Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

With all that’s going on with the Louisiana State Police, it has become easy to overlook the fact that we will be voting in a little more than two weeks for someone to try to undo the damage done by eight years of the Jindal carnage inflicted upon this state. (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the State Police in a day or so.)

The governor’s race, unlike those of past years, has failed to generate a lot of interest among voters. That’s probably because the media has convinced us that U.S. Sen. David Vitter is a lock to be our next governor. I mean, who could possibly get excited over an election when we’re being told that it’s inevitable that the pariah of femininity will be our next governor?

Speaking of the media, the questions posed in the televised debates thus far have been nothing short of disgraceful. It’s no wonder that people are turned off by this year’s election. How, after all, does Kim Davis even begin to figure in the issues facing Louisiana’s next governor? That question was just plain stupid and a huge waste of time.

And who put the media in charge of anointing winners even before an election? Do our votes actually count anymore? (We will be addressing those questions shortly.)

First of all, what self-respecting Republican woman in Louisiana would ever cast a vote for someone like Dave Vitter? For that matter, what Republican woman would ever allow her husband to vote for this man who has only contempt for women as exhibited by the fact that:

  • He frequented prostitutes in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans;
  • He kept an aide, Brent Furer, on his payroll for more than a year after Furer held his ex-girlfriend hostage, threatened to kill her and in fact, attacked her with a knife. Vitter denied Furer was assigned to women’s issues. Furer’s title? Legislative Assistant on Women’s Issues.
  • He voted a year ago to block the Paycheck Fairness Act despite the fact that Louisiana ranks second-worst in the nation in gender pay disparity.

We say Republican women only because we feel it’s a foregone conclusion no Democrat woman would ever vote for this man who continues to refuse to address his personal and public issues with women.

But all that aside, let’s look at the real reason that Vitter is considered a favorite to make the runoff against Democrat John Bel Edwards.

Money. Lots of money.

And that brings us to the questions we posed earlier: Who anoints the winners and do our votes really count?

First of all, a super PAC is established for his benefit. Super PACs are the scourge of the democratic process, folks. End of discussion. And his Super PAC, ironically dubbed The Fund for Louisiana’s Future in what must have been someone’s idea of a cruel joke, had more than $3 million on hand at the end of 2014. And that doesn’t even count the money he has raised directly in corporate and special interest contributions.

The very existence of the Super PAC teetered on the edge of legality and was approved only after a court fight. Super PACs are barred from coordinating with candidates’ campaigns but if you believe Vitter has not involved himself in the decision-making process of The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, I’ve got some beautiful beachfront property near that Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish for sale really cheap.

If you trust Vitter even for a nano-second, I’ve got a straitjacket in just your size.

His Super PAC aside, Vitter has another $4 million on hand as we head into the final stretch for the first primary on Oct. 24. As anyone not in a coma must surely know, The Fund for Louisiana’s Future has already initiated a media blitz attacking Vitter’s two Republican opponents, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle on the assumption that he must eliminate them to get into the runoff. He apparently is holding off on attacking State Rep. John Bel Edwards until the second primary.

Compare that to $1.6 million for Darden who has yet to crank up his TV ad campaign, $1.4 million for Edwards, and $1 million for Angelle.

Far more telling, however, is an examination of who contributes and where those contributions are coming from.

For that, we pulled only the contributions of those giving the maximum allowable $5,000. To go deeper would have just taken far too much space.

Before we begin our look into the contributions, ask yourself this question: If you give $100 or even $250 to a candidate and he is elected and down the road your interests conflict with a donor who coughed up the $5,000 maximum, who do you think will get the politician’s ear? What chance would you have in such a scenario? We thought so.

This is not a hypothetical, folks. This is real. It’s not Monopoly money. It’s money poured into campaigns by special interests who have a reason for parting with their money—and the reason is not their hunger for good, honest government that motivates them.

