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dis·crim·i·na·tion

dəˌskriməˈnāSH(ə)n/

noun:

The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things.

Synonyms: prejudice, bias, bigotry, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, unfairness, inequity, favoritism, one-sidedness, partisanship;

hyp·o·crite

ˈhipəˌkrit/

noun:

A person who indulges in hypocrisy (see: Legislature)

sub·ser·vi·ent

səbˈsərvēənt/

adjective

prepared to obey others unquestioningly.

Synonyms: submissive, deferential, compliant, obedient, dutiful, biddable, docile, passive, unassertiveInformal: under someone’s thumb (see: Legislators, Norquist)

What is it about this time of year that turns a group of men and women into blithering idiots, incapable of comprehending the inconsistencies they perpetuate in the name of good government?

Take House Bill 418 by Rep. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette) and SB 204 by Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie), for two prime examples. HB 418 SB204

Both bills, being pushed hard by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (read: Bobby Jindal), would abolish forbid payroll deductions for public employee unions.

Stephen Waguespack, who previously worked in Jindal’s 2007 campaign and later served as Jindal’s executive counsel and chief of staff, is president of LABI.

Jindal, looking more and more like Scott Walker with each passing day, apparently wants to emulate the Wisconsin governor who recently said if he were elected president, he would “crush” all unions. http://thinkprogress.org/election/2015/05/04/3654397/scott-walker-says-crush-whats-left-american-unions-elected-president/

“I feel it unethical for taxpayers to pay an individual to deduct union dues when they are not exactly sure what the union dues are for,” sniffed Bishop, apparently oblivious to approved payroll deductions for the Louisiana United Way which may support causes the donor might not wish to endorse. http://theadvocate.com/news/12063375-123/payroll-deduction-for-unions-under

Bishop may also have overlooked the question of ethics involved in his expenditure of $6,240 in campaign funds for LSU football tickets in 2012 and 2013. (Note: one of the entries for April 26, 2013 is a duplicate and should not be counted.)

http://ethics.la.gov/CampaignFinanceSearch/SearchResultsByExpenditures.aspx

Martiny, other than introducing SB 204, has been largely silent on the issue. Perhaps, unlike Bishop, he is hesitant to utter the word “ethical” in light of his own campaign expenditures which eclipse those of his House counterpart.

Campaign finance records show that that Martiny has dipped into $107,475 of his campaign funds to pay for such non-campaign-related expenditures as athletic events, meals, air travel, lodging and casinos.

Here is the breakdown on just the athletic events: Tickets for LSU football ($28,823), New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans ($22,680), New Orleans Saints ($22,670), the 2006 NCAA basketball regionals ($1,480), the 2004 Nokia Sugar Bowl ($600)—altogether, a combined expenditure of $76,252. Additionally, there were unspecified expenditures of $864 for “Augusta” (the Masters Golf Tournament, perhaps?) and $590 for Ticketmaster.

Other “campaign” expenditures for Martiny included $7,300 for furniture, $5926 for hotel and resort accommodations, $4,348 for air fare, $5,705 for nine meals, an average of $634 per lobster (mostly at Ruth’s Chris in Metairie), $1,500 for an apparent membership at Pontchartrain Yacht Club, and $5,000 at two truck stop casinos.

To be fair, he did chip in $4,500 for the Better Government Political Action Committee though it was unclear whose better government he was trying to promote.

In an incredible stretch, supporters of the measures linked union dues to abortion clinics when one supporter said the dues could end up supporting such organizations as Planned Parenthood.

Brigitte Nieland, LABI vice president for workforce development, said Louisiana taxpayers are supporting the automatic collection of dollars to go and fund projects that they say they do not support.”

But opponents say the bills are just measures to gut unions and to silence workers by handing more power to big corporations. “It is a way of getting unions out of the way of these large corporations and state political or legislative agendas that are not education or education-friendly,” said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

Voters might be able to conjure up a bit more respect for lawmakers if they would just be honest and say they are trying to destroy public employee unions.

But they just can’t seem to be able to admit that. Instead they create phantom arguments such as preventing members from being forced to spend dues on causes that they oppose and, most implausible, that it eases the burden on the state to collect the dues.

