Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Contract, Contracts’ Category

There is more damage control awaiting the most ethical administration in Louisiana history and just as with the Bruce Greenstein saga, the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) is front and center.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics last Thursday (Feb. 19) voted to file ethics charges against Galen Schum, DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert’s brother-in-law, because of his failure to comply with state law requiring him to report income he received from a company under contract to DHH. ETHICS CHARGES

On Nov. 17, 2011, while Schum was serving as Director of Regional Operations for the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), Magellan Health Services signed a two-year contract with OBH to administer behavioral health managed care services for children and adults.

That contract, approved on Jan. 23, 2012, and which went into effect on Mar. 1, 2012, was originally in the amount of $354 million for two years, but was amended to a three-year contract for $547.78 million and is scheduled to expire on Saturday.

On Feb. 13, 2012, just three weeks after the contract was approved and just over two weeks before it went into effect, Schum submitted a job application to Magellan and was hired on Feb. 27, only two days before the contract took effect.

He resigned from Magellan on Jan. 31, 2014 but during the time he was employed there, he earned more than $146,000 in salary, according to documents obtained by LouisianaVoice.

Kliebert was serving as Deputy Secretary of DHH when the Magellan contract was approved on Nov. 17, 2011, and remained in that capacity until April 1, 2013, when she was elevated to her current position of Secretary.

State law (R.S. 42:1114) provides with respect to the filing of financial disclosure statements, “…that each public servant and each member of his immediate family who derives anything of economic value, directly, through any transaction involving the agency of such public servant or who derives anything of economic value of which he may be reasonably expected to know through a person which (1) is regulated by the agency of such public servant, or (2) has bid on or entered into or is in any way financially interested in any contract, subcontract, or any transaction under the supervision or jurisdiction of the agency of such public servant shall disclose the following:

  • The amount of income or value of any thing of economic value derived;
  • The nature of the business activity;
  • Name and address, and relationship to the public servant, if applicable, and
  • The name and business address of the legal entity, if applicable.

The disclosure statement is required to be filed each year by May 1 and shall include such information for the previous calendar year.

R.S. 42:1102 defines “immediate family” as the children of the public servant, spouses of his children, his siblings and their spouses, his parents, spouse and the spouse’s parents.

“Galen Schum violated …the Code of Governmental Ethics by failing to file a financial disclosure statement on or before May 1, 2013, disclosing income received during 2012 from Magellan Health Services, Inc., and on or before May 1, 2014…at a time when Magellan Health Services, Inc. had a contract with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals—Office of Behavioral Health and while his sister-in-law, Kathy Kliebert, served as the Deputy Secretary and Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals,” the Board of Ethics document says.

The board issued a formal request that the Ethics Adjudicatory Board:

  • Conduct a hearing on the foregoing charges;
  • Determine that Galen Schum has violated (state law) with respect to the foregoing counts, and
  • Assess an appropriate penalty in accordance with the recommendation of the Louisiana Board of Ethics to be submitted at the hearing.

Other documents obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Schum, on Jan. 18, 2011, in his capacity as Director of Regional Operations for OBH, presented a report to the Louisiana Commission on Addictive Disorders on the status of OBH’s ongoing privatization efforts—efforts which led directly to the awarding of the Magellan contract.

It was at that same Jan. 18 meeting that Kliebert announced to the commission that she had been selected as the new DHH Deputy Secretary and would be leaving her position at OBH.

Schum also participated in a commission meeting on Oct. 11, 2011, at which time he gave the commission “a brief update on the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership,” according to commission minutes of that meeting.

Schum said that the selection of the Statewide Management Organization (SMO) had been completed and that Magellan Health Services “was the vendor selected to be the Louisiana SMO, and that the Office of Behavioral Health was currently involved in the contract negotiation process with Magellan.”

Finally, the minutes of a Magellan Governance Board meeting of June 20, 2012, indicate that Schum was employed as a Reporting Analyst for the company.

