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Archive for the ‘Exemptions, Incentives’ Category

The movies Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Terminator, Jurassic park 4, Ender’s Game, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation were all shot in New Orleans. More specifically, they are all filmed in the Big Easy Studios in New Orleans. http://www.bigeasystudiosneworleans.com/aboutus.php

Geostorm, starring Gerard Butler as a satellite designer who goes into space to thwart climate-controlling satellites from creating catastrophic storms, just started shooting in the Big Easy Studios which are housed, appropriately enough, in the Michoud Assembly Center which once built the space shuttle’s external tanks before the shuttle project was scrapped by NASA.

All of which begs two single overriding questions: did Big Easy Studios receive favorable treatment in landing the lease of the 1.8 million-square-foot facility and were other Louisiana-based studios afforded the same opportunity to compete for a similar deal with NASA?

Taking the questions in reverse order, we will probably never know what chances, if any, other studios had to vie for the space but at least one competitor said there was no open competition for the facility.

The answer to the first is shrouded in secrecy as lease terms, including rental and payments, as well as the very signatures of Big Easy principals signing the lease were redacted throughout the 28-page lease document. We suppose lease payments may be some kind of protected state secret which fall under the heading of national security.

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Still, with conspiracy theorists out there who continue to insist the 1969 moon landing was staged, one would think NASA would be a little skittish about leasing out its facilities for movie making.

But there are more serious issues involving NASA’s decision to lease the gigantic facility to a movie production company. For openers, NASA’s rules say that any deal with an outside entity must serve the agency’s mission. NASA’s response was that anything that brings the federal government revenue serves NASA’s mission. Taking that logic to its extreme, it would seem safe to say a meth lab or house of ill repute could conceivably qualify under that definition.

NASA rules also dictate that any lease agreement must recover the full cost of the rented space and must not create unfair competition with the private sector by undercutting its lease terms. Yet, competing studios maintain that first, they were not given the opportunity to compete for the lease and the lease arrangements with Big Easy Studios and second, that they pay higher rent per square foot than Big Easy Studios.

So just how did Big Easy gain such an advantage, if indeed it did?

To answer that, we must take a look at the two principals of Big Easy Studios.

Herbert W. Gains, an independent filmmaker, was in New Orleans in 2010 to film Green Lantern, much of which was shot at the Lakefront Airport.

At the same time, The Lathan Co. of Mobile, Alabama, was under contract to perform major repairs and restoration work to the airport which had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. http://www.lathancompany.com/portfolio/lakefront.html

Lathan Co. President Jerry Lathan, a member of the Alabama Republican Party’s State Executive Committee who had worked in the presidential campaigns for Bob Dole and both Presidents Bush as well as other local, state and national Republican candidates, also had contracts for restoration of a number of other structures, including four others in New Orleans and one at East Louisiana Hospital in Jackson.

http://www.lathancompany.com/projects.html

Lathan, who reportedly likes to boast of his political contacts, would probably have had connections at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, through which he could have assisted Gains in acquiring access to NASA.

http://algop.org/jerry-lathan/

Big Easy Studios was incorporated on Nov. 9, 2011, with Gains and Lathan as the only officers, and the lease with NASA was signed by an unidentified officer of the new company (remember, that name was redacted) 16 days later, on Nov. 22, 2011. An amendment to the contract was signed less than three months later, on Feb. 14, 2012, by Robin Henderson of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center but again, the names and signature of the Big Easy officer were again redacted.

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Stephen Moret, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED), said his office had “many conversations” with NASA about the need to offer more competitive lease rates at Michoud to better position the facility to attract “advanced manufacturing projects.”

The director of operations for one competing studio told the Baton Rouge Business Report in 2012 that he had heard from producers that Big Easy received lease rates more favorable than his studio. “The taxpayers didn’t fund Michoud to make movies,” he said. “The lease with Big Easy Studios was a done deal before we even knew the facility was available.”

http://businessreport.com/article/20120917/BUSINESSREPORT0112/120919831/

While, studios located in Louisiana once received 40 percent infrastructure tax credits—discontinued in 2009—the movies filmed in those studios still receive movie production tax credits and the system quickly led to widespread abuses that prompted the conviction and a 70-month prison sentence for for Martin Walker of Baton Rouge for his activity involving the buying and selling of Louisiana motion picture investor tax credits. He also was ordered to pay more than $1.8 million in restitution to 24 victims of his fraud.

