Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden has formally announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor to succeed Jay Darden in next fall’s election. And even though the field for the state’s second highest office is starting to get a little crowded, it’s expected to attract little attention.

That’s because all eyes will be focused on the battle to succeed Bobby Jindal as governor. Already, we have Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, and State Sen. John Bel Edwards vying for the state’s top job with more anticipated between now and next year’s qualifying.

Whoever your favorite candidate for governor, you may wish to reconsider wishing the job on him. In sports, there is a saying that no one wants to be the man who follows the legend. Instead, the preference would be to be the man who follows the man who followed the legend.

No one, for example, could ever have stepped in as Bear Bryant’s immediate successor at the University of Alabama and succeeded. That person was former Alabama receiver Ray Perkins who in his four years, won 32 games, lost 15 and tied one. He was followed by Bill Curry who went 26-10 in his three years. Gene Stallings was next and posted a 62-25 record that included a national championship over seven years before he retired.

Then came in rapid succession five coaches over the next nine years who combined to record a composite losing record of 51-55 before Nick Saban came along in 2007 to pull the program from the ashes.

No one in his right mind should wish to follow Jindal. It is not because of Jindal’s success as governor; just the opposite. When he walks out of the Governor’s Mansion for the final time, Jindal will leave this state in such a financial and functional mess that no one can succeed in righting the ship in a single term—and that may be all the patience Louisiana’s citizens will have for the new governor. Bottom line, voters are weary of seven years of budget cuts and depleted services. Ask anyone waiting and DMV to renew their driver’s license.

The electorate, at least those who pay attention to what’s going on, are bone tired of a governor who is never in the state but instead is flitting all over the country trying to pad his curriculum vitae for a run at the Republican nomination for president.

They are jaded at the hypocrisy of a first-term Gov. Jindal who kept popping up in Protestant churches (he’s Catholic) to pander the Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals when he was facing re-election compared to a second-term and term-limited Gov. Jindal who has not shown his face in a single Protestant church anywhere in the state.

Some, though admittedly not all, are unhappy with the manner in which he has consistently rejected federal Medicaid expansion and $80 million in federal grants for broadband internet and $300 million for a high-speed rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—money state taxpayers have already paid into the system and now have to chance to recoup that money. (It’s sort of like refusing your federal tax refund because you feel it’s not free money. Well, no, it’s not free money but it is money you’ve already paid it in and now you have a chance to get some of it back.)

And there are those who are not at all pleased with the salaries paid Jindal appointees (not to mention raises they’ve received while rank and file employees have gone five years without raises). The administration has been free and loose with salaries paid top unclassified employees in every state agency, from Division of Administration on down. Those salaries are a huge drain on the state retirement systems. That’s one of the reasons there was so much controversy over Jindal’s attempted backdoor amendment to an obscure Senate bill that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an annual retirement increase of $55,000—more than many full time state employees make.

With that in mind, we have what we feel would be a meaningful proposal for some enterprising gubernatorial candidate. It’s an idea that we feel has considerable merit and one we feel would resonate with voters.

With the state facing a billion-dollar shortfall for next year, the suggestion is more symbolic that a real fix, but what if a candidate would pledge publicly that he would draw on the pool of retired educators and executives for his cabinet? And what if he purposely avoid appointing anyone with political ambitions such as Angelle, who went from Secretary of Natural Resources to Public Service Commission and who is now an announced candidate for governor?

If a candidate said he could immediately save the state in excess of $2 million a year by hiring retired executives to head state agencies at salaries of $1 per year each, that would strike a chord with every registered voter in the state—or it should.

If a candidate would say, “I will not appoint any member of my cabinet who is dependent upon the position for his living, nor will I appoint any member who has aspirations of public office for himself,” what a refreshing breath of air that would be, vastly different from the standard hot air rhetoric of the typical political campaign.

Where would he find these types of people willing to give of their time? That would be for the candidate himself to recruit but James Bernhard would be a good start. Bernhard certainly has the experience, having founded and built up the Shaw Group to the point that he was able to sell the company for $3 billion while selling off some of his personal company stock for another $45 million.

