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Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

By Stephen Winham

I was among a distinct minority of people in state government who thought adding DROP to our state retirement systems was a bad idea for the state from the outset. It clearly provided a good benefit for employees at a time when state salaries were not nearly so generous as today, but I was concerned about the real costs, not just to retirement systems, but to agencies’ active payrolls. I was also concerned about real and perceived inequities resulting from employees making decisions they would later regret. In my opinion, the existence of DROP in state retirement systems has generally failed to benefit the state financially or otherwise – And I find the whole concept of “Back DROP”, the State Police Retirement System option recently publicized in conjunction with the controversy over SB 294 of 2014, ridiculous on its face.

DROP for our state retirement systems seemed to at least have sensible goals when originally implemented and estimating the fiscal impact seemed relatively easy for an actuary. Simply put, an employee, who would otherwise be entitled to retire, continued working and drawing a pay check. The amount that would have been paid the retired employee in monthly retirement checks was frozen at that level and went into a DROP account each month while the employee continued to draw a salary. The employee did not have to make contributions to his/her retirement system while in DROP, so s/he got an immediate increase in net pay and could continue to get raises, though they would not increase the retirement benefit amount. When the employee actually retired s/he could get the balance in the DROP account and begin to receive monthly retirement checks.

DROP was sold as a way to retain experienced employees for a period of time beyond when they might otherwise actually retire by providing them with an additional incentive. It was also supposed to accomplish the almost contradictory goal of encouraging higher paid employees to actually retire at the end of DROP participation. This would reduce the amount of money necessary for salaries overall and/or create additional promotional opportunities and openings for other employees.

So, DROP was viewed by most as a simple, predictable benefit for both the state and its employees. But, guess what?   It has rarely worked that way and the reality of the way it does work begs the following questions:

  • How many people who participate in DROP would have really retired, when eligible, in its absence? Based on experience, the answer is very few. Therefore, the major ostensible advantage of DROP to the state, retention of experienced employees, would not seem to have actually been a state issue.
  • How many state employees with retirement eligibility are indispensable? Again, my answer would be very few. A significant percentage of indispensable employees would indicate gross understaffing, poor management planning, or both.
  • How many people who enter DROP actually retire at the end of DROP participation? My guess, again based on experience, would be significantly fewer than originally projected.

Because employees can come out of DROP and continue to work without skipping a beat, any expected salaries savings can evaporate quickly. In fact, high salaried people not already eligible for the absolute maximum in retirement benefits often continue to work an additional minimum of 3 years so they can start to accrue additional benefits to be paid as supplements to their “frozen” regular retirement checks. So, ultimate liabilities of the retirement systems are harder to project and salaries on the active payroll are often higher than they would have been otherwise.

The new option Colonel Mike Edmonson apparently wanted to take advantage of via SB 294 only exists in the State Police Retirement System and is called “Back DROP”. I had never heard of this before and still find it hard to believe it exists and was actually recommended by an actuary. It does absolutely nothing DROP was intended to do except encourage some people to simply work longer.

If I understand it correctly, under “Back DROP” the employee starts thinking about retiring and how to game the retirement system to his/her best financial advantage. As retirement eligibility approaches, s/he gets the system to run numbers so s/he can make the best choice when s/he actually retires between the following:

1. Pretending s/he entered DROP up to 3 years ago (going back to the future, in other words); or

2. Getting a lifetime benefit based on the highest average salary

Does that sound anything like DROP to you? Me, neither. It sounds like having your cake and eating it, too. Those eligible can’t possibly make the wrong decision – for them – and no pesky actuarial reductions in benefits like the Initial Benefit Option (IBO) that is available to all retirees.

Go to the following link, scroll down to “BACK DROP Plan – Only for Members Eligible for DROP after 10/01/2009” and see how you interpret the option: http://lsprs.org/retirement/options/

Now, think about it. How is it possible to get in the ballpark of figuring out how to adequately fund a benefit that doesn’t actually defer anything and lets those eligible choose the best option for them at the last possible moment?   How must the thousands of people who retired under regular DROP plans in all state retirement systems feel about the ability of anybody else to have this open-ended option?

Our retirement systems have total unfunded accrued liabilities of some $19 Billion. These liabilities did not crop up overnight but must, under existing law, be liquidated by 2029. How can any legislative action that extends state retirement benefits to those not previously eligible for them possibly do anything to help address this problem?

As Everett Dirksen said, “A million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.” In Louisiana, we don’t seem to get the simple truth of that, and not just in our retirement policies.