Unless you happen to be LABI member Lane Grigsby. Bob Mann recently had a post on his Something Like the Truth blog in which Grigsby said on video (since removed from LABI’s website—did LABI learn transparency from Bobby Jindal?), “When you cut off the unions’ funding, they lose their stroke.” http://bobmannblog.com/2015/05/06/labi-leader-caught-on-video-paycheck-protection-bill-is-fatal-spear-to-the-heart-of-teacher-unions/

Aha! We may at long last have found that honest man Diogenes went searching for with his lamp (until he hit the halls of the Louisiana Legislature at which point he found it necessary to search for his stolen lamp). Anyone seen Scott Walker lurking around the State Capitol?

Why would legislators single out just one payroll deduction when there are literally dozens that are approved by the state?

Approved plans include payroll deductions for savings programs, life insurance, disability insurance, dental insurance, health insurance, the United Way, Secretary of State employees’ Association, Louisiana Wildlife Agents Association, Louisiana State Police Honor Fund, Louisiana State Police Officers Association, Louisiana State Troopers Association, Louisiana Society of Professional Engineers, Fire Marshal Association of Louisiana, Deferred Compensation plans, Probation and Parole Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 50, and….well, you get the picture.

If you really want to know why it’s so important, you need only read the endorsement by none other than Grover Norquist of Washington, D.C., head of Americans for Tax Reform, the man and organization who gives the marching orders (read: no-tax pledge) to legislators and governors all across the country, including Louisiana. https://www.atr.org/louisiana-labor-committee-passes-paycheck-protection-bill

“HB 418 saves taxpayer dollars by taking the government out of the dues collection business,” Norquist says. “No more administrative or financial resources will be used by state government to funnel money to unions that, in turn, often use that very money to work against the interests of Louisiana taxpayers. If the unions want the money, they will have to ask for it themselves.”

And oh, such a financial burden it is for a completely automated, computerized and untouched by human hands system to deduct those nasty dues.

That’s selective reasoning at best.

The House Labor & Industrial Relations Committee, by a 9-6 vote, has approved Bishop’s bill which now goes to the full House for debate.

So now we know for certain that nine members of that committee are still taking their marching orders from Norquist and Jindal.

Here are the committee members. Talk about a stacked deck. http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Cmtes/Labor.aspx

We share the sentiments expressed by Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) that the legislature has more important matters on its plate than spending time trying to inflict yet more punishment on the state’s teaching profession.

Like a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

And yes, we are keenly aware that there were and still are abuses of power in the labor movement. But given the conditions of American labor before the birth of the union movement, I will opt for dealing with those abuses. I would rather not see women and children confined in sweat shops for 12 yours a day for starvation wages. I would rather not see those trying to stand up for their rights clubbed by goons hired by the robber barons. I would rather not see consumers sold rotten meat by the meat packing plants depicted in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Yes, of course there were abuses in the labor movement. There still are. And there’s not in the halls of government and on Wall Street? In case you haven’t been watching the pendulum has swung far back in the other direction—too far. Corporations wield far more power today than labor. Don’t believe it? Look at the campaign contributions. Compare what Labor gives to what corporations give to the PACs. Check out who has bought the most elections over the past 40 years. And don’t even try to play the corruption card.

But Grover’s will must be done for his is the power and the glory forever.

Amen.

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JINDAL STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS(FROM OUR ANONYMOUS CARTOONIST: CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

If there was any lingering doubt that Bobby Jindal has been committing payroll fraud, that doubt was erased in last Monday’s State of the State address to legislators at the opening of the 2015 legislative which, thankfully, will be his last such address.

Fraud is defined as:

  • The wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain;
  • Deceit, trickery, or breach of confidence perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage;
  • A person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

Payroll fraud is further defined as the unauthorized altering of payroll or benefits systems in order for an employee to gain funds which are not due. The person making financial gain could be the employee or could be an associate who is using the employee to commit the fraud while taking the funds for himself.

There are generally three types of payroll fraud but for our purposes we are interested in only one:

  • Ghost employees—A person, fictional or real, who is being paid for work he does not perform. In order for the fraud to work the ghost employee must be added to the payroll register. If the individual is paid a monthly salary this is easier for the fraudster, as once this has been set up there is little or no paperwork required. In order for the fraud to work, the ghost employee must be added elected to the payroll register. Once this has been set up, there is little or no paperwork required.

Under that definition, Jindal could certainly be considered a ghost employee. One person even suggested that it was not really Jindal speaking to legislators, that Jindal was actually in Iowa and they were being addressed by a hologram.