In 2009, revisions to state incentives guaranteed a tax credit of 30 percent of expenditures provided a production spends more than $300,000 in Louisiana. Major productions like Twilight: Breaking Dawn can receive state tax credits of $10 million to $30 million.

Because most productions don’t owe any taxes in Louisiana, there is no need to claim the credits but they can transfer those credits to the state and the state will cut the companies a check for 85 percent of the face value of the credits. Thus, if a production company earns $1 million in Louisiana tax credits, those credits can be transferred back to the state and the state will issue the company a check for $850,000.

Another option, a variation of which landed Walker in hot water, allows production companies to sell their credits to individuals or corporations who do owe taxes in the state at a discount. Should an individual or corporation owe the state $1 million, for example, and a production company holds a $1 million tax credit, the production company may sell its tax credit to a speculator for say, $500,000 and that person in turns sells the credit for $750,000 to the individual or corporation owing the $1 million in taxes who then receives a $1 million tax credit—and each party profits $250,000.

That means when production companies sell their credits to the private sector, state taxpayers end up subsidizing tax breaks for high income individuals and corporations.

In Walker’s case, though, he sold bogus tax credits with a face value of more than $3.8 million to 24 investors for $2.5 million.

Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street said of the Walker matter, “This sort of blatant fraud undermines the entire tax credit program and cannot be tolerated. We will continue working with the FBI and United States Attorney to make sure that those who engage in this sort of corruption face criminal consequences.”

Former State Film Commissioner Mark Smith described the movie industry in Louisiana as “smoke and mirrors.” He said in Los Angeles and New York, “I can see the headquarters and see who the real players are. In places like Louisiana, who can see it?”

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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

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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

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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.”

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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.

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A Baton Rouge district court judge has struck down the so-called Edmonson Amendment, declaring the special retirement benefits enhancement amendment for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and one other state trooper unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that a state police commander passed out a controversial “Hurt Feelings Report” to state troopers several months ago. https://www.google.com/search?q=hurt+feelings+report&hl=en&biw=1280&bih=585&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=ydYYVJ_gGYSuogSpwoK4Aw&sqi=2&ved=0CB0QsAQ

(For an example of “Hurt Feelings Report” forms, click on any image, then move cursor to right and then click on “View Image.”)

Edmonson may now wish to fill out one of those reports.

Judge Janice Clark of 19th Judicial District Court issued the ruling Tuesday morning in a special hearing, bringing to an official end the question of legality and propriety of Amendment 2 of Senate Bill 294, passed on the last day of the recent legislative session.

The ruling leaves egg on the collective faces of Edmonson, his Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, who conceived of the underhanded (as in sneaky) legislation; State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), who slipped the last minute amendment past his unsuspecting colleagues in the Senate and House; Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright Jr., who supposedly read and blessed the bill, and Jindal, who signed it as Act 859.

The effect of the bill, which was introduced by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) as a bill to address disciplinary action to be taken in cases where law enforcement officers are under investigation, was to bump Edmonson’s annual retirement up by $55,000, from its current level of $79,000 to his current salary of $134,000.

Edmonson had entered into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) several years ago at his captain’s pay grade in exchange for more take home pay at the time he signed onto DROP. Because of that decision, which is irrevocable, Edmonson was set to receive 100 percent of his captain’s salary after 30 years of service.

Riser’s amendment would have allowed Edmonson to retire instead at 100 percent of his current salary. The bill also benefitted Master Trooper Louis Boquet of Houma even though he was oblivious to events taking place in Baton Rouge.

LouisianaVoice was the first to report the real impact of SB 294 after a sharp-eyed staff member in the Division of Administration (DOA) tipped us off.

Edmonson at first defended the bill on a Baton Rouge radio talk show, saying he was entitled to the increase. He said then that at age 50 he was “forced” to sign up for DROP. That was not accurate; state employees at the time were required to decide whether or not to participate in DROP, but no one was forced into the program.

Continuing the pattern of misrepresentations, Riser said he had no knowledge of who inserted the amendment into the bill during a conference committee meeting. He later acknowledged it was he who made the insertion. Riser was one of three senators and three House members who were on the conference committee.