That spells success by every definition of the word. And Bernhard certainly would have no need for a salary. He would be a logical choice for Commissioner of Administration.

And then there is his father-in-law, retired Louisiana Tech University President Dan Reneau. What better choice could a governor have for Commissioner of Higher Education?

There are scores of others, from retired doctors and hospital administrators, to retired military personnel like Gen. Russel Honoré to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs to retired federal and state law enforcement personnel to retired scientists and educators, and the list goes on and on.

This would by no means be a guaranteed ticket to success for Jindal’s successor; there is just too much mess he will be leaving behind.

But it would be a huge psychological advantage for anyone wishing to take on that unenviable job of being the one to follow Jindal.

Read Full Post »

If you think Gov. Bobby Jindal has bankrupted this state with his squirrely economic policies, you need to read this.

If you are the least bit concerned about his decimation of higher education, you need to read this.

If his repetitive patchwork budgets and annual budget cuts alarm you, you need to read this.

If it bothers you that he has given away state hospitals, raided the reserves of the health plan for public employees and attempted to slash state employees’ retirement benefits while secretly having legislation introduced to augment the retirement of the state police commander by some $55,000 a year, you definitely need to read this.

If you believe he should have stayed at home to tend to the state’s business instead of gallivanting off to Iowa and New Hampshire in pursuit of a Republican presidential nomination, then by all means, you should read this.

In short, if you believe he has been a major disappointment in administering the affairs of a single state—Louisiana—you need to examine his grandiose plans for America, his plans to do to the nation what he has done to our state. You owe that much to yourselves and your children.

You see, an outfit called Friends of Bobby Jindal has a web blog of its own which, of course, is certainly their right. But curiously, in addition to touting the latest pronouncements, op-ed pieces written by Jindal and his appearances on Fox News, the page has a “DONATE” button that allows supporters to contribute to Jindal’s political campaign.

Jindal Weekly Update

But wait. What’s he running for? He is term-limited and cannot run for re-election as governor next year and he has steadfastly refused to divulge whether or he plans to run for President (though there are few who doubt it; his family members were discussing openly during his first inauguration in 2008).

We don’t know how we got on the mailing list, but we’re certainly glad we did. Otherwise, how else could we keep up with the activities of a man on the run like Bobby Jindal?

On the latest mail-out, a “quick recap of the news about the governor’s week,” we have stories about:

  • The First Lady’s travels to Eunice to promote the Supriya Jindal Foundation;
  • Gov. Jindal’s announcement of the expansion of Oxlean Manufacturing in Livingston Parish;
  • Louisiana’s joining other states in suing President Obama over his immigration order;
  • An op-ed piece by (yawn) Jindal criticizing Obama and calling for a repeal of Obamacare;
  • Jindal’s appearance on (yawn again) Fox News where he criticized Obama for trying to redefine the American Dream;
  • Another op-ed criticizing Obama for the president’s apparent failure to believe in American exceptionalism;
  • Jindal’s speech at a foreign policy form in Washington, D.C. in which he called for increased military spending.

It was that last one (actually first on the Friends web blog because we listed them in reverse order) that caught our attention. http://freebeacon.com/national-security/2016-gop-hopefuls-call-for-boost-in-defense-spending/

Our first reaction was: What the hell is he thinking, commenting on foreign policy and military spending when he can’t even balance the budget of a single state? But then we remembered it was Jindal and typically, he panders to the fringe element that adheres to the concept that we are the world’s policeman and that we must impose our will on others despite their resentment of our failure to respect their traditions and cultures. And we’re not just talking about Islam here. Remember Vietnam? For that matter, go back and familiarize yourself with how we took land north of the Rio Grande from Mexico. And to the American Indians (Native Americans, we one insists on political correctness), we are the original illegal immigrants.

Okay, we got off-track and started talking about his American exceptionalism op-ed and while the two issues are interlinked, let’s get back to his advocacy of increased military spending.

First and foremost, it is important to know that America already spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. President George W. Bush’s defense spending, for example, eclipsed that of the Cold War.

Historian Paul Kennedy, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, noted that powerful nations have an unsettling habit throughout history of becoming the leading economic and leading military power and then “overreaching with their military ambitions while their economies sputter past their prime.”