Magellan had come under sharp criticism from the Legislative Auditor’s office in August of 2013 in a report that said the administration’s privatization of mental health and addictive disorder treatment programs had created confusion and added costs for local human services district that provide the care. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/08/audit_shows_privatization_of_m.html

That audit report, which examined privatization results at human services districts in Baton Rouge, Houma, New Orleans and Amite, said privatization had caused problems with claims payments which increased costs for the districts and made it more difficult for the districts to receive reimbursement for services. The report also said the districts lost money under a requirement that they use Magellan’s electronic health records system.

The Capital Area Human Services District in Baton Rouge, for example, told auditors that its administrative costs for billing claims had increased $270,000 a year since the privatization took effect. That cost was attributed to problems with claims reconciliation and collection, the audit said.

Meanwhile, the report said, DHH failed to ensure that Magellan processed claims in a timely manner, often taking weeks or months to process claims. The report also said DHH failed to penalize the company when it did not meet planning and technical benchmarks. “No sanctions have been imposed on Magellan for not meeting all required contract provisions,” it said.

Just another Jindaled state agency headed for yet another privatized train wreck.

But don’t say we never warned you.

Read Full Post »

By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

When Hurricane Gustav struck south Louisiana on Sept. 1, 2008, almost three years to the day after Katrina, it set in motion a series of events that would ultimately:

  • upset the Livingston Parish political structure;
  • leave the parish facing a bill for more than $40 million in cleanup costs;
  • see a call for but never a follow up on an investigation into the formation of a fictitious corporation (at a fictitious address headed by a fictitious person) which somehow managed to be the only bidder on a lucrative contract;
  • result in the arrest of another contractor who was also serving as an FBI informant to help root out fraud, and
  • leave residents more than six years later still wondering who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

First, some background.

The massive cleanup that followed Gustav required fast action and, regrettably, such fast action oftentimes opens the door for governmental abuse. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared that to be the case in Livingston Parish’s cleanup, and the agency denied an astounding $59 million in clean-up costs.

Crucial to FEMA’s decision was Corey delaHoussaye, a contractor hired by Livingston Parish to assist with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting issues nearly a year after the storm struck.  DelaHoussaye, coincidentally, also served as an FBI informant during the cleanup.  Livingston Parish District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, along with the State Office of Inspector General (OIG), have accused  delaHoussaye of submitting his own fraudulent invoices for hours they assert he did not perform work as part of his $2.3 million billings.  DelaHoussaye attorney, John McClindon, contends that the OIG got a search warrant for delaHoussaye’s residence on July 17, 2013 but delayed executing it and arresting delaHoussaye for eight days so it would coincide with a council meeting to approve delaHoussaye’s final $379,000 in invoices.  DelaHoussaye wasn’t paid, and he sued the parish for nonpayment.

Meanwhile, Perrilloux sought an indictment against delaHoussaye, but he came up one vote short in an 8-2 vote of the grand jury in December of 2013.  Undeterred, Perrilloux proceeded with a bill of information containing 81 counts, including 73 of filing false public records, but last Friday Perrilloux dropped 19 of those 73 counts.

On Monday, 21st Judicial District Judge Brenda Ricks ruled that insufficient evidence exists to proceed with a trial—a major victor for delaHoussaye.  Perrilloux presented only one witness during Monday’s hearing: OIG investigator Jessica Webb, who testified that, during times delaHoussaye charged the parish for hours worked, he sometimes was at an anti-aging clinic, at Greystone Country Club playing golf, or at Anytime Fitness working out.

McClindon, calling the OIG’s investigation “half baked,” said the OIG’s office seized his client’s computers and “looked at what they wanted to look at,” ignoring emails and failing to talk with anyone.

Similarly, at the trial of Murphy Painter, former director of the State Office Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), former OIG investigator Shane Evans testified that he merely “wrote down” what ATC employee Brant Thompson said to him regarding Painter’s being “manic depressive, out of control, and selectively enforcing alcohol statutes,” and admitted the OIG did zilch to corroborate Thompson’s assertions even though it was Thompson’s initial characterization that reportedly prompted Gov. Bobby’s firing of Painter. (Subsequent details later revealed Painter’s firing was steeped in the time-honored tradition of Louisiana politics as usual.) http://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/06/emerging-claims-lawsuits-could-transform-murphy-painter-from-predator-to-all-too-familiar-victim-of-jindal-reprisals/

A company called Comprehensive Business Solutions, with an address on Coursey Boulevard in Baton Rouge, was created by someone named Patterson Phelps of Mandeville in March of 2010, according to corporate records filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

That date was just prior to the Livingston Parish Council’s issuing invitations to bid on a lucrative contract for cleanup.