Jindal, of course, remained strangely quiet about the entire mess, emerging from Iowa or New Hampshire or the Fox News studios only long enough to say that the legislature should correct the matter when it convenes next spring. After making that brief policy statement, he immediately returned to his presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, retired state troopers as well as other retired state employees who had opted into DROP and later received promotions and accompanying pay raises only to have their retirements frozen at the level they were being paid at the time of their entering DROP, went on a rampage with several retired troopers offering to file suit if the State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Board did not.

At a special meeting of the LSPRS Board earlier this month, it was learned that Dupuy had initiated contact with the board’s actuary several weeks before the session ended to discuss the amendment which he obviously intended to have inserted into the bill in the closing hours of the session. That pretty much shot down any deniability on Riser’s part. And Riser would certainly never have made such an attempt without Jindal’s blessings.

The board, meanwhile, was advised by an attorney with experience in pension plans that it had no standing as a board to file such a suit but board member and State Treasurer John Kennedy immediately announced his intentions to do so as a private citizen.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) saw a way to give his campaign for 6th District congressman to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy a boost and quickly filed his own suit.

It was Claitor’s suit on which the hearing on a motion for declaratory judgment served as the basis for Judge Clark’s ruling on Tuesday.

Neither Edmonson nor Boquet nor the LSPRS Board opposed the motion.

Following the hearing, Kennedy said the bill was unconstitutional on both the state and federal levels—on several different legal points. “Not only was it unconstitutional,” he said, “it was wrong.” https://www.dropbox.com/sh/erw91d3j3ivkis9/AABhtU96O_u88tVSYLfIQqPra?dl=0#lh:null-IMG_8155.MOV

“This law was patently unconstitutional,” Kennedy said. “Now it’s null and void. This is a win for retirees as well as taxpayers across Louisiana.”

In a statement released after the ruling, Kennedy said one of his objections was that the law would have drawn the enhanced benefits from an experience account that funds cost-of-living increases for retired state troopers and their families.

He testified in the hearing that Louisiana’s four retirement systems already have an unfunded accrued liability (UAL—the gap between the systems’ assets and liabilities) of $19 billion, the sixth worst UAL in the nation.

“This is not about personalities,” he said. “This was about fairness. Regardless of whether you’re a prince or a pauper, you should not receive special treatment.”

The “Hurt Feelings Report” forms, intended to intimidate or demean harassment victims or others who feel they have been slighted or who feel they have been made victims of racial, sexual, or other forms of discrimination, are parodies that attack otherwise genuine concerns of bullying in the workplace.

The commander who passed the forms out to his troopers obviously thought it was a hilarious joke and a great way to deal with potential complaints but officials in Buffalo, Wyoming didn’t think they were so funny.

A 13-year veteran Buffalo High School football coach who passed out the “survey” to his players was forced to resign after his actions became public. The survey listed several options as reasons for hurt feelings, including “I am a queer,” “I am a little bitch,” and “I have woman like hormones.” It asked for the identity of the “little sissy filing report” and for his “girly-man signature,” plus the “real-man signature” of the person accused of causing hurt feelings.

Coach Pat Lynch, as is always the case when those in positions of authority are caught doing something incredibly stupid, offered a letter of resignation in which he said, “I would like to apologize for my lack of judgment and the poor choice….” (You know the words to this worn out song by now. We’ve heard them from politicians like David Vitter, athletes like Ray Rice, even ministers like Jimmy Swaggart.)

So now we have a state police commander who has attempted by distribution of this document to ridicule—in advance—anyone under his command who feels he or she has been the victim of discrimination or harassment and to discourage them from filing formal complaints.

There appears to be no level of stupidity to which some people will not stoop.

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Editor’s note:

The following is a guest column offered by Baton Rouge teacher Fred Aldrich who, along with thousands of others, listened Monday as Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson appeared on the Jim Engster Show to defend the amendment tacked onto an unrelated bill on the final day of the legislative session which will give Edmonson an additional $55,000 (not $30,000 as first reported—we’ll explain at the end of Aldrich’s guest column) upon his retirement—a nice bonus unique to Edmonson and one other state trooper.

 

I am a long-time listener to NPR station WRKF, and I listen to the Jim Engster show whenever possible. I don’t always agree with Jim or his guests, but I usually don’t find my disagreements worthy of a response. Today was an exception.