Kennedy said that even as the economic strengths are on the decline, growing foreign challenges force greater and greater military expenditures at the sacrifice of productive investment which he said leads to the “downward spiral of slower growth, heavier taxes, deepening domestic splits over spending priorities and a weakening capacity to bear the burdens of defense.”

He said the U.S. currently runs the risk of “imperial overstretch where our global interests and obligations are larger than our ability to defend them all simultaneously.

Kennedy wrote that back in 1987 but during her run for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Hillary Clinton, like her or not, said if $1 trillion spent in Iraq had been applied instead to domestic programs, it would:

  • Provide healthcare for all 47 million uninsured Americans;
  • Provide quality pre-kindergarten for every American child;
  • Solve the housing crisis once and for all;
  • Make college affordable for every American student, and
  • Provide tax relief to tens of millions of middle-class families.

A classic example of our failure to heed the warning of President Dwight Eisenhower when he warned of the importance of resisting the influence of the “military-industrial complex” is the tar baby this country is stuck to in the Mideast.

Ike warned the country during his farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961, when he said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html

Back during the elder Bush’s administration, it was the defense of Kuwait against Saddam Hussein and Iraq—way back in 1991. That’s a quarter-century ago. Later, with Bush II, it was Saddam Hussein and WMD that have yet to be found. No sooner did W announce “Mission accomplished,” than we found ourselves in a conflict that, believe it or not, has now lasted longer than the Vietnam War—with no end in sight. That war has expanded into Afghanistan and now Iran with an invisible enemy called the Islamic State (IS) whom we cannot find, let alone fight.

And how much have those skirmishes cost this country? Click on this link to find out.

http://costsofwar.org/article/economic-cost-summary

That $4.4 trillion includes not only the immediate $1.7 trillion cost of America’s Mideast policy, but the interest on loans to finance the war, the cost of support bases elsewhere in the world, homeland security, nation building (building infrastructure on the war-torn countries while neglecting our own infrastructure), retirement, disability and medical benefits for war veterans, etc., costs our grandchildren will be paying off after we are long gone.

And just how do we pay for these wars in Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan? World War II was financed by raising taxes or selling war bonds. Not so these modern wars, beginning with Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam; they’re financed almost entirely by borrowing which has raised the U.S. budget deficit (something of which Jindal should have a working knowledge), increased the national debt. The interest alone on Pentagon spending from 2001 through 2013 is approximately $316 billion.

To put expenditures in better perspective, consider that American taxpayers are paying:

  • $312,500 every hour for military action against ISIS (total thus far almost $1.4 billion);
  • $10.17 million per hour for the cost of the war in Afghanistan (nearly $800 million to date);
  • $365,000 per hour for the cost of the war in Iraq ($818 billion so far);
  • $10.54 million per hour for the total cost of wars since 2001 ($1.6 trillion);
  • $58 million per hour for the Department of Defense ($602.7 billion budget);
  • $861,000 per hour for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ($9 billion);
  • $2.12 million per hour for our nuclear weapon arsenal ($22 billion);
  • $37,000 each hour for Tomahawk Cruise Missiles ($385 million);
  • $1.33 million every hour for foreign military assistance ($13.8 billion to date);
  • $8.43 million per hour for Homeland Security ($804.5 billion since 9/11);

By comparison, here are some hourly expenditures by U.S. taxpayers for other services in 2014 (with the year-to-date expenditures in parenthesis):

  • $7.81 million for education ($81.14 billion, and don’t forget, Rick Perry wanted to abolish the Dept. of Education);
  • $3.04 million on the environment ($31.6 billion–ditto Perry on the EPA);
  • $2.71 million on foreign aid ($28.2 billion);
  • $4.9 million on housing assistance ($50.8 billion);
  • $36.91 million for Medicaid and CHIP ($383.6 billion);
  • $13.3 million for nutrition assistance ($138.1 billion).

https://www.nationalpriorities.org/cost-of/

And Gov. Jindal would have the U.S. commit even more money to the Pentagon, according to a grizzled old reporter a whole year out of college (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill).