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To probably no one’s surprise except a clueless Gov. Bobby Jindal, the takeover of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana 18 months ago has failed to produce the $20 million per year in savings to the state.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The OGB fund balance, which was a robust $500 million when BCBS took over as third party administrators (TPA) of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in January of 2013, only 18 months later stands at slightly less than half that amount and could plummet as low as an anemic $5 million a year from now, according to figures provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

OGB is one of the main topics to be taken up at today’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) when it convenes at 9 a.m. at the State Capitol.

OGB is currently spending about $16 million per month more than it is collecting in revenue, said Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter.

The drastic turnaround is predicated on two factors which LouisianaVoice warned about two years ago when the privatization plan was being considered by the administration:

  • Jindal lowered premiums for state employees and retirees. That move was nothing more than a smokescreen, we said at the time, to ease the state’s share of the premium burden as a method to help Jindal balance the state budget. Because the state pays a percentage of the employee/retiree premiums, a rate reduction would also reduce the amount owed by the state, thus freeing up the savings to patch gaping holes in the budget.
  • Because BCBS is a private company, it must return a profit whereas when OGB claims were processed by state employees, profits were not a factor. To realize that profit, premiums must increase or benefits decrease. Since Jindal had already decreased premiums, BCBS necessarily found it necessary to reduce benefits.

That, however, still was not enough and the negative income eroded the fund balance to its present level and now legislators are facing a severe fiscal crisis at OGB.

And make no mistake: this is a man-made crisis and the man is Bobby Jindal.

In a span of only 18 months we have watched his grandiose plans for OGB and the agency’s fund balance dissolve into a sea of red ink like those $250 million sand berms washing away in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the disastrous BP spill.

There is no tactful way to say it. This Jindal’s baby; he’s married to it. He was hell bent on privatizing OGB and putting 144 employees on the street for the sake of some hair-brained scheme that managed to go south before he could leave town for whatever future he has planned for himself that almost surely does not, thank goodness, include Louisiana.

So ill-advised and so uninformed was Jindal that he rushed into his privatization plan and now has found it necessary to have the consulting firm Alvarez and Marcel, as part of their $5 million contract to find state savings, to poke around OGB to try and pull the governor’s hand out of the fiscal fire. We can only speculate as to why that was necessary; Jindal, after all, had assured us up front that the privatization would save $20 million a year but now cannot make good on that promise.

In the real world, the elected officials are supposed to be the pros who know that they’re talking about while those of us on the sidelines are mere amateurs who can only complain and criticize. Well, we may be the political novices here, but the results at OGB pretty much speak for themselves and we can rightfully say, “We told you so.”

Are we happy or smug? Hell, no. We have to continue to live here and raise our children here while Jindal will be taking a job with some conservative think tank somewhere inside the D.C. Beltway (he certainly will not be the Republican candidate for president; he isn’t even a blip on the radar and one former state official now residing in Colorado recently said, “No one out here has ever even heard of him.”)

In a five-page letter to JLCB Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), Carpenter illustrated the rate history of OGB going back to Fiscal Year 2008 when premiums were increased by 6 percent. The increase the following year was 3.7 percent and the remained flat in FY-10. In FY-11, premiums increased 5.6 percent, then 8.1 percent in FY-12 when the system switched from a fiscal year to calendar year. but in FY-13, the year BCBS assumed administrative duties, premiums dropped 7 percent as Jindal attempted to save money from the state’s contributions to plug budget holes. For the current year, premiums decreased 1.8 percent and in FY-15 are scheduled to increase by 5 percent.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Carpenter said that since FY 13, when BCBS took over the administration of OGB PPO claims, OGB’s administrative costs began to shift to more third party administrator (TPA) costs as the state began paying BCBS $23.50 per OGB member per month. That rate today is $24.50 and will increase to $25.50 in January of 2015, the last year of the BCBS contract.

That computes to more than $60 million per year that the state is paying BCBS to run the agency more efficiently than state employees who were largely responsible for the half-billion-dollar fund balance.

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Remember the Ted Mack Amateur Hour on the old DuMont television network?

If not, don’t worry. Now that the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal is more than six years into its very own amateur show, it’s doubtful that even the most nostalgic among us would prefer watch those old grainy black and white, out of focus shows.

Not when you have this bunch bumbling and stumbling through botched polices in health care, education, environmental matters (remember those $250 million sand berms Jindal insisted on during the BP spill, the ones that washed away before they could even be completed?). And then there have been questionable contracts and one fiscal disaster after another as Jindal attempts each year to patch together the state’s operating budget with Bond-O and duct tape.

Ah, yes, those fiscal snafus.

And now there may be another looming on the horizon though granted, it probably won’t be on the magnitude of a quarter-billion dollar disappearing berm in the Gulf of Mexico or the massive budget cuts inflicted on higher education.

But it could turn into another of those pesky problems that Jindal just does not seem to be capable of handling. He reminds us of actor Chevy Chase, master of the pratfall where he just keeps falling and falling, wrecking everything in his path.

