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Archive for the ‘Exemptions, Incentives’ Category

One of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s favorite activities (second only to trips to Iowa and New Hampshire) appears to be his now-routine exercise of mid-year budget cuts and hiring freezes.

But like any deft politician, he leaves himself wiggle room.

Lots of wiggle room.

On Jan. 15, 2014, Jindal, in reaction to the state’s worsening fiscal condition, issued an executive order for a “limited hiring freeze” that extended to some 40 state agencies. That order stipulated that no agency use employee transfers, promotions, reallocations or the creation of new positions in such a manner as to exceed a ceiling imposed by the commissioner of administration. JANUARY HIRING FREEZE

As state finances continued to deteriorate, Jindal followed up with a statewide expenditure freeze on April 14. While that order imposed statewide cuts, it listed enough exemptions and exceptions as to render it practically meaningless—except for higher education and healthcare expenditures not covered by federal funding. As has always been the case, those were not spared. APRIL EXPENDITURE FREEZE

The order continued a trend that has come to define the Jindal administration: extensive mid-year cuts.

Then, on Nov. 7, Jindal issued his first executive order of the 2014-2015 fiscal year that began on July 1 for another statewide expenditure freeze. Again, the main areas cut were higher education and health care, though as with the April order, other agencies felt at least some of the effects. Theoretically at least, the only exceptions were essential services and federally funded programs. NOVEMBER EXPENDITURE FREEZE

Now, Jindal is at it again. On Dec. 18, he issued yet another executive order, the fourth of the calendar year and the second this fiscal year. This one called for expenditure reductions totaling $153 million and authorizing Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols to impose an additional $17.4 million in cuts for total cuts of $170.4 million.

DECEMBER EXPENDITURE REDUCTION

Among the latest cuts ordered by Jindal included:

  • Higher Education: $4.9 million;
  • Department of Education: $6.77 million;
  • Corrections: $336,780;
  • Division of Administration: $3.5 million;
  • Veterans Affairs: $240,000;
  • Office of Juvenile Justice: $1.98 million;
  • Office of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH): $131.8 million (includes $127.44 million in cuts to medical vendors, $2.64 million to medical vendor administration, and $308,213 in cuts to the Office of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities);
  • Office of Children and Family Services: $964,980;
  • Department of Natural Resources: $1.29 million;
  • Department of Economic Development: $1.4 million.

One of the more interesting sidebars to this entire scenario is that with the latest executive order, DOA gave some agencies only eight working days in which to provide a myriad of information, including lists of all contractors and amounts paid on the contracts.

DOA has consistently taken weeks and sometimes months in which to comply with similar requests by LouisianaVoice, a point which will be raised in any future litigation by LouisianaVoice. We will, in all probability, cite that long-standing legal precedent Goose v. Gander in our legal arguments.

We mentioned at the beginning of this post that Jindal has left himself a lot of room to maneuver around his own dictates and we had little problem in finding good examples.

In early November, only hours before that Nov. 7 hiring freeze for example, the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) brought two six-figure appointees over from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to assist OGB Chief Executive Officer Susan West in handling an agency that appeared to be spinning out of her control.

West makes $170,000 a year as CEO but the governor’s office somehow saw fit to pay Thomas Groves $220,000 a year as Assistant Commissioner and Elise Cazes $106,512 as Group Benefits Administrator.

And now we learn that OGB is still hiring long after that hiring freeze took effect last month.

The Office of Civil Service will close applications on Friday (Dec. 26) for the position of Group Benefits Director (what that entails). The salary range for that position is between $50,900 and $107,000, according to the Civil Service announcement.

That’s a pretty big spread and our bet is the new hire won’t be starting at the bottom of that scale.

It seems curious to us that OGB managed to survive—and even thrive, building a $500 million reserve fund balance—without all that added weight before the decision to fire former CEO Tommy Teague in April of 2011, lay off more than 100 personnel, to privatize the agency and in the process, manage to lose half of that $500 million reserve fund.

Not satisfied with increasing the number of administrative positions at OGB, the administration is currently advertising for a Chief Legal Officer for OGB, according to listings provided by Civil Service.

And then there is the case of Chance McNeely who, since last march has served as a $65,000-a-year policy analyst for the Governor’s office but more recently was appointed as Assistant Secretary for Environmental Compliance at the Department of Environmental Quality at an as yet undisclosed salary.

Three things stand out about the McNeely appointment. First, with Jindal’s term of office winding down to just over a year left, McNeely need a nice cozy spot to land in a classified (read: protected) position.

Second, the creation of that position would seem to violate Jindal’s own directive of last April that “no agency use employee transfers, promotions, reallocations or the creation of new positions in such a manner as to exceed a ceiling” imposed by the administration. Jindal and Nichols would argue that that caveat applied to the previous fiscal year, not 2014-2015 and technically, they would be correct. But the state’s financial condition is even worse than last year, so one might reasonably assume that prohibition should have been carried forward into the new fiscal year. But when it adheres to the wishes of Jindal, the rules apparently do not apply. After all, it was in a Division of Administration staff meeting a couple of years ago that the directive was given to staffers to not let the law stand in the way of the administration’s wishes.

And third, since when does Jindal care about the environment anyway? Remember that Jindal himself described climate change advocates as “science deniers.”

Curious indeed for a governor obsessed with reducing the size of government.

But, as those cheesy TV commercials say, there’s more. We also have the Department of Education.

Since January of 2014, DOE has chalked up 300 new hires—190 full time and 110 part time—at a combined salary of more than $9.6 million, or an average yearly salary of $50,857, including part timers.

The Recovery School District (RSD), which has experienced a string of critical state audits, had 93 of those 190 new full time hires at a combined salary of $4.1 million.

DOE hired 50 part time employees at $500 per week or more (a combined salary of $2 million per year) and 16 of those part timers, all employed by RSD, were hired at $1,000 per week or more. One of those, guidance counselor Nancye Ann Verlander, was hired at a part time salary of $3,000 per week ($156,000 per year), according to records provided by Civil Service.

Two others, Kathryn Elichman and Kenneth Elichman, were hired as part time administrators at $1,600 and $1,150 per week ($83,200 and $59,800 per year, respectively), records show, and a part time school nurse receives $72,800 per year.

Meanwhile, Jindal travels the country visiting fairs and community groups in Iowa and New Hampshire and grabbing network TV face time at every opportunity to proclaim how he has delivered a balanced state budget, reduced the size of government, lowered taxes, and turned Louisiana into a utopia for its four million citizens.

Those citizens, however, somehow continue to see Louisiana turn up near the bottom of surveys of all things good and at the top of all things bad.

Such is the surrealistic world of budget cuts and hiring freezes in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the way he explains it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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