The only problem is there is no such business at the address given and in fact, never was, and no one has been able to ascertain who Patterson Phelps is, other than speculation that it was an alias for a member of the parish council who was attempting to obtain the contract for himself.

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State said the corporate papers were filed electronically with payment made by credit card and that no records exist that would reveal who was actually responsible for creating the shell company.

The parish council did indicate it would instruct Perrilloux to conduct an investigation into the identity of the mystery person, but no results of any investigation, if it was ever conducted, have been made public.

Perrilloux, apparently fuming over Ricks’ ruling, said after the hearing that he would proceed with trial anyway and added, “Just because they wear a black robe doesn’t mean they know everything.” Legally, Perrilloux cannot proceed with a trial unless Ricks’ ruling is overturned by the First Circuit Court of Appeal or the Louisiana Supreme Court. He later said he would appeal the decision.

Brian Fairburn was Livingston Parish’s Emergency Manager and Coordinator for Homeland Security at the time Gustav struck.  His job was to hire monitors who would oversee operations to ensure FEMA reimbursement eligibility.

Fairburn testified that Mike Grimmer, then-Livingston Parish President, indicated to him that he had grave concerns regarding some of the itemized charges on the FEMA project worksheet and likely would not sign off on it.  When asked why, Fairburn indicated Grimmer told him, ‘“The costs are too high and we have permitting issues.’ (He) specifically told me we were taking kickbacks, that we were just out there creating work for these contractors to do.”  When asked whom Grimmer asserted was taking kickbacks, Fairburn responded, “Jimmy McCoy (Councilman from District 2), and he included me as being in on it also.” Fairburn added that Grimmer, “tried to ruin McCoy,” and that he “wanted to show that there was trouble, corruption, and crime in the parish.”  Fairburn also testified that he was terminated soon after the Gustav project but added that when Layton Ricks defeated Grimmer for parish president, he was rehired.

Brian Fairburn testified that during a meeting on November 26, 2008, Eddie Aydell of Alvin Fairburn and Associates (no relation to Brian) expressed serious reservations about proper permitting with the Army Corps and that Aydell was “scared” the Corps would assert that permits should have been issued before work was begun.

It was at that juncture that delaHoussaye was hired to assist with permitting issues.  Brian Fairburn said that McCoy said that the parish “would not” be obtaining any Corps permits and that Grimmer “shut the project down,” after which the Corps issued a cease and desist order on drainage projects.

FEMA’s attorneys were not happy with state and parish attorneys’ attempts to turn the hearing into a trial of delaHoussaye, and they strongly objected to 20 exhibits and depositions, including photographs of delaHoussaye and his son, which they said were unrelated to the hearing.  FEMA attorney Linda Litke said, “delaHoussaye was hired a year after the disaster in 2009 to basically go through the documentation and clean up the mess……  The parish attempted to criminally indict him…..They have now attempted to proceed with criminal action against him without an indictment.  It is reprehensible that they would bring this documentation in this case……DelaHoussaye is a confirmed FBI informant.  He was a whistleblower, and that is why the parish has gone after him.”

Perhaps the most riveting testimony was that of former Parish President Mike Grimmer, who testified that McCoy signed a contract addendum even though Grimmer was the only one with authority to do so.  He said he was “unaware the contract addendum was even out there.”  He indicated the addendum greatly increased the prices, including an increase in the per linear foot price.

Grimmer stated that he got calls from irate homeowners regarding crews, “trespassing on their properties….. and the trees had been taken with no permission.”  Grimmer also testified he obtained invoices for payment on work performed at local schools and North Park which had already been paid by other local agencies.  He referenced Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s report which he testified that he’d requested.  He said it reinforced his concerns about documentation problems for cleanup operations. Grimmer’s response took “no exception” to the report.