Remember when the alternative fuel tax rebate enacted by the legislature and signed by Jindal in 2009 went into effect two years ago this month?

When the bill was passed and signed as Act 469 of 2009, it was to give tax credits to purchasers of vehicles which used alternative fuels such as propane, butane and electricity and was projected to cost the state $900,000 over five years.

But then the flex fuel vehicles began hitting the market, catching everyone unprepared for the onslaught of buyers seeking the tax credits and the cost suddenly mushroomed to $100 million. When the true impact of the new law became apparent, Jindal immediately rescinded the act but not before 5,456 returns had been received by the Department of Revenue claiming total tax credits of a tad north of $18 million. Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), who owns a tax preparation service, filed stacks of applications on behalf of his clients—without, of course, informing the administration of the financial consequences.

Another senator alerted Alario to the potential problem—after purchasing a vehicle and claiming his own tax credit—but neither informed Jindal. And neither did Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee—not even after he had filed for the $3,000 tax credit on each of the two vehicles he purchased.

The administration, in finally awakening from its apparent slumber and during one of the few days Jindal was vacationing in Louisiana, voided the law and announced that any new car buyer who had already submitted his or her application to the state would receive the maximum allowable tax credit up to $3,000 but subsequent purchasers would not be eligible.

And therein lies the problem.

The Louisiana Board of Tax Appeals, an independent quasi-judicial entity comprised of three attorneys who are tax law experts who must decide on the merits of appeals, currently has 700 appeals from car buyers who were denied the tax credit.

If all 700 applicants were to be approved for the $3,000 tax credit, the state would be on the hook for $2.1 million.

The next scheduled meeting of the board is in August, though the date was not available because the board’s web page has not been updated since 2013.

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“The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’s probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”

—From a Governing magazine story by writers Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh, quoting John Mikesell of Indiana University, who co-authored a new report that placed Louisiana at the top of the list of most corrupt states.

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Alvarez & Marsal, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s favorite consulting firm, has submitted invoices totaling more than $2.1 million thus far, accounting for a tad more than the firm’s $5 million contract to ferret out $500 million in savings to the state, according to documents provided by the Division of Administration.

And so far, all taxpayers have to show for that is a 2 ½ page preliminary report provided to legislators earlier this month recommended $74 million in spending cuts, some of which have already been rejected by the administration.

A&M’s invoices included an $80,000 charge for an assessment of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) conducted in December at the specific request of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols.

But…but…but didn’t the administration conduct a full blown assessment of OGB before it made that decision to privatize the agency a couple of years ago? Is this administration determined to study and consult this state into financial oblivion?

And speaking of OGB, that $500 million reserve fund it had when Jindal came up with the bright idea of privatization—an economy move, he said; it would save the state gazillions—has shrunk like hemorrhoids in a Preparation H commercial and both the Legislative Fiscal office and the Legislative Auditor’s office are projecting an end of year balance of only $55 million or so.

And Jindal’s ploy of reducing premiums—the by-product of that action being that it would also reduce the state’s portion of premiums by 9 percent, freeing up money Jindal would use to patch yet another state budget—has now done a 180 with the word going out this week that premiums for state employees and retirees and their dependents will be increased by 5 percent, effective July 1.

Talk about your voodoo economics…

So why blow $80,000 to conduct the OGB “assessment when the Legislative Fiscal office and/or the Legislative Auditor’s office would probably have performed the same service for free.

Wait…they did already.

Yep, both conducted their own separate assessment and came up with remarkably similar numbers for the anticipated reserve fund reduction by the end of 2014. The picture isn’t pretty and no consultant’s study is going to change that.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said the reserve fund is currently being reduced by about $17 million a month and even with the 5 percent premium increased announced by the administration, the drawdown will be reduced by less than half—$7 million, leaving the monthly deficit at $10 million a month.

Nichols, in typical fashion, continues to spout the party line, assuring us that everything is peachy and the fund is in no danger of going broke. So now with this prediction coupled with previous pronouncements, we now know her to be a legal authority, an economist, an actuary and a wellness expert. Given her track record, we should be worried, very worried.

But we digress. Back to those A&M invoices and the firm’s recommendations.

In case there may be those whose memories are short, A&M is the same firm that Jindal hired last year to come up with his brainstorm of eliminating state income taxes, a plan that crashed and burned before ever lifting off.

It’s also the same firm that advised the Orleans Parish School Board to fire 7,500 teachers after Hurricane Katrina, an action that prompted a class action lawsuit which in return produced a judgment in favor of the teachers that could end up costing the state $1.5 billion.