Daniel Wiser, writing for something called the Washington Free Beacon (a sister publication to the Hooterville World Guardian of the TV series Green Acres, no doubt), placed Jindal squarely in the same camp as gunslingers John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a couple of veteran Senate saber rattlers.

Wiser said that Jindal released a paper in October calling for allocating 4 percent of the nation’s GDP to defense spending.

Jindal said the U.S. is “in the process of hollowing out our military,” the article said. Jindal added that “The best way for America to lead… is for America to rebuild our tools of hard power.”

It would be bad enough if an otherwise comparatively level-headed candidate like Rick Perry or Rand Paul (everything, after all, is relative) were elected, but if Jindal had a prayer of becoming president, this would be some horrifyingly scary stuff.

The good news is we don’t have to worry about that. Perry or Paul, on the other hand…

Read Full Post »

If, as most observers believe, Gov. Bobby Jindal has designs on seeking the Republican presidential nomination for 2016 he first must demonstrate that he is an administrator capable of running his own state and for him to do that, there are several clichés frequently employed by our parents and grandparents that might apply:

Get on the stick, shake a leg, get the lead out, make haste, get it in gear, quit burning daylight, get your act together, s**t or get off the pot…well, you get the idea.

Jindal has had the better part of seven years to turn this state around economically, culturally and educationally or to at least make strides to that end in order to demonstrate his leadership abilities.

To say he has failed would be kind. The truth is, his administration, with only 14 months left, is an abject failure, those glowing surveys about the state’s business climate touted by his head cheerleader and Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister, Jr., notwithstanding. (McCollister, Jindal’s former campaign treasurer whom Jindal appointed to the LSU Board of Supervisors, would not appear to be the most objective member of the fourth estate to report on the administration’s accomplishments.)

The current outstanding weeklong analytical series by the Baton Rouge Advocate entitled Giving Away Louisiana, on the other hand, provides ample evidence of massive—and ill-advised—tax breaks given business and industry that have done little to light a fire under the state’s moribund economy.

http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/2014/11/26/giving-away-louisiana/

Congratulations on superb coverage of such a complex topic by Advocate staffers Jeff Adelson, Rebekah Allen, Mark Ballard, Gordon Russell, Richard Thompson, Edie White, John Ballance, Patrick Dennis, Bill Feig, Walt Handelsman, Jay Martin, Heather McClelland, John McCusker, Paul Sandau, and Travis Spradling.

Two glaring examples of poor fiscal policies cited by the Advocate include:

  • The foolishly generous film and TV tax breaks have succeeded in luring production companies to Louisiana, but at what costs? True, Twelve Years a Slave was a huge success, winning three Oscars and a Golden Globe Award, among others. On the other hand, there is that $200 million bomb Green Lantern. For that cinematic disaster, the state gave away $35 million in subsidies but recovered only $8 million of that amount. The Advocate pointed out that the state poured more money into that forgettable film than it appropriated for the University of New Orleans. How’s that for setting your priorities? And every time a Duck Dynasty episode airs, the state has to pony up about $300,000 in similar taxpayer-financed breaks. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/2014/12/02/giving-away-louisiana-film-tax-incentives/
  • And then there is that vaguely-defined policy called Enterprise Zone, a tax incentive program ostensibly created to attract business and industry to depressed areas as a means of spurring employment, stimulating the economy and improving living conditions of low-income residents. The only thing wrong with this $69 million per year boondoggle is that it’s not working. Instead, the Enterprise Zone tax credits are being used to underwrite construction of projects like a couple of Walmart stores in St. Tammany Parish, one of the more affluent areas of the state, and for expensive shops in an upscale Baton Rouge retail complex—even as low-income areas of the state continue to deteriorate. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/2014/12/01/giving-away-louisiana-2/

The dismal performance of those two programs are precisely why 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company which publishes more than 30 articles per day, released a report on Thursday (Dec. 4) which pegs Louisiana as being the 11th worst-run state in America. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/12/03/the-best-and-worst-run-states-in-america-a-survey-of-all-50-3/

“Selecting appropriate criteria to compare the 50 states is difficult,” the story says, “because there is so much variation among the states. Some depend disproportionately on one industry while others’ economies are more balanced.