We maintain that Jindal is committing payroll fraud by vacating the state so often and leaving the details of running the state to appointed subordinates as inexperienced and naïve as he. The point here is this: No one on his staff was elected; he was. And he has not been at the helm of the ship of state and by absenting himself so frequently and so consistently as he gins up his presidential candidacy, he is committing payroll fraud, theft, and malfeasance. Others, like former Desoto Parish School Superintendent and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Walter Lee have been indicted and been prosecuted for payroll fraud.

Before we really get into his speech to legislators, JINDAL ADDRESS TO LEGISLATURE we simply must call attention to the feeble effort at humor he (or someone) injected into the third line of his speech:

“Well, here we are…at the moment that some of you have been waiting for a long time—my last state of the state speech.”

After an apparently appropriate pause, he continued: “No, that was not supposed to be an applause line…and I do appreciate your restraint.”

Seriously? You actually wrote that line in your speech? If you have to write that in, if you are incapable of ad-libbing that simple line, then we now understand that idiotic response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.

Before getting to the real meat of his legislative agenda for this year (if you can call it that), he touched ever-so-lightly on a few other points he generously referred to as his administration’s accomplishments. Our responses to each point are drawn directly from statistics provided by 24/7 Wall Street, a service that provides a steady stream of statistical data on business and government:

  • “We cleaned up our ethics laws so that now what you know is more important than who you know.” (A quick look at the appointment of Troy Hebert as director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after the baseless firing of Murphy Painter could quickly debunk that bogus claim. So could several appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors and the equally egregious firing of key personnel like Tommy Teague who did their jobs well but made the fatal mistake of crossing Mr. Egomaniac.)
  • “We reformed our education system…” (Louisiana is the fifth-worst educated state and we are the third-worst state for children who struggle to read);
  • “We reformed our health care system…” (Really? Is that why the privatization of our state hospitals remain in turmoil? That same reform ultimately forced the closure of Baton Rouge General Mid-City’s emergency room because of the overload brought on by the closure of Earl K. Long Hospital? Can we thank your “reform” for the fact that Louisiana still has the nation’s third-lowest life expectancy rate or that we enjoy the nation’s third-most unhealthy rating, that we are fifth-highest in cardiovascular deaths or that we have the highest obesity rate in the nation?);
  • “…Our economy is booming.” (Seriously? Louisiana is rated as the worst state for business in the U.S.; we rank sixth-highest among states where the middle class is dying; we remain the eighth-poorest state in the nation with a poverty rate that is third-highest, and we’re saddled with the fourth-worst income disparity in the nation and we’re rated the 10th-worst state in which to be unemployed.);
  • “We have balanced our budget every year…and have received eight credit upgrades.” (This one of those claims so preposterous one doesn’t know how to respond, but we’ll give it our best. Jindal has repeatedly patched budget holes by skimming funds from other agencies, like more than $400 million from the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, from the sale of the tobacco settlement, from ripping funds for the developmentally disadvantaged (to fund a race track tied a political donor—what was that line again about “what you know, not who you know”?), by cutting health care and higher education, by selling state property, and now he’s trying to cover the current $1.6 billion budget hole by selling the State Lottery. As for those credit upgrades, we can only point to the February action by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s bond rating agencies to move the state’s credit outlook from stable to negative—and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.);
  • “The end result is a stronger, more prosperous Louisiana for our children. I measure Louisiana’s prosperity not by the prosperity of our government, but by the prosperity of our people.” (So, why are the fifth-most dangerous state in the nation? The 10th-most miserable state? Why do we have the eighth-worst quality of life? And the 11th-worst run state in the nation? And why have you never once addressed in your seven-plus years in office our ranking as the number-one state in the nation for gun violence or our ranking as first in the world for our prison incarceration rate?)
  • “We don’t live by Washington’s rules of kicking our debts down the road.” (For the love of God…);
  • “We have laid out a budget proposal that seeks to protect higher education, health care and other important government functions.” (And that’s why higher education and health care have been cut each of your years in office and why more cuts are anticipated that could conceivably shut down some of our universities. You really call cuts of up to 80 percent “protecting” higher education?);
  • “We have a system of corporate welfare in this state.” (Wow. After more than seven years of giving away the store to the tune of billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks, you finally come the realization that perhaps your generosity to the Wal-Marts, chicken processing plants and movie production companies may have been a bit much—that those policies may have actually hurt the state? What brought about this sudden epiphany? Bob Mann, in his Something Like the Truth blog, was all over that when he called attention to Jindal’s latest comment in the face of his claim a couple of years ago that we were “crushing businesses” with oppressive taxes. We’ll let him take this one.) http://bobmannblog.com/2015/04/17/bobby-jindal-is-now-against-corporate-welfare/
  • “We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut…” (Why the hell did it take you seven years?)