So, what did that 2 ½ page preliminary report contain? Oh, great things, like requiring women on Medicaid to use midwives or doulas for delivery (these would be women who often go without prenatal care), finding jobs for prison inmates, cutting the thickness of asphalt in future highway overlays, and cutting back hours of operation for the Cameron Parish ferry.

It didn’t take Jindal long to cave to pressure to keep the ferry open.

Scratch that big savings.

Then Jindal decided against a plan not part of the A&M recommendations, that of closing 18 motor vehicle offices throughout Louisiana.

Out with that savings plan.

Now, having already been paid 40 percent of its contract amount, A&M still has not submitted the overall plan for saving $500 million—a plan originally given the deadline of April 30 but extended to the end of May.

That gives A&M three days to come up with an additional $426 million in savings.

Could it be that the one-month extension was timed to have A&M submit its savings plan only hours before the legislature adjourns on Monday, thus giving lawmakers no opportunity to review the plan or to offer any input of their own?

With this governor, stranger things have happened.

 

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“We’re taking money away from the disabled community and giving it to motor sports?”

—State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), questioning the transfer of $4.5 million for the developmentally disabled to fund repairs to an auto race track in Jefferson Parish.

“The answer to your question, Sen. Claitor, is ‘yes.’ All right, any other questions?”

—State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in his response to shut down discussion of the move and to silence Claitor.

 

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The best thing about blogging is that we are not bound by the constraints of pseudo-objectivity as are the reporters for your local daily. Every post for us is an op-ed piece in which we are free to express our disgust with or enthusiasm for people and events.

At this stage of the 2014 legislative session in Baton Rouge, we tend to get a little confused so excuse us if we can’t quite remember if it was Billy Wayne Shakespeare or Forrest Gump who said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Despite the rapid onset of CRS Syndrome, we have no trouble or hesitancy in calling something—or someone—stupid if that is the way we perceive it.

And sometimes we are willing to go a step further in injecting words like “corruption,” “duplicity,” “sleaze” (we especially like that one), or even “malfeasance.”

And so it is that after receiving a heads-up from our friend and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston, we employ each of these adjectives in describing the actions of the Senate Finance Committee on Sunday after 10 of its 11 members (Sen. Dan Claitor was the lone member to cling to his principles) discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

It’s bad enough that this state, thanks to the idiotic fiscal foolishness of Gov. Bobby Jindal, is so deep into the financial dumpster but still places a priority to lavishing millions of dollars on things like something called an IndyCar Series race, but to take that money from developmentally disabled citizens who so desperately need state services just to survive is nothing short of criminal.

Jindal, while traipsing all over the country with his goofy grin, rejects expansion of Medicaid that might alleviate some of the suffering, and after vetoing last year’s appropriation of extra funding to help shorten the waiting list for services for the developmentally disabled, now displays the sheer callousness, or stupidity, of committing to find the money for facility and track improvements. http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Disable_to_Racetrack.mp3

That’s correct. He made a commitment to the owners of the facility to drop $4.5 million on them. And who benefits from this largesse? The state? Teachers? Health care? State employees?

You can check those boxes no, no, no and no. A privately owned auto racetrack would be the correct answer.

Our first impulse was to plunge into the campaign contributions of campaign fund abuse poster boy Republican Sen. John Alario of Westwego in Jefferson Parish, president of the Senate. The whole deal just had that smell to it.

But, no, that was not the connection. His contributions from the principals were negligible in the overall scheme of things—something in the area of $3,500. That’s not enough to pay for one of Alario’s legendary meals at a fancy New Orleans eatery or to pay for one of his luxury boxes at the Superdome.

Nor were there any contributions to any of the Finance Committee members from NOLA Motor Club, LLC., operators of the raceway.

Our next step was to check in with the Secretary of State’s web page and conduct a corporations search for NOLA Motor Club, LLC. Voila! Whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and marine transportation and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC., and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed a whopping $106,500 to Jindal.

Laney Chouest was active in the political arena during that same period, contributing tens of thousands of dollars to minor candidates, but he was smart—or lucky—enough to stay away from Jindal and members of the Senate Finance Committee, thus making the direct link difficult.

The question then becomes why the hell is the state bailing out this family, which can well afford to make its own updates and repairs to the racetrack? Why indeed.

To take money from Louisiana’s very most unfortunate citizens and hand it to the Chouest family on a silver platter is not only unconscionable, reprehensible, irresponsible, immoral, or whatever other appropriate word you may wish to invoke in condemning this classic example of political corruption, it should be criminal and should carry the same penalties as embezzlement, public bribery or child abuse.

Instead of retreating to reality TV, those of us fortunate enough to have mentally and physically healthy children, siblings, parents and spouses should take a few minutes and consider the plight of our neighbors who are not so fortunate. They are the ones who can never enjoy dining out in a restaurant, going to a movie, taking family vacations or watching your reality shows because providing care to family members in dire need is a full time job without the downtime of cheering for LSU, Southeastern or ULL in this year’s regionals, super regionals or College World Series.