The comments of Jim’s guests are not the opinions of Jim or WRKF, but unfortunately those comments may be spin and/or misinformation which listeners will take as truth.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson was on the show this morning. I have great respect for the state police, and I have considered Edmonson one of the good guys in the Jindal administration. This morning’s interview, however, was problematical for me in several ways.

Engster congratulated Edmonson for having the fortitude to come on the program at a time when the superintendent is facing a lot of heat statewide. His performance suggested that he has paid attention during the years he has also served as a prop for the governor. He sounded earnest, sounded passionate, and sounded determined to serve his troopers and the people of the state. So far, so good, but that’s not why he’s on the hot seat. No one questions his dedication.

As a teacher with 38 years of experience in Louisiana and one who participated in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) about the same time as he did, my understanding and experience with the program are much different from what Edmonson expressed on the program. He wanted to dispel “inaccuracies” with “facts,” but in my estimation he mostly promulgated misinformation, to wit:

  • The retirement systems which offer DROP are not “different” retirement systems than they were at the time he or anyone else went into DROP. DROP was simply a program within these retirement systems which was offered to employees for a few years, theoretically to provide valued employees an opportunity to continue working while putting three years of retirement checks in an interest-earning escrow account that could not be accessed until the employee finally retires, as which time federal laws regarding taxes and withdrawals apply. Though officially retired, the employee continued to draw his regular pay while payments were made into his DROP account. These three years do not count as service credit toward figuring eventual retirement benefits.
  • Despite Col. Edmonson’s casual use of the word, no one was “forced” into DROP. It was a choice for anyone with 30 years of service, or 25 years of service for those 55 years old or older. Those who chose to not enter DROP simply continued to work, with the three years counted as regular service credit, and allowed the employee to draw the retirement benefits he/she accrued upon final retirement. Had Col. Edmonson, and myself, and others, chosen to not participate, his, and our, retirement benefit would have been what it took him a specious legislative effort to attain.
  • The form that each DROP participant had to sign made the options and possible outcomes very clear. It states, in no uncertain terms, that the employee understands that his basic retirement benefit is frozen at that time, that the decision is irrevocable, that service credit past the exit from DROP is calculated in a different manner, and that DROP may not be the best option, depending on future circumstances. It urges employees to consider their decision carefully and seek financial counsel before they choose to enter the program.
  • The articles I’ve read and the radio program in particular fail to mention the three years of retirement pay in Col. Edmonson’s DROP account plus the accrued interest and whether he plans to return that money to the system if he gets his new benefit. In my case, and I was in DROP at the same time as Edmonson, my account balance has nearly doubled in ten years. (And my eventual retirement benefit will be approximately 65% of what it would have been had I not chosen to go into DROP.)
  • Col. Edmonson misstated the application of the $30,000 yearly bump that has been mentioned. No one I know of has claimed that this is a bonus on top of his new yearly retirement benefit. It is the difference between the benefit that he is entitled to as the result of his voluntary participation in DROP and his new benefit, courtesy of a friendly conference committee.
  • Blaming the confusion at the end of the legislative session for the “misunderstanding” is ridiculous. It’s beyond obvious that he and his allies (which could range from the governor down to legislative staffers) gamed the system and took advantage of this dysfunctional process for his benefit, then blamed the process for a misunderstanding.
  • As for the integrity in which Col. Edmonson bathed himself and the commiseration he offered a caller who found herself in a similar retirement situation, he could have demonstrated his concern by including all DROP participants in his legislation. I, and several of my colleagues, (and apparently many others) have tried to lobby for the same remedy that Col. Edmonson and his allies sneaked through (Let’s call it what it is.) We have met the runaround
  • from every source we’ve approached, and we’ve accepted that most of us will have been long dead before anything actually could be done.

Unfortunately, we’re not in the governor’s loop and teachers with 35-50 years of experience who make less than half the salary of Col. Edmonson don’t have the same voice. His assertion that everyone should get the same consideration that he does begs the fact that all troopers, state workers, and teachers don’t have the same political connections and the same willingness to go through this foul-smelling process to enrich themselves.

This is my understanding based on my experiences with DROP and my following of Edmonson’s gift from the conference committee. If anything is factually incorrect, I will readily stand corrected. As a reaction to what happened, I remain convinced that the whole action smells. There are many hard-working, conscientious, productive people in state government, law enforcement and education, who don’t get special treatment through a disgusting legislative process.

            In addition to Mr. Aldrich’s comments, we have some comments and additional information of our own to add:

During his appearance on the Jim Engster Show, Edmonson who last week said he never asked for the legislation and did not know about it, acknowledged that an unidentified” staff member” brought the matter to his attention and he authorized the effort to go forward. He also told Engster that the issue of the special legislation actually arose several weeks before the end of the session.

That being the case, why was it necessary to wait until the last day of the session, when the pace becomes hectic and confusing, to insert the amendment into a benign bill completely unrelated to retirement (the bill, Senate Bill 294, dealt with disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers under investigation)? That tactic alone smacks of covert intent designed to keep the measure from the prying eyes of the media and public.

Edmonson, during his interview, acknowledged that when he voluntarily (and the word voluntarily should be emphasized here) entered DROP, he was a captain earning $79,000 per year in salary. By entering DROP, his retirement was frozen and would be calculated on that salary. The trade-off was that he earned a higher salary.

But he probably did not foresee his advancement to Superintendent of State Police at a salary of $134,000.

Based on a formula multiplying his salary by the number of years of service by 3.33 percent), he would have retired at 100 percent of that $79,000 salary instead of 100 percent of his higher salary of $134,000 after 30 years.

Until the passage of the secretive-shrouded amendment to SB 294, that is. The amendment will mean an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson during his retirement years—$134,000 (100 percent of his current salary).

Should Edmonson live for 30 years after retirement, that’s an extra $1.14 million in retirement benefits.

The amendment prompted one retired state trooper, Jerry Patrick, to express his embarrassment “that one of our troopers was so selfish that he would tarnish the badge that I and so many others worked and sacrificed to honor.”

Patrick said that it was “no stretch to believe that the governor’s office was directly involved in requesting this for a member of the governor’s cabinet.”

To that end, LouisianaVoice has made three separate public records requests. The first was to the Louisiana State Police communications director (which was handed off to the agency’s legal team) requesting the opportunity to review “all emails, text messages and/or other communications” between Edmonson, his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser, his staff, and the governor’s office pertaining to any discussion of DROP and/or retirement benefits for Edmonson and any discussion of retirement legislation that might affect Edmonson.

We made similar requests of both the House and Senate for any similar communications between members of the conference committee that approved the special amendment, Edmonson, the governor’s office and Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Riser is chairman of that committee and was on the conference committee that inserted the amendment for Edmonson.

Through the grapevine, we have learned that Sullivan has already invoked the sacred attorney-client privilege to prevent releasing any of her emails. But that objection is questionable at best inasmuch as Edmonson is not her client. Neither is the governor. Nor is, for that matter, Riser.

Of course, she will probably include Riser by extension by virtue of his chairmanship of the committee for which she works but Riser, should he have nothing to hide, could always waive the attorney-client privilege.

If he does not, and if Sullivan does resist releasing the contents of her emails, we can only assume the obvious: there is something contained in those messages that the principals would rather we not know.

And to quote my favorite poet and playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare of Denham-on-Amite from my favorite play, Hamlet Bob: “Ay, there’s the rub.”

But we are confident they would never try to hide anything from the public. This administration, after all, is the gold standard of ethics, openness and transparency. Gov. Jindal himself has said so on countless occasions in his many out-of-state appearances.

Oh, but wait. We also learned on Tuesday that House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) has refused a request by State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) for a full investigation of the secretive amendment. Kleckley said that because it was a Senate bill to which the amendment was attached, it becomes a matter for the Senate to investigate. Apparently, Kleckley neglected to note that three members of the conference committee that approved the amendment were House members.

Kleckley’s dancing around the issue, folks, is what is known as the Bureaucratic Shuffle.

 

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“The amendment impedes an existing contract. Col. Edmonson entered into a binding contract when he entered DROP and that is irrevocable. We have had a constant parade of state employees who wanted out of DROP and every single one has been denied.”

—State official, commenting on the 11th hour amendment to SB 294 which would give State Police Commander Mike Edmonson a $30,000 per year increase.

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State Treasurer John Kennedy told fellow members of the State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Wednesday that he wants answers to a laundry list of questions pertaining to legislative passage of an amendment to an otherwise minor senate bill that increased State Police Commander Mike Edmonson’s retirement benefits by $30,000 per year.

http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Kennedy_LSP.htm

In asking for a thorough investigation of the amendment that was slipped on Senate Bill 294 on the final day of the legislative session, Kennedy said his main concern was with New York bond rating agencies, though he also questioned the fairness of the amendment’s applying only to Edmonson and one other Master Trooper from Houma.

“I was in New York when this story first broke (LouisianaVoice ran the first story about the amendment last Friday) and we had discussions about the $19 billion unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of the state’s four retirement systems,” he said. “These rating agencies read our newspapers and our blogs and they know more about Louisiana than we do.”

As State Treasurer, Kennedy sits on some 30 different state boards, including the State Police Retirement System Board but he said his interest in attending Wednesday’s meeting was in protecting the state’s bond rating. “If our rating goes down, our interest rates go up,” he said. “I spent 12 or 13 hours with them and they are worried about our Medicaid situation, our use of non-recurring revenue and our retirement systems’ UAL.”

Another state official, an attorney, told LouisianaVoice that he had another constitutional violation to add to C.B. Forgotston’s list of five constitutional violations of the amendment: “The amendment impedes an existing contract,” he said. Col. Edmonson entered into a binding contract when he entered DROP and that is irrevocable. We have had a constant parade of state employees who wanted out of DROP and every single one has been denied.”

Kennedy said there are two sides to every story. “I’d like to talk to Charles Hall (of Hall Actuaries, which did a study for the legislature earlier this year). I’d like Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) who authored the original bill to come speak to us.”

Kennedy said the two men benefitting from the amendment also have a right to address the board. “They have every right to due process,” he said.

Other answers he said he would like include:

  • How many people are impacted by this amendment?
  • Who are they? (The identities of the beneficiaries of the amendment);
  • Who sponsored the amendment in committee? (so they might come before the board and explain their motives);
  • What is the total cost of the amendment? (so he can report back to the rating agencies);
  • What are the remedies, litigation or legislative relief, allege the bill is illegal or simply refuse to comply?
  • What are the legalities of the bill? (Can an amendment be done dealing with retirement issues that is supposed to be advertised?);
  • Has special treatment been given?

“Years ago, we had anywhere from 10 to 15 bills introduced each year to give special treatment to one, two or three individuals without appropriating any money,” he said. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

“Gov. (Mike) Foster finally said ‘Enough, we will do this no more.’ And now here we are again. The rating agencies are appalled at that.”

Kennedy, in a private interview after the meeting, said he was concerned with everyone being treated equally. “I don’t believe in special treatment for those who have the political power or (who) know the right people. I think it’s stupid economically and it is what has contributed to the UAL. This amendment has implications far beyond the two men affected. I want to see how much it would cost to give everyone the same treatment.

“We have the sixth worst-funded retirement systems in America and the rating agencies have told us over the past two years to get our business straight or they will downgrade us. If that happens, we’ll be paying higher interest on our bonded indebtedness.”

Kennedy saved his harshest criticism for the legislature when he said, “Someone didn’t read this bill or they’re not being candid. They should be doing these amendments in a more transparent way. These last minute amendments are done and no one know what they’re adding and suddenly, it’s an up or down vote.

Kennedy asked LSPRS Executive Director Irwin Felps, Jr. if the board could meet before the next scheduled meeting on the third Wednesday of September. “It’s important that we address this issue,” he said.

“There’s no excuse for this. This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven. Somebody has a lot of explaining to do and if I find preferential treatment, I will vote to rescind the amendment.”

Kennedy’s claim of a lack of transparency and the sudden “up or down vote” was illustrated when Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans) explained the amendment on the floor of the House during the final hectic hours when lawmakers were hurrying to wrap up business:

“The new language to the bill applies to those paying more into the system since 2009 for benefits they cannot use,” he said. “It makes people whole but does not give them a larger benefit.”

Don’t believe us? Watch and listen for yourself as Arnold explains the new legislation in all of 15 seconds.

Then you can decide for yourself if the amendment’s sponsors were being completely up front with their colleagues—and with Louisiana taxpayers.

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“What about all the other troopers who retired under the old system?  If Edmonson and the Houma guy are the only ones left on the payroll, what about the ones who already retired?  Shouldn’t they now sue for equal treatment?  I wonder what that would cost?  A lot more than the minimum of $300,000 this bill will cost.”

—State retiree who possesses considerable knowledge of state fiscal matters, commenting on the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that gives State Police Commander Mike Edmonson an extra $30,000 in addition to his earned $134,000 retirement.

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