That report also cited a contractor for hiring direct family members of Council members McCoy and Don Wheat which the report said may have violated ethics laws, so the matter was referred to the Louisiana Ethics Board.  Wheat, Councilman from District 6, responded angrily to the report and stated that Gov. Jindal’s GOHSEP’s Office had indicated the FEMA report was “fundamentally flawed” and on appeal and that Purpera, “continued with the same flaws and I urge you to correct your mistakes.”

Grimmer expressed shock when he attended an Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) meeting in May of 2009 and a $42 million tab for wet debris removal was “dropped in my lap.”  Grimmer asked for a breakdown and, on June 9, 2009, he got one and an indication that the final tab was estimated at $92 million.  He refused to sign off on the $42 million and verbally instructed all work to cease, and the Army Corps followed up with a written cease and desist order shutting down all drainage work.

FEMA attorneys then provided the panel with a handout of a power point presentation created by Grimmer entitled, “The Truth about the Debris Cleanup.”  Slides were presented depicting:

  • an oak tree removal for $8,415;
  • two other single-tree removals for $6,570 and $4,600, and
  • a pile of limbs for $2,805.

Grimmer said those types of vastly inflated costs prompted his decision to shut down the entire project.

Grimmer, over the objections of state and parish attorneys, last May told a three member arbitration panel that he alone would have been accountable to Purpera if he’d approved the project worksheet and that contractors, monitors, councilmen, and others would all be “gone and happy.”  He expanded on how the whole episode and his decision had adversely impacted him in the community, with long-time friends and business associates distancing themselves from him and people being angry at him but that, “at the end of the day,” he felt he’d made the right decision and felt vindicated by Purpera’s report.

Cross examination at that hearing focused on Grimmer’s frosty relationship with council members and his having referenced five such members as “the five amigos.”  Grimmer confirmed McCoy and Wheat were included in the five.  Grimmer admitted that delaHoussaye shared the fact that FBI investigator Steven Sollie had contacted him and that he was cooperating in an FBI investigation of the Gustav cleanup operations.  State and parish attorneys sought to get Grimmer to admit that he “had no interest” in the project’s costs until he obtained knowledge of the ongoing FBI investigation, a charge Grimmer vehemently denied.  Grimmer also indicated that, though he couldn’t remember which one, a FEMA monitor was paid $20,000 to make debris FEMA-eligible.

The panel ruled in FEMA’s favor.

If Perrilloux follows through and if the state’s and parish’s appeal hearing of FEMA’s decision is any guide, a trial is likely to air some of the dirtiest elements of Livingston Parish political corruption.  Louisiana Voice has obtained a transcript of the 2,197 page appeal hearing, and the contents are interesting, to say the least.

Perhaps that may be why delaHoussaye attorney McClindon said after Ricks’ ruling, “It would probably be best for us all to sit down and work this whole thing out.”

Read Full Post »

What began as an 18-month $350 million contract with a San Diego firm with ties to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has morphed into a 15-month $500 million agreement with the Office of Group Benefits OGB to administer the state’s prescription drug program for more than 220,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

But details have emerged that raise questions about a possible conflict of interests involving a consulting firm retained by a teachers benefits program in Alabama and OGB in Louisiana which ultimately recommended awarding contracts to the same company by both states.

OGB’s contract with MedImpact was originally for $350 million and was to run from Jan. 1, 2014 through June 30 of this year but has been amended to $500 million and the terms shortened to March 31, which equates to an increase of about 74 percent.

Gingrich launched the Center for Health Transformation as part of an ambitious consulting and communications conglomerate to let consumers, not health maintenance organizations (HMOs), choose their doctors, medical treatments and hospitals. http://hl-isy.com/Products-and-Services/Pharmacy-Benefit-Evaluator/PBE-Abstracts/2012/MedImpact

But Gingrich failed to reveal that his idea would be financially beneficial to drug manufacturers, health insurers and other health care professionals who paid up to $200,000 annually to participate in the center’s operations.