Some of the best-run states benefit from a wealth of natural resources. North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, and Texas, according to the survey, are among the top 10 best-run states, and in all four, the mining industry—which includes fossil fuel extraction—is a major contributor to state GDP, the report says.

“While each state is different, states at both ends of the list share certain characteristics,” the report says. For example, people living in the worst-run states were likely to have lower standards of living. Violent crime rates and the percentage of those living in poverty were typically higher in these states, while the percentage of those with at least a high school diploma was lower than the national rate.

The worst-run states also tended to have weaker fiscal management and poor credit ratings from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s (S&P). Illinois, the worst-run state in America, received lower ratings than any other state from both agencies while most of the 10 best-run states had perfect ratings from both agencies, it said.

Louisiana, in ranking 40th in the nation, managed to fare better than New Jersey, which ranked 43rd, or eighth worst, something Jindal might use against Gov. Christ Christie if it comes down to a race between those two for the GOP nomination.

Following Illinois in 24/7 Wall Street’s list of worst-run state in the U.S. were New Mexico, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey, Missouri, Alabama and Louisiana.

In breaking down its statistical information, the survey showed that Louisiana’s $3,333 debt per capita was right at the mid-point at 24th lowest and the unemployment rate was 15th lowest in the nation at 6.2 percent, those favorable factors were offset by the state’s median household income of $44,164, eighth lowest, and a poverty rate of 19.8 percent that was third highest.

Louisiana had “one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation,” at just $44,164, the report said “and 10.7 percent of all households reported an income of less than $10,000, a higher rate than in any state except for Mississippi. Largely due to these low incomes, the poverty rate in Louisiana was nearly 20 percent (19.8 percent) and 17.2 percent of households used food stamps last year, both among the highest rates in the nation. The state’s GDP grew by 1.3 percent last year, less than the U.S. overall. This was largely due to a decline in output from the mining industry, which accounted for 8 percent of Louisiana’s output, versus 2.3 percent across the country. Louisiana’s ranking was bolstered by its high exports, which equaled $13,693 per capita in 2013, the most in the nation. Last year, products made from petroleum and coal accounted for more than 40 percent of the state’s exports.”

And all this time, Jindal has been telling us that Louisiana’s economic growth during his administration has surpassed other southern states and that of the nation as a whole. See this August release by Jindal. Scroll down to the paragraph beginning “Louisiana’s Economic Growth” at this link: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/blog.html/

Read Full Post »

Our October fund raiser enters its final five days and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing legal action against an administration that prefers to conduct its business behind closed doors and out of sight of the people to whom they are supposed to answer.

We also are launching an ambitious project that will involve considerable time and expense. If Gov. Bobby Jindal does seek higher office as it becomes more and more apparent that he will, the people of America need to know the real story of what he has done to our state and its people. Voters in the other 49 states need to know not Jindal’s version of his accomplishments as governor, but the truth about:

  • What has occurred with CNSI and Bruce Greenstein;
  • How Jindal squandered the Office of Group Benefits $500 million reserve fund;
  • The lies the administration told us two years ago about how state employee benefits would not be affected by privatization;
  • The lies about how Buck Consultants advised the administration to cut health care premiums when the company’s July report said just the opposite;
  • How Jindal attempted unsuccessfully to gut state employee retirement benefits;
  • How Jindal attempted to sneak a significant retirement benefit into law for the Superintendent of State Police;
  • How Jindal appointees throughout state government have abused the power entrusted to them;
  • How Jindal has attempted a giveaway plan for state hospitals that has yet to be approved by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • How regulations have been skirted so that Jindal could reward supporters with favorable purchases and contracts;
  • How Jindal fired employees and demoted legislators for the simple transgression of disagreeing with him;
  • How Jindal has refused Medicaid expansion that has cost hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor the opportunity to obtain medical care;
  • How Jindal has gutted appropriations to higher education in Louisiana, forcing tuition increases detrimental to students;
  • How Jindal has attempted to systematically destroy public education in Louisiana;
  • How Jindal has refused federal grants that could have gone far in developing internet services for rural areas and high speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans;
  • How Jindal has rewarded major contributors with appointments to key boards and commissions;
  • How Jindal attempted to use the court system to persecute an agency head who refused to knuckle under to illegal demands from the governor’s office;
  • How Jindal has manipulated the state budget each year he has been in office in a desperate effort to smooth over deficit after deficit;
  • And most of all, how Jindal literally abandoned the state while still governor so that he could pursue his quixotic dream of becoming president.