Remember that if you remember nothing else when you walk into that voting booth on Oct. 24.

You are a moving part in a very large machine that is being lubricated with cash in order to turn out legislation that benefits any number of special interests, none of whom even knows who you are. When you exit the voting booth, that big money has no more use for your services—until the next election cycle.

Cold? Callused? Jaded? Yes, yes, and yes. But we at LouisianaVoice are pragmatists, not idealists. We as a society do not pledge allegiance to the flag; we pledge allegiance to the oil companies, the banks, Wall Street, and major contractors. Sorry if we burst anyone’s bubble, but facts are facts, unpleasant though they may well be. Here’s another little factoid: the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist. Chew on that for a while, tea partiers.

Looking just at $5,000 contributions, we find that Vitter had 970 donors putting up the maximum, or $4.85 million. That’s a huge—very huge—chunk of his total contributions. Of that 970, there were 164 (17 percent) from out of state. That’s $820,000—more than the total of all the $5,000 contributions to Edwards and only $30,000 less than those of Dardenne.

Angelle barely had a third as many $5,000 contributors (340 for $1.7 million). Of those 340, no fewer than 81 (24 percent) were from out of state. Like Vitter, the $5,000 contributors made up a sizable block of his total campaign contributions. Where does that leave the $5, $10 and $20 contributors in the overall scheme of things?

From those figures, the numbers dropped precipitously for Dardenne and Edwards. Dardenne received 170 contributions of $5,000 each for a total of $850,000, about half of his total contributions, according to records obtained from the State Ethics Commission. Sixteen, or 9.4 percent, were from out of state.

Edwards recently issued a press release touting the low number of out-of-state contributors to his campaign. Records show that he received 114 contributions of $5,000 each for a total of $570,000. Only three of those, or 2.6 percent, were from out-of-state, in his case, all three from Texas.

This is an important election and Louisiana citizens need to get up off the couch, put down that bag of chips and forget about football for the few minutes that it takes to act on this state’s future.

No matter who wins, it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get this state back on the course of recovery after eight years of neglect, abuse, and outright corruption. The new governor is going to inherit a massive deficit, all manner of problems from higher education and public education, the state hospital privatization mess, a world-leading incarceration rate, corporate welfare (Stephen Waguespack’s protestations notwithstanding), and one of the highest poverty rates in the country, to name but a few.

So here is one last question to ask yourself before you enter that voting booth:

Do you vote for the candidate who had the most money to saturate the television airwaves with ads containing half-truths and outright lies, a candidate who is bought and paid for by Wall Street, the pharmaceutical firms, big oil, the major banks and similar special interests or do you vote for the candidate who you truly feel will devote his efforts to addressing the state’s problems head-on?

The state’s future dos not belong to The Fund for Louisiana’s Future. That vote-buying Super PAC is not even in Louisiana; it’s in Washington, D.C.

The state’s future instead belongs to you.

The choice is yours.

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None of the $11 million earmarked to pay for state police pay raises through enhanced debt collection efforts by the Office of Motor Vehicles has been submitted to the state general fund, according to a spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee.

Meanwhile, a confidential report prepared for legislators has been obtained by LouisianaVoice which indicates that despite State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s claim last January that the pay raise would not affect “upper echelon” personnel, 145 lieutenants, captains, and majors got pay raises totaling $5.3 million per year. Additionally, four deputy superintendents received raises averaging $26,170 (23 percent) each.

Seven pilots ($29,769, or 39 percent), 24 emergency services personnel ($31,247, or 45 percent), two polygraphists ($33,995, or 49 percent), and six support personnel ($25,309, or 31 percent) also received pay hikes.

The breakdown shows that 13 majors and 106 lieutenants received 46 percent pay hikes and 26 captains got bumps of 53 percent. The average salaries ranged from $108,571 for lieutenants to $136,333 for captains, the report indicates.