Extreme? Strident? Outraged? Damn right, hell yeah on all three.

The oath of office our elected officials take comes with a huge responsibility to place the welfare of our citizens uppermost above all else. Jindal and 10 members of the Senate Finance Committee have turned their backs on that promise by once again knuckling under to our absentee governor (and demanding this appropriation on his part) and in so doing, have committed the most disgraceful form of malfeasance.

Accordingly, here are the names of the 11 members of the Senate Finance Committee, how they voted on the amendment to take the $4.5 million away from the developmentally disabled, and their email addresses—just in case you might have something to add to what’s already been said here.

Sen. Jack Donahue (Chairman) (YES)R-Mandeville  donahuej@legis.la.gov
Senator Norbèrt N. “Norby” Chabert (Vice-Chairman) (YES) R-Houma  chabertn@legis.la.gov
Senator R.L. “Bret” Allain, II (YES) R-Franklin  allainb@legis.la.gov
Senator Sherri Smith Buffington (YES) R-Keithville  smithbuffington@legis.la.gov
Senator Dan Claitor (NO) R-Baton Rouge  claitord@legis.la.gov
Senator Ronnie Johns (YES) R-Lake Charles  johnsr@legis.la.gov
Senator Eric LaFleur (YES) D-Ville Platte  lafleure@legis.la.gov
Senator Fred H. Mills, Jr. (YES) R-New Iberia  millsf@legis.la.gov
Senator Edwin R. Murray (YES) D-New Orleans  murraye@legis.la.gov
Senator Gregory Tarver (YES) D-Shreveport  tarverg@legis.la.gov
Senator Mack “Bodi” White (YES) R-Baton Rouge  whitem@legis.la.gov

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By Dayne Sherman, guest columnist

Students are graduating from universities across Louisiana this May, and high school students are heading to college campuses this summer and fall. It’s an exciting time of year for students, parents, extended families, professors, and teachers. Nothing could be better.

But we need to be frank. Louisiana colleges and universities have been cut $700 million, 80 % of state funding since 2008. The tuition is increasing at an unsustainable and crippling rate, and many students will be strapped with student loan debt for decades to come.

This was done because Gov. Bobby Jindal doesn’t care about higher education for Louisiana residents and because his minions in the Legislature allowed him to steal from higher education in order to fund patronage from Shreveport to Port Sulphur. In fact, much of this patronage was devised as a way to pay off his cronies—often out of state—and garner future political favors. It doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to figure this out. Just read the newspapers.

The primary avenue to pay off the campaign favors and buy votes is through bloated consulting contracts. They keep Jindal’s as well as legislators’ supporters and campaign contributors happy, happy, happy.

But it’s time to stop the stupidity and fund higher education. We have students to educate and no funding to do so. Higher education has been starved while consulting contracts have been fed like meat hogs headed to market.

The only hope I see on the horizon is HB 142, a bill filed by Jerome “Dee” Richard (No Party-Thibodaux) and championed by Treasurer John Neely Kennedy (R-Madisonville). It calls for state agencies to cut 10 % from their contracting budgets and the $500 million saved to go to fund higher education. It’s a fair and fiscally conservative plan. The bill has sailed through the House, and now faces the big challenge: Gov. Jindal’s handpicked salons on the Senate Finance Committee. The committee meets on Monday, May 19 at 9:30 AM.

I believe passage of this bill is utterly essential to save public higher education in Louisiana.

There have been ongoing foes fighting Louisiana higher education. Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is one example of someone who has done nothing for higher education. How he can pretend that he’s a supporter of the educational institutions in and around his district is a real mystery. It’s time for him to put up or shut up, and HB 142 is the test.

We have a chance to save higher education. Will Donahue and White stand with the people of his district or with Jindal and his cronies? We will know soon enough.

Dayne Sherman resides in Ponchatoula. He is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise and expects the publication of Zion: A Novel in October. His website is daynesherman.com.

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Just when you thought the news coming from this administration couldn’t possibly get any more dysfunctional…it does.

In fact, whatever semblance of logic this administration had remaining is fast circling the drain even as our governor attempts to push his agenda onto a national stage while leaving it to high-priced consultants and amateurs like Kristy Nichols to find solutions to mounting problems at home.

This is the same governor, Bobby Jindal, who recently told the graduating class at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University that the entertainment industry’s intolerance is eroding the very foundation of America’s freedom—even as his Department of Economic Development continues to give away the store in the form of hefty tax incentives to….that very same entertainment industry.

As the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live would say, “Well now, isn’t that special?”