To this end, LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell will be spending the next several months researching and writing a book chronicling the Jindal administration. Should Jindal become a presidential contender or even if he is selected as another candidate’s vice presidential running mate, such a book could have a national impact and even affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

This project is going to take time and involve considerable expense as we compile our research and prepare the book for publication in time for the 2016 election.

To accomplish this, we need your help.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

Read Full Post »

In reading Destiny’s Anvil, a novel about Louisiana politics by New Orleans writer Steven Wells Hicks, one sentence near the end of the story was so profound that it jumped off the page at us:

  • The responsibility for building and maintaining our way of open and honest government belongs in the hands of those who elect our leaders and not the leaders themselves.

The very simplicity of that one sentence, so succinct and straightforward a summation of what our government should aspire to, should be the credo which dictates the acceptance of every campaign contribution, every promise made and every action carried out by every elected official in America.

Sadly, it does not. And most certainly, it does not in Louisiana, especially where generous donors to the campaigns of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Florida, R-Anywhere by Louisiana) are concerned.

LouisianaVoice has learned that one major donor and its principals not only benefitted from several contracts worth more than $240 million, but also appear to have been given preferable treatment in the purchase of a state building at a bargain price at the expense of taxpayers.

The electorate of this state has capitulated in that responsibility, choosing instead to acquiesce to backroom deals fueled by campaign contributions and to actions concealed in secrecy and carried out for political expedience or personal gain instead of for the common good of the citizenry.

Remember last month when we wrote that Timmy Teepell in 2010 issued a directive to Tommy Teague, then the CEO of the Office of Group Benefits that a request for proposals (RFP) be crafted in such a way as to favor a specific vendor and that then-Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis resigned shortly thereafter?

At the time, Teepell was Jindal’s Chief of Staff. The RFP was for vendors to provide health care coverage to state workers primarily in northeast Louisiana. Vantage Health Plan of Monroe subsequently landed the 26 month, $70 million contract, effective July 1, 2010. Six months later, on Jan. 1, 2011, a second one-year contract of $14 million awarded to Vantage to provide a Medicare Advantage plan for eligible OGB retirees and on Sept. 1, 2012, Vantage received yet another four-month $10 million contract under an emergency rule to provide an HMO plan to OGB members.

Since Jindal took office in January of 2008, Vantage has been awarded six contracts totaling nearly $242 million.

In addition to the claim of the 2010 directive to Teague to “write a tightly-written” RFP, LouisianaVoice has learned the Jindal administration may have deliberately circumvented the usual procedure for selling state property in order that Vantage could purchase a six-story state office building in Monroe last year.

By legislative fiat, the administration was within its legal rights to sell the State Office Building in Monroe to a chosen buyer without going through the bid process but it may have done so at a cost to state taxpayers.

Senate Bill 216 of 2013 by Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) passed overwhelming in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Jindal as Act 127, clearing the way for the sale of the former Virginia Hotel at 122 St. John Street.

By law, if a legislative act is passed, the state can legally bypass the public bid process but there are several indications that the administration may well have gone out of its way to accommodate Vantage and its President, Dr. Patrick Gary Jones through the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED).

The cooperative endeavor agreement between Vantage and the state was executed by Vantage Executive Vice President Mike Breard and LED Undersecretary Anne Villa on Aug. 28, 2013.

Vantage paid the state $881,000 for the six-story, 100,750-square-foot building and an adjoining 39,260-square-foot lot and one-story office building. The cost breakdown was $655,000 for the hotel and $226,000 for the adjoining property.

The Virginia Hotel was constructed in 1925 at a cost of $1.6 million and underwent extensive renovations in 1969 and again in 1984, according to documents provided LouisianaVoice by DED.

But LouisianaVoice has learned that there was at least one other potential buyer interested in the Virginia Hotel/State Office Building and indeed, documents obtained from LED contained no fewer than three references to fears by Vantage officers that if the building were put up for public auction, the bids might make the costs prohibitive to Vantage.

Melody Olson and husband Kim purchased the nearby Penn Hotel for $341,000 and poured $2 million into converting it into condominiums.

The late Shady Wall, a colorful state representative from Ouachita Parish, lived in the Penn’s penthouse. (Wall once wedged a pencil between a stack of books and the “yes” button at his House desk and went home for the day, officially casting “yes” votes on every matter that came up in the chamber after his departure.) The Olsons now reside in that same penthouse.

Melody Olson told LouisianaVoice that she and her husband wanted to purchase the Virginia and convert it into a boutique hotel but were never given the opportunity.

“It was sold through the Department of Economic Development and never was offered for public bid,” she said. “We never got the chance to make an offer.”

One internal LED memorandum said that Vantage Health Plan (VHP) “approached LED to help arrange the sale in order to avoid typical State surplus real property requirements of public bidding. VHP fears that public bidding would allow a developer utilizing various incentive programs to pay an above market price that VHP would find hard to match.” (Emphasis added.) IMAG0379

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Another document appears to be an internal memorandum that provides an overview of a 2012 meeting about the sale. It indicates that LED Secretary Stephen Moret, Sen. Walsworth, LED Legislative and Congressional Liaison Mandi Mitchell and LED Director of Contract Performance Shawn Welcome were in attendance on behalf of the state and Dr. Jones and his son-in-law Michael Echols, Director of Business Development, representing Vantage.

Under a heading entitled Company Issues/Concerns there were these two notations:

  • “Developers have purchased and converted some downtown Monroe buildings into mixed use buildings (by) taking advantage of federal and state restoration tax credits.”
  • “Concern: Vantage is worried that if SB (state building) is offered through regular channels, developers using federal tax credits could outbid Vantage.” IMAG0377

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Finally, there was a handwritten note which described another meeting on Nov. 1, 2012. Besides the notation that “Sen. Riser supports,” there was this:

  • “Problem is option of auction—if auction comes there is possibility of tax credits allowing a bidder to out-bid.”

IMAG0378

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Finally, there was a hand-scrawled notation at the bottom of a typewritten page containing employment estimates by Vantage through 2024 which directed that an “approach” be written “specific to Vantage.”

And while Vantage repeatedly cited concerns about other potential buyers obtaining state and federal incentives which they might use to thwart their purchase plans for the building, Vantage was not shy about seeking incentives from the state for its own benefit.

Documents obtained from LED show no fewer than 20 applications or notices of applications for various state incentive programs, including Enterprise Zone, Quality Jobs Program and property tax exemptions for renovations to existing offices in Monroe or expansion into new offices in Shreveport, Mangham, West Monroe, New Orleans and even into Arkansas.

Nor were Vantage and its corporate principals shy about flashing cash for political campaign contributions.

Campaign finance records show that Vantage its affiliate, Affinity Health Group, their corporate officers and family members combined to contribute more than $100,000 to various political campaigns, including $22,000 to Jindal and $11,000 to three of the four Senators who authored the bill authorizing the sale of the Virginia Hotel to Vantage: Thompson ($5,400), Walsworth ($4,500), and Riser ($1,000.

Read Full Post »

Peter Schroeder, a writer for The Hill, has drunk the Kool-Aid.

The Hill is a subsidiary of News Communications, Inc. that covers the U.S. Congress with an emphasis on business, lobbying and political campaigns and is one of the first web pages accessed each day by those wishing to stay abreast of events in the nation’s capital.

But Sunday’s story by Schroeder has to leave readers in Louisiana scratching their heads and wondering about his credentials or his sanity—or both.

His story, The New and Improved Jindal, touts the prospects of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) as a legitimate challenger for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/219759-the-new-and-improved-bobby-jindal

Perhaps unwittingly, however, the headline to his story may have provided an insight to what’s in store for the Boy Blunder.

By invoking the term “new and improved,” we immediately are left with the idea that he is being packaged and sold like so much washing powder or toothpaste—or perhaps more appropriately, toilet paper.

To bolster his evaluation of Jindal as a real comer, Schroeder relied on people like Tony Perkins, founder of the Louisiana Family Forum, former legislator, failed U.S. Senate candidate and president of the Family Research Council and Jindal’s former chief of staff, current political adviser Timmy Teepell and Baton Rouge political pollster Bernie Pinsonat.

The fact that Jindal and Perkins are in lock step on family values issues does not exactly make Perkins an impartial observer and Teepell certainly has much to gain if he and his consulting company, OnMessage, can ride Jindal’s coattails into the White House (or as Sarah Palin would say, 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue).

Schroeder also hangs his analysis on a single speech by Jindal last week when he cracked a couple of jokes that actually got chuckles from his conservative audience at the Values Voters Summit in Washington. “Jindal showed a dynamic style as he paced across the state,” he wrote.

What!!? Really? You’re staking your writing career on that thin bit of evidence?

Well, not exactly. There is this from Teepell:

“Most people’s impression of his speaking skills go back to his State of the Union response (of 2009), which was just a terrible speech.

“You’re having to do it (speaking) all the time, and on a number of different issues every single day, and so he just gets better and better.”

So, there you have it. By Teepell’s own admission, Jindal is making these speeches “every single day,” which leaves damned little time for him to devote his attention to the mundane duties of governor—a job to which he was re-elected by 67 percent of 20 percent of the state’s voters, a veritable mandate.

If he’s such a rising star, perhaps Schroeder can explain to us how Jindal managed to finish behind “nobody” in a recent straw poll. Maybe he can tell us why he remains a bottom feeder in the polls, along with Palin who can’t seem to get the address of the White House right.

Jindal’s supporters argue that his low numbers can be attributed to the fact that voters in the heartland don’t know him, not because they don’t like him.

News flash: we know him in Louisiana and his numbers have never been lower here and it’s precisely because we do know him.

Louisiana pollster Bernie Pinsonat said Jindal simply needs an issue that will give him national exposure.

We have several such issues:

  • He was for Common Core before he decided it would be politically expedient to oppose it.
  • He regularly hopped all over north Louisiana handing out stimulus money at Protestant churches and “awarding” military veterans’ pins during his first term but has not visited a single church of any stripe nor has he delivered any military pins since his re-election where only 20 percent of registered voters even bothered to vote.
  • He has bankrupted the state with tax giveaways to corporations while attempting to rip state employees’ pensions from them with a patently unconstitutional legislative bill.
  • He is now attempting to do the same thing with state worker health benefits while at the same time depleting the fund balance of the Office of Group Benefits.
  • He has handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable state contracts to consultants and favored firms.
  • His hand-picked Secretary of Health and Hospitals has been indicted on nine counts of perjury in connection with one of those contracts.
  • He has given away the state hospital system to private entities though the move has yet to be approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
  • He has repeatedly cut the budgets of higher education in Louisiana.
  • He has consistently promoted school vouchers and charter schools at the expense of low-income students who are left in the underfunded public schools.
  • He attempted to give the State Police Superintendent a $55,000 a year retirement raise while ignoring rank and file state police and state employees.
  • He has broken his promise not to use one-time money for recurring expenses—not once, but six times.
  • He has enveloped the governor’s office in secrecy.
  • He has cloaked himself in a mantle of self-righteousness that is betrayed by his callous lack of concern for the people of Louisiana.

“People are going to have plenty of time to get a better impression of Gov. Jindal,” Teepell said. “That (2009) speech won’t be the only thing they remember about him.”

The business of remaking or re-packaging of the new and improved Jindal reminds of the wisdom of Mark Twain who said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

As far as we’re concerned, Jindal is going to have plenty to try to remember in his quest for the brass ring that is the GOP nomination.

Or, as we prefer to think, if you’re genuine—if you’re the real deal—there’s really no need for a makeover.

And if ever a person needed a makeover, it’s Jindal.

Read Full Post »

“Like all of the governor’s self-created crises, the solution always seems to be to ask more of the people of our state: more money, more patience, more suspended disbelief.”

—State Rep. John Bel Edwards, commenting on the failure of Gov. Jindal’s promise of a $20 million a year savings with the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,771 other followers