The largest individual salary increase was $57,252 and the largest single percentage increase was 74 percent, the report says.

State classified employees, when they receive merit increases, generally receive only 4 percent increases but those salaries have been frozen for nearly six years because of budgetary constraints.

Moreover, a separate national study released on Tuesday (Sept. 29) listed police departments from three Louisiana cities as among the worst paying in the nation, including one rated as the lowest.

Altogether, 945 state troopers, ranging from cadets to majors, accounted for more than $20 million in pay increases, thanks to two measures passed by legislators six months apart in 2015.

Unsaid in the report was the effect the pay raises will inevitably have on the unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of the Louisiana State Police Retirement system.

State senators, with minimal discussion, approved the $11 million pay increase during the waning days of the 2015 legislative session only six months after troopers received their first sizable increase. Together, the two raises boosted state trooper pay by 30 percent, according to calculations by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The first state police pay adjustment was approved in June of 2014 but the money did not become available until the Jan. 19 increase took effect.

In the case of the second pay raise, however, the funds were committed before they were received and none of the anticipated $11 million from old tickets has been received by the state general fund, a situation that could leave the state another $11 million short if the money is not forthcoming by the end of the current fiscal year which closes next June 30.

Lines 42-47 on page 65 of House Bill 1, the Appropriations Bill, appropriates the $11 million “Payable out of state general fund by Statutory Dedications out of the Debt Recovery Fund to the Office of State Police for additional salary support for state troopers, in the event that House Bill No. 638 of the 2015 Regular Session of the Legislature is enacted into law.”

HB 638, by State Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge), which was enacted into law and signed by Bobby Jindal as Act 414, provides that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) collect certain fees “associated with the suspension of an operator’s license” which are related to auto liability insurance requirements. The fees become delinquent after 60 days and are referred to the Office of Debt Recovery.

The bill earmarks $25 million from the Debt Recovery Fund for use by the Office of State Police. Here is the legislative digest of HB 638 (ACT 414)

But with none of that money having been yet gone to the general fund, legislators are beginning to worry.

Additionally, the state police pay increases have not yet produced additional sergeants’ positions. The report said, “State Police leadership claimed in two meetings that the agency was experiencing difficulty attracting Master Troopers who were interested in applying for Sergeant Positions.” The number of Sergeants, however, has only increased by four, from 193 to 197, it said.

Moreover, there have been only 123 promotions within state police ranks and 44, or more than a third, were from cadet to trooper.

There has been one promotion from captain to major, five from lieutenant to captain and 11 from sergeant to lieutenant, the report indicates.


Coincidentally, even as the two pay increases combined to make state police the highest-paid law enforcement agency in the state, a national survey Tuesday (Sept. 29) listed three Louisiana cities as among the 30 with the lowest pay for police officers.

Alexandria had the lowest pay in the nation among major cities with an average salary of $31,370 per year for officers. Monroe, with an average salary of $34,000 was eighth lowest, while Lake Charles was 21st lowest in the state with an average salary of $35,320.

The State Police Retirement System (STPOL) had the smallest UAL of four state retirement systems which combined for an UAL balance of $18.588 million in 2013. The breakdown for the individual systems shows that the Teachers Retirement System (TRSL) had the largest UAL of $11.13 million, followed by the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System (LASERS) at $6.25 million, the Louisiana School Employees Retirement System (LSERS) at $863.7 million and STPOL at $305.4 million (up from the $166.5 UAL of 2006).

STPOL receives revenues from the state and from taxes on insurance premiums but the funding levels from the state have decreased steadily since the high of 73.1 percent of 2007 to 59.1 percent of 2013.


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We couldn’t resist this one from our favorite cartoonist. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

The timing could not have been better—or worse, depending upon your perspective.

But all things considered, Wednesday was a bad day for a certain Louisiana governor flailing away in a doomed quest for the Republican presidential nomination.

If he posed so much as a remote threat against any of his Republican opponents for the Republican presidential nomination, today’s events would surely be used against him in an campaign ad blitz. But he doesn’t and they won’t.

On the one hand, there was the survey released Wednesday (Sept. 24) by 24/7 Wall Street, the service that publishes all sorts of survey results from the best-selling cars to the worst-performing state governments. The latest survey shows Louisiana to be the fifth worst-educated state in the nation.

On the other, there was the story, also on Wednesday, that said Louisiana’s public colleges and universities have been told to “be prudent” with their current budgets—a not-so veiled way of saying get ready for more budget cuts.

The U.S., in case you haven’t been paying attention, has some of the most expensive college educations in the world—and the expenses have risen to record highs, the survey said. In fact, the cost of a college education has increased faster than the rate of inflation—24 percent just since 2012,

Only 22.9 percent of adults in Louisiana hold at least a bachelor’s degree, which ranks 46th in the nation and well below the national average of more than 30 percent. That puts the state two notches behind Alabama’s 23.5 percent and ranked higher than only Kentucky (22.2 percent), Arkansas (21.4 percent), Mississippi (21.1 percent), and West Virginia (19.2 percent). Massachusetts had the highest with 41.2 percent of its adults having attained at least a bachelor’s degree.

In fact, Louisiana ranks just ahead of our next door neighbor in so many surveys that rumor has it there may be a bill introduced in the next legislative session to change the state’s motto from “Union, Justice and Confidence” to “Hey, At Least We Aren’t Mississippi.”

Louisiana had the fourth lowest percentage (83.6 percent) of high school graduates.

Louisiana also ranked seventh lowest with a median household income of $44,555 in 2014 and even those among the 22.9 had the seventh lowest median earnings ($46,903) for bachelor degree holders. Even more depressing is the fact that the median income for holders of bachelor’s degrees managed to pull the overall median average up by less than $2,500 per year.

Nearly one in five Louisianians live below the poverty line, the third highest poverty rate in the nation. This, in a state with three of the 10 busiest ports in the nation (including the busiest, the Port of South Louisiana, and the 4th and 10th busiest, New Orleans and Baton Rouge) and three of the nation’s largest refineries (Marathon in Garyville, Exxon in Baton Rouge, and Citgo in Lake Charles).

Moreover, the state is embarrassingly rich in chemical plants, oil and gas reserves, sulfur, agriculture and seafood. But still we consistently lag behind the rest of the nation in every conceivable measure of progress and prosperity.

And yet, here we are, teetering at the edge of yet another midyear budget shortfall, or as State Treasurer John Kennedy said, “We have hit the trifecta, but not in a good way.” He was talking about the news that we have just learned that we’re going to have to make up for last fiscal year which ended June 30 with a deficit (though Bobby Jindal and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols won’t say how much). Together, Kennedy said, the combined shortfalls for last fiscal year and the current year combine to paint a bleak picture for next year as well, as the combined deficit is expected to approach $1 billion.

(Note to Kristy: Don’t let the door hit you on the backside as you exit next month on the way to grab your golden parachute with Ochsner Health System.)

Though the Jindal administration isn’t saying much about the latest crisis (you have to wonder how Bobby will spin this in his fiscal responsibility message on the GOP presidential campaign trail), Kennedy at least doesn’t duck the issue. He estimates it to be more than $100 million.

This budgetary news comes on top of the Medicaid shortfall of more than $300 million, a TOPS fund which is projected to be $19 million short and word that Jindal’s ill-fated hospital privatization plan has hit yet another major setback.

LSU, citing a breach of the public purpose, terminated its cooperative endeavor agreement with the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF) barely two years after the foundation took over operation of two north Louisiana hospitals.

Saying all avenues to resolve differences had been exhausted, LSU President F. King Alexander said that Academic Health of North Louisiana Hospital Management Co., Inc., will take over operation of University Health Shreveport and University Health Conway.