MedImpact was one of those companies.

Gingrich’s taking money from organizations and then using the weight of his name to advance their interests was described as “a massive financial conflict of interest” by Sid Wolfe, director of health research for the watchdog group Public Citizen. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/10/AR2007061000484.html

Even former Congressman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana has entered the picture as co-chair of Medicine Access and Compliance Coalition (MACC), an assortment of health care providers who advocate lower drug prices through the federal 340B Program. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/13/billy-tauzin-drugs_n_3719468.html

Section 340B of the Public Health Service Act requires pharmaceutical manufacturers participating in the Medicaid drug rebate program to provide outpatient drugs at discounted prices to taxpayer-supported health care facilities that provide care for uninsured and low-income people. http://www.aha.org/content/13/fs-340b.pdf

Despite the magnitude of the MedImpact contract, it is the company’s connections to Buck Consultants, hired by the state to select the winner from among four proposals for that contract, which appears more than a little questionable.

OGB’s Notice of Intent to Contract for the Pharmacy Benefits Management (PBM) service, obtained from the Division of Administration (DOA) nearly four months after requested by LouisianaVoice—and then only after we filed a lawsuit against DOA—says, “Representatives of Buck Consultants, OGB’s actuarial consulting firm, provided assistance to the (selection) committee throughout the review and evaluation process.”

Buck Consultants, readers may remember, figured prominently in the controversy over DOA’s mishandling of OGB and the dissipation of more than half of OGB’s $500 million reserve fund.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols told a legislative committee that Buck Consultants had recommended that the state lower premiums for members of OGB, a move that led directly to the evaporation of the reserve fund. Communications between Buck and DOA obtained by LouisianaVoice, however, refuted Nichols’ claim.

Four firms submitted proposals to administer the prescription drug program for OGB. They were CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, Catamaran and MedImpact. CVS was disqualified because of sanctions imposed on the company in January of 2013 by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Catamaran was the previous contractor but the company and the state have been involved in extended litigation which is expected to continue at least through June 30 of this year.

“As indicated in the Buck report, the proposal submitted by MedImpact has been determined to be the most advantageous to the state…,” said the Notice of Intent to Contract. “Accordingly, the committee recommends that the contract …be awarded to MedImpact.”

The connections between MedImpact and Buck, a global human resource benefit consulting firm that is part of the Xerox conglomerate, however raise conflict of interests issue—a relationship that LouisianaVoice traced back to the awarding of a contract to MedImpact in 2010 to administer the pharmaceutical benefits program for Alabama public school teachers, retirees and dependents through the state’s retirement system.

The Alabama Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) board members, lacking pharmacy specialty training, retained Buck Consultants in late 2009 and early 2010 to handle the entire process, including writing the request for proposals (RFP), receiving and scoring the RFPs and making a recommendation for a contract.

Buck handled the entire process and gave the board the choice of contracting with MedImpact which was named by Buck primary contact person Michael Jacobs as having the best of several proposals submitted. The entire recommendation to the board took up a single paragraph in the board minutes.

The employee for the Retirement System of Alabama (RSA) who negotiated and signed the contract between the state and MedImpact later admitted in deposition that he had been involved in a relationship with a female representative of MedImpact.

But it was the relationship between Buck, Jacobs and MedImpact that warrants a closer look.

Even as he was contracted by RSA to issue, receive and evaluate the RFPs, it turns out that Buck, unbeknownst to Alabama officials, was simultaneously under a $50,000 contract to MedImpact. BUCK DEAL WITH MEDIMPACT

Jacobs, in a Dec. 23, 2009, letter to MedImpact Vice President of Business Development Bryan Boda, noted that the term of the contract was from Dec. 24, 2009, through Feb. 28, 2010, but upon written notice, “will be extended for an additional term, as mutually agreed to by both parties.”