After all was said and done, after his hit-and-run sideswipes at all his purported “accomplishments,” Jindal devoted the bulk of his address to only two issues: Common Core and religious liberty. Of the latter issue, he said, “I absolutely intend to fight for passage of this legislation.”

Jindal was referring to Bossier City Republican State Rep. Mike Johnson’s HB 707 which would waste an enormous amount of time and energy—time that could be better spent on far more pressing matters, like a $1.6 billion deficit—on preventing the state from taking “any adverse action” against a person or business on the basis of a “moral conviction about marriage.”

Despite claims by Jindal and Johnson to the contrary, the bill is nothing more than a clone of the Indiana law that constitutes a not-so-subtle attack on gays or anyone else with whom any businessman deems a threat to his or her definition of marriage.

So, after eight addresses to the legislature, Jindal has yet to address any of the issues like inadequate health care, violence, poverty, pay disparity or equal pay for women, increasing the minimum wage, poor business climate (his rosy claims notwithstanding), our highway system (we didn’t mention that, but we are the seventh-worst state in which to drive, with the 15th-highest auto fatality rate), or our having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Instead, the thrust of his address is aimed at Common Core—he called it federal control even though Common Core was devised by the nation’s governors and not the federal government—and something called the “Marriage and Conscience Act.”

And he expects those two issues, along with something he calls “American Exceptionalism,” to thrust him into the White House as leader of the free world.

And, of course, attacking national Democrats like Obama and just today, Hillary Clinton, on her claim of having immigrant grandparents. Jindal, of course, wants exclusive rights to that claim and says so with his oft-repeated platitude: My parents came to this country over 40 years ago with nothing but the belief that America is the land of freedom and opportunity. They were right. The sad truth is that the Left no longer believes in American Exceptionalism.”

Well, to tell the truth, if Bobby Jindal is the example—the standard-bearer, if you will—for what is considered “American Exceptionalism,” then frankly, we don’t believe in it either.

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In the seven-plus years of his administration, Gov. Bobby has pretty much had his way with the legislature in passing his so-called reform programs. The lone exception is his aborted effort to abolish the state income tax a couple of years ago.

Everything else—education reform, state employee retirement reform, privatization of the Office of Risk Management, the Office of Group Benefits, the state’s charity hospital system, rejection of Medicaid expansion, cutting funding for higher education, the sell-off of state property, and of course, all those generous corporate tax exemptions, credits and incentives for—sailed through the legislature, to borrow a phrase from my formative years, like crap through a goose.

Only the courts were able to restore some degree of sanity to the education and retirement changes.

So how has all that change worked out for the state?

Well, according to Marsha Shuler, writing in today’s Baton Rouge Advocate, the OGB reserve fund, which was already largely depleted since the privatization of that agency, has now fallen below that financial advisers believe to be a “safe” level. Those reserve funds, which were more than $500 million before Gov. Bobby’s meddling, are now at a dismal $102.8 million and at a burn rate (paying out more than it’s taking in) of $14.9 million a month (spending $1.14 for every dollar in revenue), the fund is on a trajectory of hitting less than $30 million by June 30. http://theadvocate.com/news/11705445-123/group-benefits-reserves-continue-to

The privatization of the state’s charity hospital system has resulted in a $190 million state liability to Medicaid even after the privatization deal was approved in part by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/2015/01/11/hospital-decision-good-jindal-less-others/21538739/

The ripple effect of the hospital privatization has also resulted in the decision by Baton Rouge General Mid-City to close its emergency room facilities next month because of operating losses generated by the closure of Earl K. Long Medical Center which served the poor community of Baton Rouge.

But never one to pass up an opportunity to put a positive spin on bad decisions, Gov. Bobby, while taking pot shots at the Obama administration for everything from Obamacare to his Mideast policies to the threat of an imminent Islamic coup in Europe, keeps telling us (on those rare occasions when he is in the state) how wonderful things are and how Louisiana continues to outpace the rest of the nation in economic growth and business climate. http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=4156

His head cheerleader, Rolfe McCollister is right behind him, lending the influence of his publication, the Baton Rouge Business Report, to augment Gov. Bobby’s rosy proclamations.

http://www.businessreport.com/business/columns/la-makes-biggest-leap-in-forbes-rankings

But one should keep uppermost in mind that McCollister was treasurer of Gov. Bobby’s re-election campaign and as Bobby’s appointee to the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, was instrumental in securing the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for that prayer rally attended by about 3,500 people in the spacious 18,000-seat arena.

But let’s look at the latest survey, one which Gov. Bobby undoubtedly will ignore as he traipses about Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in search of enough commitments to get him to even register in polls of likely Republican presidential contenders.

24/7 Wall St. is a corporation which runs a financial news and opinion company. The company publishes up to 30 articles per day which are published throughout the world.

Its latest survey, issued today (Feb. 27) puts Louisiana at the very bottom of its list of the Best and Worst States for Business. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2015/02/26/the-best-and-worst-states-for-business/?utm_source=247WallStDailyNewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=FEB272015A&utm_campaign=DailyNewsletter

That’s right, Mississippi no longer owns the anchor spot in 24/7 Wall St.’s multitudinous surveys of things good and bad. This one belongs to Louisiana.

Here’s what the survey says about Louisiana:

  • No state fared worse on 24/7 Wall St.’s business climate Index than Louisiana. The state is not the worst place to run all businesses, however. The manufacturing sector accounted for more than 20% of Louisiana’s economic output in 2013, the fourth highest such contribution in the country. Despite the strong sector, Louisiana generally provides poor conditions for business.
  • Nearly one in five residents lived in poverty in 2013 — nearly the worst rate in the nation — contributing to both the low quality of the labor force as well as a low quality of life in the state. The working-age population was projected to decline by 3.2% from 2010 through 2020, one of the worst declines in the nation. While nearly 30% of Americans had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, only 22.5% of Louisiana adults had at least such a degree, also nearly the lowest rate. Poor education contributed to poor scores in innovation. The state was one of only a handful of states where the average venture capital investment was less than $1 million.

There were several factors that went into the evaluation of the state’s lowly status as a place to do business:

  • The state’s gross domestic product growth of 1.3 percent was 17th lowest in the nation;
  • Average wages and salaries of $44,828 were 23rd lowest;
  • The percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees was 5th lowest at 22.5 percent;
  • The 395 patents issued to residents were 13th lowest;
  • The negative 3.2 percent projected working-age population growth was 13th lowest.

The survey also noted that Louisiana ranked:

  • 47th in infrastructure;
  • 48th in the quality of life (the lack of adequate health care for many could be a factor in that statistic);
  • 49th in labor and human capital

Mississippi? As far as Louisiana and Gov. Bobby are concerned, that state is up there in the stratosphere at only the 4th worst in the nation.

Rounding out the bottom five were West Virginia (49th), Kentucky (48th), and Alabama (46th).

The five best, in order, were Utah, Massachusetts, Wyoming, South Dakota and Delaware, according to the survey.

Iowa and New Hampshire ranked 12th and 14th, respectively, which may help explain why Gov. Bobby spends so much time in those places instead of the state that he was elected to govern.

Nah.

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If ever there was an appropriate analogy to the old expression rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s methods of dealing with successive years of budgetary shortfalls (read: deficits) would have to be it.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) now has openly defied him (each member, even down to former Jindal cabinet appointee Scott Angelle) on his order for the commission to render unto Caesar Jindal 13 PSC vehicles to be included with about 700 other vehicles to be auctioned early next year in an effort to raise some $1.4 million ($2,000 per vehicle).

That is significant because unless we missed something somewhere along the way, that is the very first time any state agency, the legislature included, has stood up to this little bantam rooster. Tommy Teague did and was fired but the agency he headed, the Office of Group Benefits, went quietly to the slaughter like so many sheep.

Legislators, fearing capital outlay cuts in their districts or demotion from plum committee assignments, have likewise been strangely quiet as a group with only the occasional individual protests.

That move of selling off vehicles is more like the analogy of robbing your kid’s piggy bank to meet the mortgage payment than any real solution to a much larger problem and raises the logical question: what will the administration do next to scrape together a few dollars?

And the news only gets worse for Jindal’s fading presidential aspirations (hopes that themselves are a joke because something that doesn’t exist already can’t very well fade.

Even more ominous than ripping vehicles from state agencies, is the looming certainty of more mid-year cuts and employee layoffs in the wake of growing budgetary ills. Those fortunate enough to avert the layoffs will see no merit increases for FY-16 and contract reductions are expected to continue—except for certain favored contractors favored by our transparent governor. No agency head in his right mind would cut funds for a contractor with a close Jindal connections (read: campaign contributions).

In the meantime, we will also be curious to see if any of those six-figure Jindal appointees are among those being laid off. You can most likely check that box “No.”

Jindal, of course (along with most legislators) has been blaming the state’s worsening fiscal condition on the precipitous drop in crude oil prices.

Not so, says long-time state government observer and chief curmudgeon and former legislative assistant C.B. Forgotston.

Here’s the way he explains it:

            If one merely looks the “spot” prices regularly reported in the media it seems like much bigger issue. It’s nothing like the “oil bust” of the 1980s. At that time a majority of the state revenues were from oil severance taxes. That is no longer the case.

            Additionally, the state’s severance tax revenues are based on the contract price, not the “spot” price that is regularly reported in the media. For example, some of the companies currently drilling in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale have pre-sold their potential finds at $96 per barrel. That is the price on which the taxes will be paid. The consensus in the oil industry is the current downturn in oil prices is temporary. It may last 6 months or it may last a year; it is not a forever thing.

            Also reducing the impact on state revenues, as pointed out by Legislative Fiscal Office economist Greg Albrecht, low oil prices means savings for consumers. Their spending shifts to other items on which sales taxes are collected. For businesses, especially small businesses, it means more profit which means higher income taxes.

The major problem in the current budget and creating the $1.4B shortfall projected for next year’s budget is not a reduction in revenues, but overspending. Overall revenues have grown every year that Jindal has been governor. However, he and the legislators have consistently spent not only one-time revenues on recurring expenses, but imagined revenues under the guise of “efficiencies” which cannot be measured.

            Blaming oil prices is merely a scapegoat for passing fiscally-irresponsible budgets for the last 7 years.  Don’t let those responsible avoid the blame. It’s time to hold Jindal and the legislators’ feet to the fire by telling them to set better priorities based on real, as opposed to imagined, revenues and amorphous efficiencies.

They’ve got one more time to get it right in the 2015 Regular Session. If they don’t the first order of business for the new governor and new legislators in early 2016 will be to hold a special session to raise taxes and reduce services to balance the final Jindal budget.

And lest anyone might be foolish enough to write Forgotston off because he retired and no longer involved in day to day state matters, that would be a serious mistake. But even discounting Forgotston, we have Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, weighing in on the subject. And he is very much involved in the day to day operations of the state.

Albrecht takes a different tact in explaining how we got where we are. http://theadvocate.com/news/11102302-123/economist-greg-albrecht-louisiana-tax

Albrecht says that priorities for spending state revenue on such pesky items as education, infrastructure and social services are set only after we first dole out billions of dollars in tax credits, rebates and exemptions that place a terrific drain on state financial resources.

Here’s one that he didn’t mention but which we feel is worth pointing out: if the NFL awards a Super Bowl to New Orleans, Saints owner Tom Benson gets a cool million dollars from the state. That has already happened once since that condition was included in a generous incentive package negotiated to keep the Saints in New Orleans.

Another practice that has since terminated but which cost the state millions: when a visiting NFL team such as Atlanta, Tampa Bay, etc., played in New Orleans, every traveling member of that team—players, coaches, support personnel, etc.—was required to pay state income tax on 1/16th of his income. That individual, after all, received 1/16th of his salary in Louisiana. As soon as the Louisiana Department of Revenue received a check for those taxes, the state cut a check for an identical amount to Benson.

Albrecht said many of the tax breaks are “open-ended spending” and unappropriated. “It’s on autopilot” and the spending “is the priority” of state government because all other spending is secondary.

He said attempts to curtail the programs have run into resistance in the form of screams of protest from business interests who would be impacted. They consistently deflect talk of costs to the state by parroting the old line about the economic benefits of the programs designed to attract certain businesses or to assist certain segments of the citizenry.

But when Enterprise Zone exemptions are used to build Wal-Mart stores in affluent communities like St. Tammany Parish (where two have been built using the program), one must wonder at the benefits derived from a program designed to uplift pockets of high unemployment.

Companies pay about $500 million to local governments in property taxes on inventory that is considered property and the state simply reimburses those companies dollar for dollar. “We’re on the hook for whatever the local assessor puts down,” Albrecht said. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/12/15/state-gives-away-billion-tax-breaks/20460681/

He said legislators have asked that he examine the various tax breaks for possible cutbacks and while Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which deals with taxes, feels legislation will be filed to alter some of the tax credits, he is realistic in the knowledge that any attempt to amend or eliminate the breaks could be vetoed by this corporate welfare-happy governor.

