus gloom, LA govt lends helping hand

In all of the gloom about the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, here’s an Easter story showing off how Louisiana government can work well.

The news has been full of stories about the need for ventilators for virus victims. Behind the scenes are those people who use them on a daily basis just to breathe. For users with respiratory failure living at home, typically the household would have two such as on a wheelchair and beside a bed; thus, if one stops working correctly that person would be far less likely to die within minutes having another nearby.

Deshae has used these for over 17 years, most recently through Louisiana State University System’s self-funded insurance plan, through a supplier that will remain unnamed but is owned by a bunch of investment partnerships managed by the Blackstone Group. But earlier this year after botching attempts to transition her to a vent from a different manufacturer, the provider declared, despite its contract with LSU, that it no longer would supply vents particularly to her.


LA Legislature must stop Edwards end run

It’s time for the Louisiana Legislature to snuff out any attempt by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to use the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to make an end run around the people.

The coming of the virus brought understandably drastic measures to limit gatherings that attenuated commerce. A series of Edwards proclamations has closed many businesses and swaths of state and local government activities, on the theory that reducing human physical interactions would slow the spread of disease.

Never mind that decisions made by Edwards created the least effective, most painful solution. Even with a growing amount of evidence that Carnival created a supercharged environment for transmission (all too apparent now to members of the famous New Orleans Krewe of Zulu), Edwards failed to urge the state laboratory and hospitals – some of which receive billions of dollars a year from the state as designated charity hospitals – to develop testing capacity to implement a rapid check and quarantine system before any cases developed in the state, as did some other states.


Cancer myth doesn't explain virus pattern

If Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards is doing his utmost not to let a crisis go to waste, so are his ideological fellow travelers with their own leftist agenda focused on the environment and economy.

Bad timing with Carnival and bad policy by Edwards exacerbated the impact of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic on Louisiana. As of today, the state continues to rank third in both infection ratio and mortality per capita, behind New York and New Jersey.

Worse, New Orleans and Jefferson Parish have become, outside of the New York counties in and surrounding New York City, the nation’s epicenter of the virus. An incredible 1 in 77 people are infected in Orleans and Jefferson, although even more incredibly most of the New York City counties have an even lower ratio, led by the almost-surreal nearly 2.5 percent of Rockland County.


Easter Sunday, 2020

This column publishes five days weekly after noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

With Sunday, Apr. 12 being Easter, I invite you to explore this link.


LA budget inevitably faces cuts starting now

As the physical health of Louisianans remains threatened, the state’s current fiscal health continues to deteriorate, with more damage coming as a result of extending by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards measures that effectively close many businesses and dampen commerce now through the end of April.

To review the condition of the state financially prior to the first Edwards proclamation that attenuated business activity, economists had predicted on the order of $170 to $236 million greater revenues for fiscal year 2020, and for FY 2021 of $103 million. The orders will have put a halt to some business activities for at least one-eighth of the year. Essentially, five things are affected: income taxes, sales taxes, gaming taxes, other taxes, and severance/petroleum taxes and their externalities.

Some, like casino operations and video poker, essentially are shut down entirely for the entire period. Others like sales tax and income tax face some shrinkage because commerce declines and idled workers draw no income, nor do shuttered business. A depressed economy somewhat affects oil prices by reducing demand, but other exogenous factors also play out that will depress the price. The state estimated around $59 a barrel on average for FY 2020 and $60 for FY 2021.


Edwards chose higher-cost way to flatten curve

The good news is Louisiana maybe has entered the downhill portion past the worst of the health crisis. The bad news is that policy decisions will make that stretch longer and more painful than it could have been.

Yesterday, at what has become typical afternoon news conferences concerning the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards sounded more upbeat about the state’s prospects. He proclaimed that, in part due to what he alleged was the nation’s highest rate of testing and to social distancing measures (many of which come imposed courtesy of a series of proclamations he has made utilizing emergency powers), the rate of infection seemed to be tailing off, or “flattening the curve.” He recommended staying the course, continuing such measures and his proclamations to encourage these through their targeted expiration date of Apr. 30.

He was wrong about the testing data. Actually, as of that time (and as of today as well), Louisiana ranked second per capita in the country, at 1.61 percent of the population tested, to New York’s 1.75 percent. The Empire State continues to lead Louisiana in deaths per million, 322 to 140, and in infection ratio of 1:130 to 1:273 (Louisiana also has started to trail New Jersey in both categories as well).


LA virus policy leaves little improvement room

The bad news is Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards made mistakes in his responses to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in the state. The worse news is as a result he can’t do much to attenuate its ill-effects, which are among the worst in the country.

Essentially, Edwards did three things wrong:

1.     He discounted the massive incubation effect of Carnival and the proactive strategy it required to mitigate.

2.     He banked everything on a one-size-fits-all reactive social distancing strategy.

3.     He became locked into that where intensifying it brings few rewards with many costs and leaves no genuinely good alternatives.


LA has virus costs under control ... for now

The costs Louisiana incurs in battling the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic keep adding up, potentially presenting a growing budgetary problem.

Louisiana’s condition deteriorated rapidly so that as of today it ranks third in both infection rate and deaths per capita, prompting Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards only two weeks after the first confirmed case to ask for and have granted a disaster declaration from Republican Pres. Donald Trump. This allows the state to have 75 percent of disaster-related costs reimbursed by the federal government.

The problem is, these have accumulated quickly. As of this morning, the state had spent almost $569 million on its response. This means it and local governments owe in the neighborhood of $142 million.


Failing LA virus strategy needs drastic change

When Louisiana found itself unprepared to test aggressively for the Wuhan coronavirus as a proactive strategy to quarantine or treat, the fallback reactive strategy that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards had to resort to assumes personal behavior will flatten the infection curve. But it’s not working well, precisely because leadership failed to prepare for the onslaught.

Edwards has rolled the dice on exhorting the citizenry to minimize personal contact among themselves in order to break the back of the state’s infection rate that not only stubbornly refuses to subside, but also tries to shift higher. His strategy also treats the state as one, despite the enormously higher rates of infection and death in the New Orleans area. This weekend, he plead some more for the public to follow social distancing guidelines as directed from his office, saying strict adherence to these could make a big difference.

Not really. It would help, but only to turn a prolonged large disaster in certain parishes into a lesser, somewhat shorter disaster in these. Had Edwards acted differently a month ago, it never would have mutated into a crisis of these proportions.


Edwards mistakes exacerbated LA virus plight

While other states have begun “flattening the curve” of Wuhan coronavirus cases, Louisiana hasn’t yet. Policy mistakes by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and big city mayors explain why.

Two errors stand out in particular, although in retrospect avoiding one would have demanded expert crystal ball-reading skills even as it fed into the other. That was failure of attenuation, if not cancellation, of Carnival parading and celebrations. The first U.S. case cropped up in Washington on Jan. 19, and when Carnival started in earnest on Feb. 14 the country as a whole had just a baker’s dozen of cases, a number that barely rose by Carnival’s close on Feb. 25.

Edwards engaged in some minor finger-pointing in this regard when queried about his inaction. “There was never any hint from anyone to me … that there should be any consideration to downsizing or canceling Mardi Gras,” he told a national television audience. On Mar. 11, after Louisiana’s first case popped up Mar. 9, he issued the first of a series of proclamations that increasingly have confined citizens and closed businesses.


LA virus testing, death data don't add up

With little attention or fanfare, this week Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards extended a series of proclamations limiting gatherings and commercial activity to stave off the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. He did this using data that appears increasingly questionable.

Observers such as MacAoidh already have pointed out not only errors in data collection that affect perceptions about the disease’s contagion in Louisiana, but also have noted timing involved in releasing specific numbers on specific days fits a pattern designed to produce messaging that promotes a political agenda. Certainly, continuation of the Edwards bans throughout the entire state idles further a Legislature chomping at the bit to enact policy contrary to Edwards’ liking while it embolden actions comporting to his general philosophy of expanding government through increased taxation and spending.

The extension again raises the question of whether a blanket approach serves the state’s best interest. The figures for today continue to show the virus, at least in a critical form, remains largely a New Orleans-area phenomenon. Orleans, Jefferson, and their surrounding St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, LaFourche, and St. Charles Parishes have but 28 percent of the state’s population but 69 percent of the cases and 73 percent of the deaths.


Order defiance charge may end political careers

The legal drama starts, and it might cost some political careers along the way without accomplishing much of anything.

Tuesday, Central’s Life Tabernacle Church minister Tony Spell received summons from the Republican Police Chief Roger Corcoran, with six charges of violating R.S. 29:724.

That law gives the governor emergency powers including the issuance of proclamations to limit gatherings, and lists penalties up to a $500 fine and six months imprisonment. Spell allegedly violated it when he preached to considerably more people on several occasions than allowed since Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards began issuing orders with limitations because of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.

It didn’t change anything. That night, Spell conducted regularly-scheduled services before another crowd, which produced another set of summonses. And he’ll keep on going until he’s cuffed and jailed, which would be a public relations disaster for any politician involved.


Will Facebook cushion Advocate from its ills?

Will Facebook come to the “rescue” of Louisiana’s home of “there’s more to the story”™ and “reporting you can trust?”

Undoubtedly, snickers arose in newsrooms from Shreveport to Thibodaux and among news consumers from Vinton to Mound when reports surfaced that the source of these phrases to describe itself, the Baton Rouge Advocate, which includes allied operations in Ascension, Lafayette, and Orleans Parishes and several weekly newspapers – with competition from another daily newspaper only in Lafayette – sent out an e-mail plea to its subscriber base to “donate” money to it. This came in the wake of staff cuts and furloughs about a week after Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ first of three proclamations that progressively have brought a fair portion of the state’s economy to a standstill to combat encroachment of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Understand that, as the media landscape has changed with the advent of broadband delivery via Internet, cable, and satellite plus the social media revolution that in part cuts out information intermediaries, print newspapers have suffered tremendously. However, Advocate owner John Georges – a former gubernatorial and New Orleans mayoral candidate – since his 2013 purchase of the operation had pursued an aggressive expansion strategy that gobbled up or created outlets big and small, while smaller operations in particular have had difficulty in adapting to rising fixed costs and in getting a handle on increasingly important targeted digital advertising.


Congregants defying orders won't see penalties

They have been getting away with it. And they will continue to get away with it.

Central’s Life Tabernacle Church hasn’t missed much of a beat since Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a series of proclamation over the Wuhan coronavirus invasion into Louisiana. The orders began at limiting gatherings to 250, then went to 50, and the current iteration places the maximum number at ten. But the church continues tohold services and events that draw hundreds and even over a thousand participants.

Drawing national attention, pastor Tony Spell claims the virus won’t affect his congregants. He calls the matter a question of religious freedom, and suggests that the First Amendment’s free exercise and assembly clauses overrides any attempts at state government restrictions.