Attached to that letter was a description of the scope of services to be provided by Buck which, among other things called for Buck to:

  • Provide MedImpact with marketplace information without disclosing anything to identify MedImpact’s proposal;
  • Collect competitor information, utilizing the internal proprietary Buck database of vendor information and drawing upon Buck’s “extensive data base” on PBM industry practices as well as outside public sources;
  • Develop a competitive employer marketplace analysis;
  • Present its final report during a final meeting with MedImpact at its (MedImpact’s) corporate headquarters.

It should pointed out that attorneys for three Alabama pharmacies excluded from participation in the prescription drug program for the teachers found it necessary to obtain the letter of agreement between Buck and MedImpact from Buck after MedImpact refused to provide the information.

The discovery of the contract between Buck and MedImpact during the time Alabama was in the process of selecting a prescription drug administrator for PEEHIP immediately raises the question of whether a similar arrangement existed between the two during the time Louisiana was selecting an administrator for OGB’s prescription drug benefits program.

An email to Buck Consultants posing that question was not answered.

MedImpact also refused to divulge what it was paying for prescription drugs, revealing only what it was charging Alabama. In one case, attorneys for the three pharmaceutical companies did obtain a document showing that MedImpact paid about $26 for an amoxicillin prescription but charged the state $96.

That, of course, also raises the question of how the billing is done by MedImpact for OGB. Does MedImpact pass along a 300 percent mark-up to OGB at a time when the state is, for all practical purposes, broke? MedImpact calls itself a transparent company but like our “transparent” governor, it has not been forthcoming thus far with details about what it pays for prescription drugs or about its contract with Buck Consultants.

And at the other end of the spectrum, it appears that not nearly enough hard questions have been asked by officials—either in Alabama or Louisiana.

After all, how can it be considered an acceptable practice for Buck Consultants to contract with a state to issue an RFP, evaluate the proposals and make a recommendation to award the state contract to a firm already contracted with Buck Consultants for Buck to collect competitor information?

Read Full Post »

Even as the governor’s office was imposing travel and spending freezes as the state continued to struggle with an overwhelming budget deficit last fall, the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) was spending nearly $9,600 to send two of its top executives on five separate trips to California and Florida to train new phone bank employees to handle inquiries about pending changes to health coverage for state employees, retirees and dependents.

The expenditures also occurred in the wake of Gov. Bobby’s depletion of the OGB reserve fund from $500 million before privatization of the agency to less than half of that by last September.

A Division of Administration (DOA) employee with close ties to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and Deputy Commissioner Ruth Johnson revealed to LouisianaVoice last year that DOA had contracted with Ansafone which has offices to set up the phone bank to take calls from OGB members.

When we were first told of the contract, we understood the company to be Answerphone, Inc., which is in Albany, N.Y. We later learned, however, that the company was actually Ansafone with offices in Santa Ana, California and Ocala, Florida.

The dates of travel for Elise Williams Cazes and Charles Guerra to destinations in California and Florida were from Sept. 9 through Nov. 13 with Cazes running up travel, lodging, meal and car rental expenses of $5,553.74 in three trips and Guerra accounting for the remaining $4,044.33 in his two trips, records show.

Guerra is the Chief Operating Officer for OGB while Cazes, previously employed by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBS), was appointed Group Benefits Administrator last June.

The requirements for her position as the Medical/Pharmacy administrator responsible for benefit plan management and vendor performance were written especially to her qualifications, according to our same DOA source.

LouisianaVoice made a public records request on Oct. 4 for a record of Guerra’s expenses but received a response from DOA on Oct. 13 which said, “The Division of Administration has no records which are responsive to your request.”

But when DOA finally did comply with our request on Jan. 23—and only after we filed a lawsuit against the state on Jan. 16—records indicated that OGB CEO Susan West approved meal expenses of $457 for Guerra for the dates of Sept. 30 through Oct. 5. West signed off on that approval on Oct. 10, three days prior to DOA’s denial of the existence of expense records, meaning DOA had at least partial records in response to our request.

Moreover, records show that the state was billed $732.39 for Guerra’s hotel reservations for that trip on Sept. 23, a full 11 days before our request for the records was submitted and nearly three weeks prior to DOA’s denial of the records.