“The veto pen will determine what passes or not,” Robideaux said. “The question is, ‘Can we craft legislation that will avoid the veto pen?’”

Earlier this year, Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) managed to get overwhelming passage of a bill that called for more oversight of the tax break programs by the state’s income-forecasting panel.

But Jindal, who never met a tax break he didn’t like, promptly vetoed the bill, saying it could effectively force a tax increase on businesses by limiting spending for the incentive programs.

You gotta give Jindal credit for creativity, though. Only he could twist the definition of removal of a tax break for business into a tax increase even while ignoring the fact that removal of those tax breaks could—and would—mean long-term relief for Louisiana citizens who are the ones shouldering the load. And for him to willingly ignore that fact borders on malfeasance.

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When Jeff Skilling took over as President and Chief Operating Officer of Enron in June of 1990, he did so only after insisting that the company convert from conventional accounting principles to a method preferred by his former employer, McKinsey & Co.

In 2001, hedge fund manager Richard Grubman said to Skilling, “You are the only financial institution that can’t produce a balance sheet or cash flow statement with their earnings.” By October of that same year, Enron had begun its death spiral in a historic collapse that would pull the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen down with it.

The key to Enron’s failure was the mark-to-market accounting method, where anticipated revenues and profits are entered into the company’s books before they are ever received. The system allowed Enron to conceal losses and to inflate profits for nearly 11 years before its house of cards came crashing down.

On Thursday (Oct. 8), nearly seven years into his administration, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) rolled out a new accounting formula with an alarmingly familiar ring to it.

Jindal, like Skilling, is a McKinsey alumnus.

Commissioner of Administration/Surrogate Gov. Kristy Kreme Nichols announced that the state, instead of having a deficit of $141 million as claimed by State Treasurer John Kennedy, will suddenly have a surplus of $178.5 million, a gaping difference of $319.5 million.

Nichols did not reveal how the $178.5 million was arrived at but Kennedy said the administration is switching to a cash balance form of accounting instead of the modified accrual basis employed by state governments. “If we use the methodology we have always used,” he said, “we don’t have a surplus. We have a $141 million deficit.

“The commissioner says the calculation has been inaccurate for years and it needs to be changed,” he said. “They have to explain why we have been doing it wrong all these years and why the Revenue Estimating Conference is doing it wrong.”

Nichols, an appointed state employee, was less than deferential to Kennedy, a statewide elected official when she sniped back at Kennedy, saying, “I’m surprised the treasurer is not reporting this.” She added that Kennedy is obligated to report available revenue. “He should probably do a review of the accounts to ensure there are no more outstanding revenues he is not reporting.”

Kennedy and Jindal have been at odds for years over fiscal policy, so it was no surprise to see Kristy Kreme, with her super-sized ego, get a little mouthy with the state treasurer. After all, she bolted from a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Office of Group Benefits on Sept. 25 to take her daughter to a One Direction boy band concert at the New Orleans Smoothie King Arena where she watched from the comfort of Jindal’s executive suite.

Just as Enron misrepresented its finances for years, it now appears that the Jindal administration may be attempting the same tactic, prompting one political observer to say, “If cooking the books isn’t malfeasance, what is? The bond rating agencies and others rely on the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), where the year-end position is officially reported in decision making and they are not going to like this.”

Another Jindal critic asked rhetorically, “What happens when a state ends a fiscal year with a deficit of $141 million but the administration of the day pretends that there is actually a surplus of $178 million? I don’t think there is any precedent for such a thing ever happening anywhere. This is starting to sound like Enron!”

Odd as it may seem to make that comparison, the similarities between Jindal and Enron run much deeper than the latest developments surrounding the new accounting methods. Here are some points about Enron lifted from The Smartest Guys in the Room: the Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron (Penguin Books, 2003), a probing book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind about the failed energy company: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/113576.The_Smartest_Guys_in_the_Room