Earl Long might say it another way. He well may have been describing Jindal’s flexibility in spewing his political rhetoric to play to the views of his audience when he told Ruston Daily Leader fledgling reporter Wiley Hilburn in July of 1959 (only a couple of months before Long’s death) that Hilburn’s uncle, former Lt. Gov. C.E. “Cap” Barham, could “talk out of both sides of his mouth and whistle out of the middle at the same time.”

But bizarre as Jindal’s performance has been over the past six-plus years, he would be hard-pressed to surpass the downright preposterous laundry list of proposed cuts in spending rolled out on Monday by Nichols, serving as his proxy while he campaigns to be the Second Coming of Alfred E. Neuman.

All that was missing from Nichols’ theater of the absurd were the orange wig, red nose, big shoes and a seltzer bottle.

To say this administration is delusional is to be overly kind.

To refresh, you will remember that back in January, the administration signed a $4.2 million contract (quickly amended to $5 million in violation of state law requiring legislative concurrence on initial amendments greater than 10 percent) with the consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal, charging the firm with finding $500 million in savings by April. Well, April has come and gone and now Nichols says the firm’s report will be a month late, now expected at the end of May.

Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), to further refresh the old memory banks, is the same firm that offered up the sage advice to the Orleans Parish School Board in December of 2005, only months after Hurricane Katrina, to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

That little bit of economic wisdom may wind up costing the state $1.5 billion following a court decision in favor of the teachers who filed suit after being summarily fired.

A&M also is the same firm that recommended the privatizing of the LSU Medical Center in New Orleans (formerly Big Charity Hospital) in the voluminous Streamlining Commission report initiated during Jindal’s second year in office, thus sowing the seeds of Jindal’s ambitious privatization plan for LSU’s statewide system of hospitals.

And we all know how well that fared, don’t we?

According to friend and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston, the preliminary report submitted by A&M last Thursday (May 8) was a whopping two and one-half pages in length ($2 million per page—by comparison, this post alone should be worth $10 million) and contained recommendations for only $74 million of the $500 million goal.

And now Nichols has come before the Senate Finance Committee to inform senators that “Every (cabinet) secretary signed off on the savings.”

Well, DUH! Of course they signed off on the proposals. They may be sycophants but they ain’t stupid. We know what happens to anyone in the state employ who might dare adopt a viewpoint at odds with Jindal. Obviously, these people who could never command comparable salaries in the private sector want to cling to their jobs like so many ticks in a hound dog’s ear.

But enough of the ancient history; let’s allow Jindal and A&M to demonstrate in their own words just how inane the future leader of the free world can be. Among the innovative ideas for saving the taxpayers $74 million are these jewels of pure brilliance:

  • Cutting back the hours of operation of the Cameron Parish ferry;
  • Circling employment ads for prison inmates;
  • Decreasing the thickness of asphalt on roadways;
  • Requiring pregnant women on Medicaid to use midwives or doulas for delivery;
  • Treating the partners of pregnant women in government health care programs for STDs.

Oh, we get it. Very funny. Kristy, you’re quite the card.

What? You’re serious?!!!?? No way! C’mon, guys; a joke’s a joke but now you’re starting to scare us. We’d rather hear something a little less scary—like finding the hook from the one-armed killer in the car’s door handle or about the water skier falling into a nest of water moccasins.

Okay, now sit back, Kristy, and take a reality check here. Where’s the proposal to prohibit offering six-figure salaries to washed-up politicians so they can occupy a desk for a few year to fatten their state pensions? We mean, even with motion sensor lighting, these guys are so useless that they inhabit darkened offices.

You want to cut the hours of operation of the Cameron Ferry from 24 to 16 or 18 hours and you want to cut the thickness of asphalt overlay in half—from two inches to one-inch? You say the two would save the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) $10.9 million?

Have you ignored the fact that the only detour along Highway 82 in Cameron Parish would require a drive of 120 miles?

You say Texas has already adopted a new material that allows that state to overlay roadways with one-inch-thick asphalt? Wonderful. Have you taken into account that the soil composition and consistency in Louisiana, particularly South Louisiana, is vastly different than that of Texas? To implement this foolish proposal would place an added onus on already over-burdened DOTD maintenance units when the thinner asphalt produces thousands of potholes that are certain to occur as the base beneath the asphalt deteriorates. If DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas did agree to this idiocy as Nichols claims, she is grossly unqualified to head up the agency responsible for the construction and maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges.

Circling employment ads for prisoners? Gawd. For this, we’re paying A&M $5 million. We could have suggested that for a buck-fifty.