Likewise, Enterprise Car Rental invoiced the state another $225.82 on Oct. 5 for lease of a vehicle during Guerra’s visit to Santa Ana.

Finally, records reveal that Shorts Travel Management, which books all travel for state employees, billed the state $675.39 on Sept. 23 for Guerra’s Sept. 30 flight to California and his return to Baton Rouge on Oct. 5.

So, bottom line, the state was billed $2,090.60 for travel, car rental, lodging and meals for the first of Guerra’s two trips to California—all well before denial our public records on the basis of DOA’s claim that no such records existed.

For Guerra’s second trip to California, from Nov. 10 through Nov. 13, DOA paid $949.84 for his flight, $290.12 for his meals, $176.77 for his car rental, and $537 for his hotel. The remaining $175 was for parking, airline baggage fees and booking fees for both trips.

Cazes ran up her $5,553.74 in charges for two trips to California and one to Gainesville, Florida, as well as several trips for meetings in various localities in Louisiana in her personal vehicle.

She cost the state $787 for meals for the three out-of-state trips, along with $506.74 in parking and in-state travel in her vehicle, $2,452.34 for airline tickets, $532.80 in car rental fees, $1,197.86 for hotels and $77 in ticket booking fees.

In addition to the $9,598.07 in travel, lodging and related expenses for the two, the state also entered into a $1 million contract with Ansafone to hire 200 persons in California and Florida to field calls about sweeping changes being proposed for OGB at the time.

The “training” that Cazes and Guerra conducted on their trips consisted of a few days of reading handouts distributed to new employees hired to man the phone banks. At the end of training and the first day actually on the job the employees were informed that what they had been told in the training sessions was wrong and the Ansafone web page containing its “Five Star Recipe for Customer Service Failure” was subsequently taken down.

Read Full Post »

State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) has revealed an ambitious set of bills he will be pre-filing preparatory to the 2015 legislative session, a couple or which are almost certain to be vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal should they survive both chambers intact.

The 60-day 2015 session convenes at noon on April 13 and will adjourn at 6 p.m. on June 11.

Vetoes are nothing new to Richard and in fact, one of his bills rejected by Jindal last years in hindsight represents a moral victory for Richard and something of an embarrassment for Jindal.

House Bill 142 (HB-142) passed both the House and Senate unanimously last year and was vetoed by Jindal only to see Jindal find it necessary to implement at least part of the bill through an executive order last month.

Passing 84-0 in the House (with 20 members not voting) and 37-0 in the Senate (with two not voting), HB-142 would have provided for a 10 percent reduction of all state professional, personal and consulting service contracts. The bill further provided that the savings from the cuts be deposited into the Higher Education Financing Fund.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, Richard was quick to point out, has been recommending slashing state contracts for several years and has been all but ignored by the administration but now even Jindal has ordered that state contracts be cut but not so higher education could be funded but instead to attempt to plug the growing chasm that is the state budget deficit.

Jindal, for his part, says he will offer legislators “suggested solutions” to ease the budget crisis which now is projecting a deficit of $1.6 million. http://theadvocate.com/sports/preps/11454861-123/jindal-says-hell-suggest-options

First of all, wasn’t that why he hired Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) Consulting for a cool $7 million? We were under the impression that A&M was going to find all these wonderful ways for the state to save money.

Second, the governor is the state’s CEO and as such, is charged with the leadership of the state. After all, Gov. Kathleen Blanco came under withering criticism for the manner in which she handled the crisis of Katrina. Jindal appears no less befuddled and clueless in his approach to the state’s budgetary crisis and now, after seven years of telling lawmakers what he wanted done, he punts to them.

Of course, it’s difficult to fight Islam in Europe, run for president and hold prayer meetings that fail miserably in filling all the seats in the venue while governing the state.