  • The Deutsche Bank once described Enron as “the industry standard for excellence.” Jindal boasted of instituting the “gold standard for ethics” in Louisiana.
  • When the chief accounting officer of Enron Wholesale expressed concern about wholesale electricity sales, she was reassigned. When another employee questioned Skilling on his claim that Enron was going to make $500 million, she was laid off that same day. When state employees or legislators complain or do not vote with the administration, they are teagued.
  • Pollster Frank Luntz said instability and chaos were defining features at Enron and the six company reorganizations in just 18 months were a “running joke” and that Enron’s lack of discipline was “destructive and demoralizing.” Jindal’s penchant for reorganization and reform has created a similar atmosphere within state government.
  • Enron sold assets and booked the one-time proceeds as recurring earnings. Nearly 40 percent of Enron’s 1998 and 1999 earnings came from sales of assets rather than from ongoing operations. Jindal over the past several years has sold state property, buildings, and entire agencies and turned state hospitals over to private entities.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal are alumni of the blue-chip consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., which wrote the Enron business plan and as far back as 1986, advised AT&T there was no future in the market for cell phones. McKinsey also was an advocate of mark-to-market accounting practices.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal thought—and think—like a consultant. Skilling felt that a business should be able to declare profits at the moment of the signing of an agreement that would earn those profits. But just because traders were reporting earnings under mark-to-market accounting, it did not necessarily follow that the money was in hand. See this link: http://theadvocate.com/news/10494146-123/jindal-budget-surplus-questioned
  • A Wall Street banker said of Skilling: “He’s either compulsively lying or he’s refusing to recognize the truth.” Another banker worried that Enron executives were not carrying out their fiduciary duties and questioned “sweetheart deals” negotiated by them.
  • Skilling believed that social policies designed to temper the markets were “wrongheaded” and counterproductive. “Wrongheaded” has been a favorite term invoked by Jindal whenever he has suffered setbacks at the hands of the courts on issues ranging from education reform to a revamp of state retirement plans.
  • When asked a question he didn’t like, Skilling, in a tactic learned from his days at McKinsey, responded by dumping “a ton of data on you.” Jindal’s one outstanding skill is to spew statistics and factoids in rapid-fire fashion that can overwhelm and confuse challengers.
  • Skilling, like Jindal, was considered brilliant and extremely articulate. He, like Jindal, always seemed to have the right answer and whenever he was asked about problems it was always someone else’s fault.
  • Skilling displayed no remorse for his own actions, nor did he have any sense that he hired the wrong people or emphasized the wrong values. (See above.)
  • Enron founder Ken Lay saw himself as a business visionary, much as Jindal portrays himself as a policy guru. Lay traveled the world to offer his wisdom on everything from energy deregulation to corporate ethics to the future of business. (Ditto)
  • At the end, Enron employees’ accounts were frozen even as top executives were walking away with fortunes.
  • Efforts by Enron and Arthur Andersen to avoid reporting $500 million in losses “only pushed the problem further off and added another tangle to the fragile web of accounting deceptions.” Do we really need to elaborate here?
  • Enron executives accepted the argument that wealth and power demanded no sense of broader responsibility which in turn led them to embrace the notion that ethical behavior requires nothing more than avoiding the explicitly illegal, that refusing to see the bad things happening in front of you makes you innocent and that telling the truth is the same thing as making sure no one can prove you lied.
  • Enron’s mission was nothing more than a cover story for massive fraud, much as Jindal’s administration is being exposed almost daily as a sham. The story of Enron, like that of Jindal, was a story of human weakness, of hubris and greed and rampant self-delusion, of ambition run amok, of a business model that didn’t work and of smart people who believed their next gamble would cover their last disaster—and most of all, of people who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—admit they were wrong.
  • Enron once aspired to be “the world’s greatest company” but rather became a symbol for all that was wrong with corporate America, exposing Lay’s flaws as a businessman that could no longer be hidden behind Enron’s impressive but misleading façade and Skilling’s glib rhetoric.
  • Despite Enron’s efforts to camouflage the truth, there was more than enough in the public record to raise the hackles of any self-respecting analyst (read: reporter). Analysts (read: reporters) are supposed to dive into a company’s financial records, examine footnotes and even elbow their way past accounting obfuscations. Their job, in short, is to analyze (re: report).

In the end, of course, Enron crumpled under the weight of its own corruption and mismanagement, destroying thousands of lives and even taking down one of the big five accounting firms in the process.

The Jindal administration with each passing day, with every revelation of some new scandal (the Edmonson Amendment, CNSI, the Murphy Painter fiasco, et al) and with each new flawed policy (the Office of Group Benefits debacle), is looking more and more like a train wreck that will adversely affect Louisiana citizens for years to come.

Just call it Enron East.

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