Nichols explained that the state intends to implement the program whereby low-risk prisoners in Orleans and Jefferson parishes would earn their keep by working by serving the latter portions of their sentences in minimum-security facilities such as parish prisons run by sheriffs and giving part of their paychecks to the prison operators to help pay for their room and board. She said that would save the state $9.4 million. How do you propose to keep the sheriffs honest in reporting actual salaries against what they report to the state? Just a thought.

Midwives and doulas for deliveries for pregnant women on Medicaid? Interesting concept. Has anyone thought of bringing back leeches? How about electric shock for mental illness? And willow bark for treating fever? And now, simply because they are on Medicaid, we propose to deny these expectant mothers the same childbirth facilities to which people like Kristy Nichols or Sherri LeBas or Kathy Kliebert might be privy?

And you propose to treat the sexual partners of pregnant women for STDs after the fact?

Beautiful, just bleeping beautiful.

This aberration of an administration, as we (borrowing a line from Three-and-a-Half Men) have said before, has all the emotional stability of a sack full of rats in a burning meth lab.

Even sadder is the fact that the legislature, in allowing this spoiled brat of a child Jindal to get away with his shenanigans, for failing so miserably to hold him accountable, isn’t far behind.

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When Louisiana’s favorite Koch-head Bobby Jindal rejected the Medicaid expansion provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, he trotted Kathy Kliebert, his third secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) before the legislature to proclaim that the state would have to pay $1.7 billion over a decade for the expansion.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Officer, however, cut that 10-year estimate by half: $886 million, pointing out that in the first three years, the expansion would actually reduce state spending.

Never mind that his refusal to accept the $16 billion in new Medicaid money would provide health care for nearly a quarter-million Louisiana residents currently without medical coverage.

Never mind that his decision meant that Louisiana residents, like those in the other 20 or so state that rejected the Medicaid expansion, would be paying for its implementation in other states.

Never mind that the $280 million Medicaid expansion would cost the state in 2022 pales in comparison to the $2.2 billion the state is projected to spend on incentive payments to attract private business to the state—some of which would produce no new jobs or at best, low-paying jobs.

Never mind also the $80.6 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) federal grant to provide high speed broadband internet to rural areas of Louisiana—also rejected by Jindal in lockstep compliance with the wishes of the Koch brothers-run American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) agenda.

And never mind the fact that despite Jindal’s disdain for accepting federal funds (remember how he, like Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, protested too much about accepting stimulus funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and then helicoptered to all those Protestant churches in North Louisiana to hand out the checks?), Louisiana still ranks as the fourth most dependent on the federal government.

That’s correct; Louisiana is still co-dependent on the federal teat and if Jindal, despite all his anti-government puffery, dared slicing and dicing other federal largesse from an already stressed state budget, he may well have open insurrection on his hands.

Apparently the only area where he can safely reject federal funding to satisfy the far right—especially his benefactors the Koch Brothers, Charles and Bill—is in areas where only the poor and disenfranchised—those unable to fight back—are impacted.

Wall Street Cheat Sheet, an online news service with 11 million monthly readers, notes that despite the ratcheted-up rhetoric between red and blue states, it is the red states (Republican) that are more likely to receive help from the federal government—a fact that helps them keep local tax bills lower and unimaginative politicians like Jindal in power.

In computing its rankings of states’ dependency on federal government, the Cheat Sheet report took three factors into account:

  • Return on taxes paid to the federal government. This statistic reflects how many dollars in federal funding state taxpayers receive for every dollar in federal income taxes paid.
  • Federal funding as a percentage of state revenue. This metric tells what percentage of a state’s annual revenue is provided by the federal government. Without federal dollars, states would have to look elsewhere for revenue, most likely via tax increases, or cut services. The steady influx of federal funds allows executives like Jindal to eschew tax increases while at the same time publicly scorn federal money.
  • Number of federal employees per capita. This illustrates the federal government’s role as a nationwide employer and reveals the percentage of a state’s workforce that owes its livelihood to Washington.

Red states are known for imposing lower taxes than blue states, but it appears they are able to do so because they are more dependent on federal funding, the report says.

The only states more dependent than Louisiana on Washington are (in order) Alabama, New Mexico and Mississippi.

Louisiana’s return on taxpayer investment, for example, if $3.35, meaning the state receives $3.35 for every dollar it sends to Washington. That’s the fourth-highest return in the nation, behind South Carolina ($7.87), North Dakota ($5.31) and Florida ($4.57). That compares to Delaware’s 50 cents return for every dollar paid to Washington and the 56 cents of Illinois and Minnesota.

The 6.76 of its citizens employed by the federal government ranked 14th lowest in the nation.

But that positive was more than offset by the negative metric showing that 44.26 percent of Louisiana’s state budget is funded by federal dollars, second highest only to Mississippi’s 45.84 percent.

That’s correct: the anti-federal government, anti-Washington, more-is-less governor, who preaches the mantra of less government is the best government, serves as chief executive of the state that ranks second in the nation in its voracious appetite for federal dollars.

A quick examination of the bigger line items in the state’s current General Fund and Capital Outlay budgets (which will expire on June 30) is quite revealing—something a little north of $11 billion:

FEDERAL FUNDS

General Appropriations (HB1: FY2013-2014)

Agency:

  • Governor’s office of Coastal Activities: $1,163,604;
  • (DOA) Community Development Block Grant: $1,481,607,780;
  • Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority: $64,470,311;
  • Gov. Off. Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness ; $1,275,010,482;
  • Department of Military Affairs: $36,558,254;
  • LA. Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Criminal Justice: $21,430,530;
  • Office of Elderly Affairs: $22,318,669;
  • Louisiana War Veterans Home: $6,837,674;
  • State Veterans Cemetery: $769,767;
  • Northeast Louisiana War Veterans Home: $6,632,146;
  • Southwest Louisiana War Veterans Home: $6,725,639;
  • Northwest Louisiana War Veterans Home: $7,015,855;
  • Southeast Louisiana War Veterans Home: $6,301,319;
  • Criminal Law and Medicaid Fraud: $5,989,344;
  • Gaming: $1,375,911;
  • Lt. Governor: $5,509,255;
  • Agriculture & Forestry: $7,716,818, $4,181,260;
  • Office of Business Development (Business Incentives Program): $4,739,367;
  • State Library: $3,099,513;
  • State Parks: $1,371,487;
  • Cultural Development: $2,059,575;
  • DOTD (Aviation): $26,761,411;
  • Pardons & Parole: $1,480,697;
  • Office of State Police: $10,252,081;
  • Office of Motor Vehicles: $1,090,750;
  • Highway Safety Commission; $34,585,088;
  • Office of Juvenile Justice: $891,796;
  • Developmental Disabilities Council: $1,355,052;
  • Medical Vendor Administration (Medicaid/Medicare): $228,242,058;
  • Medical Vendor Administration (Medicare): $4,794,910,040, $185,066,345;
  • Other Medicaid, Medicare funds: $185,066,345;
  • Office of Public Health: $237,866,451;
  • Office of Behavioral Health: $36,185,361;
  • Disaster Crisis Counseling Services: $2,320,529;
  • Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities: $6,376,792;
  • Community and Family Services: $598,538,224;
  • Department of Natural Resources: $27,233,004;
  • Office of Conservation: $1,752,796;
  • Office of Coastal Management: $86,206,980;
  • Office of Charitable Gaming: $883,007;
  • DEQ: $4,913,837;
  • Office of Environmental Compliance: $10,094,810;
  • Office of Environmental Services: $4,572,895;
  • Office of Management and Finance: $3,207,858;
  • Department of Wildlife and Fisheries: $2,781,838;
  • Office of Wildlife: $17,526,411;
  • Office of Fisheries: $50,914,428;
  • Office of Workers Compensation Administration: $165,174,992;
  • Board of Regents: $13,363,873;
  • Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium: $4,034,667;
  • Office of Student Financial Assistance: $67,637,166;
  • Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors: $29,713,934;
  • Huey P. Long Hospital: $945,558;
  • Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center: $4,800,336;
  • W.O. Moss Regional Medical Center: $7,937,503;
  • Washington-St. Tammany Regional Medical Center: $5,481,167;
  • Southern University Board of Supervisors: $3,654,209;
  • Department of Education: $53,743,617, $1,062,669,284, $4,163,877;

Executive Department:

  • Louisiana Youth for Excellence: $877,185;
  • Juvenile Legal Representation: $328,573;
  • Education Programs: $18,972,982;
  • Medical Vendor Administration: $87,191,390;
  • Payments to Private Providers/Services for Medicaid Eligible Children: $844,368,786;
  • DHH: $148,223,040;
  • Office of Children and Family Services: $426,096,064;
  • Louisiana Workforce Commission: $17,465,074;
  • LSU System: $1,572,622;
  • Department of Education: $1,120,576,778;
  • Community Development Block Grant: $1,828,666,994;
  • Coastal Protection and Restoration: $6,400,000;
  • GOHSEP: $1,275,239,610;
  • Education: $19,072,519;
  • Military Affairs: $17,184,491;
  • Commission on Law Enforcement/administration Criminal Justice: $25,083,035;
  • Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs: $812,222;
  • Title III, V, VII and NSIP: $21,571,923

Capital Outlay (HB2):

  • Department of Military Affairs: $7,389,000;
  • Department of Veterans Affairs: $6,849,462;
  • DOTD: $30,000,000;
  • Wildlife and Fisheries: $1,660,000;
  • St. Helena Court House: $2,680,000;

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