It was so bad for Jindal that he missed a golden opportunity when the Pope spoke to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

When President Obama visited New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last month, Jindal sent a message asking that the President not talk about climate change when he came here. But when he had the opportunity to offer that same advice to Pope Francis, Jindal, a Roman Catholic, remained mute.

Perhaps he was just too busy traveling around Iowa telling anyone who would listen (that would be Timmy Teepell and Kyle Plotkin) what a great job he has done as governor of Louisiana and how he is uniquely qualified to run the country.

We are reminded of the Winston Churchill quote about Clement Atlee that could be adapted so easily to our governor: An empty taxi pulled up in front of the Iowa caucus and Bobby Jindal got out.

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“Danger, Will Robinson!”

Okay, for those of you not old enough to remember the ‘60s, that’s the catchphrase from the old CBS series Lost in Space.

But the warning might just as well be applicable for patients of Ochsner Health System come Oct. 15.

That’s the date Kristy Nichols will be leaving as Bobby Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration to become Ochsner’s Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read lobbyist). That was something of a surprise in that the smart money had her going to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Even as Jindal was sending out an email blast informing all three of his Louisiana supporters that he had just landed in California for the Republican debate and that he was “fired up” (yes, he actually said that; we’re so lucky to be on his email list), Nichols was announcing her resignation.

In her own email sent to all Division of Administration (DOA) employees on Tuesday, Nichols said she will be helping Ochsner “to strategically manage their growth as a healthcare provider.”

In other words (well, not in other words; as Oscar Madison said to Felix Unger in The Odd Couple: “Those are the words”), she will be doing for Ochsner what she and her boss did for the state during her three-year reign.

There were some other classic quotes contained in Kristy’s email as well as the official announcement from Jindal’s office. “I believe that our accomplishments will provide lasting benefits for generations to come,” she said.

Well, the effects of her tenure will be felt for generations to come but to shoehorn the word “benefits” into that statement must’ve taken a bit of imagination on someone’s part.

“I am proud of the work that we have accomplished in making Louisiana a better place to live and raise a family, and I am confident that we will continue down this path going forward,” she added.

The amazing thing is she apparently said that with a straight face. In our upcoming book about Jindal, an entire chapter is devoted to why Louisiana is not a better place to live and raise a family. (A hint: there are nearly three dozen categories in which Louisiana ranks as the worst or near the worst in the nation—hardly a ringing endorsement of the claim of “a better place to live.”)

But for sheer brass cajones, the trophy has to go to Jindal who, in heaping praise on Nichols, said she has “fully dedicated herself to bettering the state of Louisiana,” and “Together, we’ve been able to reduce the size of government, improve health care across the state, and create a better, stronger Louisiana.”

No wonder the boy continues to languish at less than 1 percent in the Republican sweepstakes. Bobby, you may want to check out the 9th Commandment. That improved health care claim is a damned lie. There’s no other way to say it than to say our “Christian” governor is a damned liar. He knows it and we know it.

And as the state, barely two months into the current fiscal year, is already cutting $4.6 million in spending ($3.8 million of which fell on higher education), instead of sticking around to try to solve the mess, she bails. (But then again, we’ve had three years of her problem-solving and we know what that accomplished.)

Just as we learn that the TOPS free college tuition program will fall $19 million short, she lights a shuck.

Even as the projected budgetary shortfall for next year is already more than $700 million, she cuts and runs.

Most important, considering where she’s headed, the Legislative Fiscal Office informs us that Kristy’s office failed to account for $335 million in increased spending anticipated by the Department of Health and Hospitals. So, naturally, she’s going to work for Ochsner to (and we can’t repeat this often enough) do for them what she’s done for the state.

God help us but most of all, God help Ochsner, heretofore a premier provider of health care for residents of South Louisiana.

This is the individual who once said her job was to make Bobby Jindal look good. Well, we all know how that turned out.

She is the same one who commissioned an employee satisfaction/efficiency study only to find the results so devastating that she tried to keep them from becoming public. (Sorry to rain on your parade, Kristy, but it was leaked to LouisianaVoice which posted the results last October and which showed severe morale problems within DOA) http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/02/employee-survey-of-doa-employees-reveals-simmering-morale-problem-no-one-more-popular-than-jindal-in-poll/

Then, after we ran the story, she set out on a crusade to find the leak and ended up punishing the wrong employees in the wrong agency. (How’s that for being proactive in addressing the problem of poor morale?)

She’s the same person who hired Alvarez & Marsal at $5 million and then promptly amended the contract (illegally) to $7.5 million for the company to find ways for the state to save $500 million. The 50 percent amendment was in violation of provisions that allow only a 10 percent maximum increase in contract amounts without legislative concurrence.

She’s the same one who orchestrated the Office of Group benefits debacle which raised premiums and lowered benefits for state employees, retirees, and dependents last year. That was after the state lowered premiums as a furtive means of lessening the state’s contribution obligations so that she and Jindal could use the extra money to patch over gaping budget holes—a tactic that depleted OGB’s reserve fund from $500 million to virtually nothing.

Kristy is the same one who has presided over budget disaster after budget disaster her entire tenure with this year’s patchwork effort barely lasting until legislators hit the door of the State Capitol to head back to their districts. Now, as higher education is facing even more budget cuts after the problem was supposed fixed, she smugly expressed confidence that the funds would be restored “if income forecasts improve.” She said she was “hopeful” about that possibility. http://neworleanscitybusiness.com/blog/2015/08/28/analysis-holes-and-worries-emerge-in-louisianas-budget/

And of course, we are all hopeful that we have the winning Power Ball ticket which would improve our own income forecasts.

And just last Friday (Sept. 11) a glowing press release was issued by DOA lauding the $75 million savings in the first year of the Office of Technology Services consolidation. http://www.doa.la.gov/comm/PressReleases/Consolidated%20Office%20of%20Technology%20Services%20Saves%20$75%20Million%20in%20First%20Year,%2009-10-15.pdf.

The only problem: the release was just one more in a long line of blatant lies designed to make the administration look good. And to be completely candid, it takes some real whoppers to do that.

Senate Bill 481 by State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) created the Office of Technology Services (OTS) and was signed into law by Jindal as Act 712 of the 2014 Regular Legislative Session as part of an effort to consolidate information technology (IT) services across state agencies.

At the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), for example, the IT budget has not been reduced and in fact, may have been increased, according to sources within DOTD.

DOTD is paying for things under the consolidation that it has never had to pay for before, such as paying DOA to house the servers and mainframe (previously housed in-house at DOTD facility). DOTD is also paying more to DOA for services such as the LaGOV Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP),    the state’s data warehouse which provides “end-to-end” support for statewide and agency-specific administrative business processes.

Moreover, DOA has not allowed DOTD to purchase new equipment (which was budgeted) for the last three years. As much as 40 percent of DOTD computer equipment is six years or older, making it difficult to design roads and bridges with modern software.

So, while some savings may have been achieved by other departments and some general fund money saved (of which DOTD uses none), DODT Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) money is not being saved.

And while some savings might be realized in the future, in the short term it is most likely paper savings.

All these attributes are what Kristy Nichols will take with her to Ochsner.

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“When I ran for Governor of Louisiana, I made a promise to the people of this state that I would not raise taxes. I kept my promise. I’ve taken a lot of heat from politicians and special interests, including some in my own party, for my refusal to raise taxes. To some politicians, principles are meant to be compromised on and promises are meant to be broken. When I said I wouldn’t raise taxes, I meant it.”

Bobby Jindal, in his best Joseph Goebbelesque claim that he balanced the 2015-16 budget without raising taxes despite $750 million in tax increases approved by the legislature.

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