Only yesterday (Monday, Feb. 2), Kennedy broke the news that Moody’s Investors Service had issued a warning that reductions in revenue estimates by the Revenue Estimating Conference constituted a “credit negative for the state” and that the ratings service may downgrade the state’s credit outlook from stable to negative.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/7el18uxosj11pi1/Louisiana%20Oil%20Plunge%2002%2002%202015.pdf?dl=0&utm_source=Moody’s+Press+Release++020215&utm_campaign=Moody’s+2-2-15&utm_medium=email

Kennedy said the next procedural step would be a rating downgrade that would make it more difficult for the state borrow money and cost the state higher interest for money it does borrow.

And lest Jindal attempt to blame the latest fiscal woes on the drop in oil prices, Moody’s pointedly noted that the state’s problems pre-date the fall in oil prices—by several years. “As the U.S. economy picked up steam,” the Moody’s analysis said, “Louisiana had muted job growth even before the oil price decline.”

“This is what happens when you spend more than you take in,” Kennedy said. “Moody’s is telling us that we’d better get our fiscal house in order or we are going to be downgraded, which will cost taxpayers dearly in higher interest rates on our bonded indebtedness.”

The Moody’s news comes on top of earlier reports that health care and higher education will probably suffer even deeper cuts than the $180 million in reductions made over the past two months. The state’s colleges and universities have been told to expect at least $300 million in further budget cuts during the next fiscal year even as the Department of Health and Hospitals is expected to have $250 million slashed from its budget.

Jindal has even had to renege on his pledge last year to create a $40 million incentive fund to pay for college programs that provide graduates for high-demand jobs in Louisiana. Once considered one of his highest priorities, he has yanked that money away before the ink was dry on the bill that created the program.

All this has had a cumulative effect leading up to what promises to be a tumultuous legislative session as lawmakers grope for ways to keep from cutting services while at the same time being able to keep the lights on.

One trial balloon, already rejected by Jindal, would be for the state to roll back some of the billions of dollars in corporate and industrial tax breaks but Richard is not ready to accept the governor’s dismissal of that idea just yet.

This year, Richard has an agenda even more ambitious than his across-the-board 10 percent cut in contracts last year. Remember, that bill, HB-142 was passed unanimously in each chamber but vetoed by Jindal because, the governor said, the bill “could hinder the state’s efforts to continue to provide its citizens with timely, high quality services.”

In hindsight, however, it would appear his signing that bill into law would not have hindered the delivery of services nearly so much as not having the funds to pay for the services in the first place. The only thing not hindered by his veto was uninterrupted payments to the contractors.

Among Richard’s bills to “re-establish the legislative branch of government” are bills:

  • For an automatic veto session. Currently, legislators are mailed forms to complete and return indicating whether or not they want to hold a special session to consider overriding the governor’s veto(es). “If a bill passes with a two-thirds vote or better and the governor vetoes it, there would be an automatic veto session convened and legislators wouldn’t have to vote for it,” he said.
  • To eliminate the line item veto. “This will be a hard row to hoe,” Richard admitted. “But the governor has always held the line item veto over legislators’ heads as a means of getting what he wanted. This bill would change that.” Former President Bill Clinton pushed through a bill giving him the line item veto during his administration but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional.
  • To establish a capital outlay oversight committee. “We need to eliminate all NGOs,” he said, referring to the tradition of the legislature appropriating funds for NGOs, or non-government organizations such as baseball parks, golf courses, local court houses, city halls, councils on aging, etc. “These should be financed at the local level. If the local people want these things, they will pass bond issues to pay for them. That should not be the responsibility of the legislature. Before we look at raising more revenue, we need to cut spending,” he said. “John Kennedy has said many times that we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem, and he’s correct.”
  • To change the makeup of the House Appropriations Committee. “Appropriations has 27 members. That’s way too many,” he said. Richard said he would like to see it reduced in size to 15 members with three members from each of the five Public Service Districts in the state. “That would guarantee representation from each area of the state,” he said.
  • To eliminate the Homestead Exemption. “We need to get rid of all tax exemptions,” he said. “We give away $2 billion a year in industrial and corporate tax exemptions.”

Richard said he knows his bills will be fought by special interests and by the governor. “But Jindal has done nothing in seven years,” he said. “It’s time the Legislature re-asserted itself as an equal partner in governing this state.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,819 other followers

%d bloggers like this: