Archive for the ‘Golf Courses’ Category

First it was a federal judge who threw out Piyush Jindal’s voucher plan in Tangipahoa Parish because it posed a major setback to the parish’s current desegregation consent decree.

Then, last Friday, a state district judge, Tim Kelley, whose wife once worked for Piyush, said the method of appropriations to fund the statewide voucher program is unconstitutional.

Fast on the heels of Kelley’s ruling, fellow Baton Rouge District Judge William Morvant refused to throw out a lawsuit challenging the only part of Piyush’s far-reaching retirement reform proposals that survived the legislative session earlier this year.

In case you’re counting, that’s oh-for-three—not a good batting average for the governor who would be president.

Keep in mind that Piyush is the incoming chairman of the National Republican Governors’ Association.

Remember, too, that he thought he would be moving into that position in the hope that it would be the launching pad for his presidential aspirations. To do so, he needed to bring something substantial to the table.

That something was to be sweeping education reform. That was to be the centerpiece of his list of grand accomplishments, the bold-face type on his curriculum vitae.

Now, the status of both education and retirement reform are suddenly in jeopardy.

Suddenly the star of the errand boy of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) doesn’t shine quite so brightly.

What to do?

The obvious answer would be to teague someone. That practice, after all, has served him well in the past. No college president, attorney, doctor, agency head, legislator or rank-and-file state employee will dare rebuke Piyush lest he or she be shown the door.

There was a time when we would have run a recap of those teagued by this peevish little man, but the list has grown so long that it would take up far too much space.

On reflection, however, one must ask just what are Piyush’s alternatives?

Well, normally he could campaign against the re-election of judges Kelley and Morvant—except he already did the anti-judge campaign thingy in Iowa.

He can’t teague the federal judge; he was appointed by the president.

He can’t teague either of the state judges—Kelley or Morvant—because they were elected by voters of the 19th Judicial District.

He can’t teague Jimmy Faircloth, the attorney who so expertly represented the interests of the state in arguing on behalf of the voucher program because Faircloth was working under a contract that ends when all appeals are exhausted—about $100,000 or so down the road.

He can’t teague Angéle Davis, wife of Judge Kelley because she already resigned her position as Commissioner of Administration.

He can’t teague the legislator who introduced the education bills because they were not written by any Louisiana elected official but by the corporate honchos at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

He might consider teaguing Superintendent of Education John White since there are already unconfirmed rumors floating around that he is leaving soon.

But there is a far better option open to Piyush:

He could take a page from the playbook of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

It’s such a simple solution we’re surprised no one has thought of it before.

All he has to do is first invoke that obscure nullification clause which several states unhappy with last month’s presidential election are bantering about—the one that says states can unilaterally ignore a federal law they don’t like. Or even opt out of the union itself. Some in Texas are talking about splitting off and breaking the state into five separate states (pure lunacy, but a philosophy that dovetails nicely with that of the Tea Party).

Then, like Morsi, Jindal can unilaterally decree greater authority for himself, including issuing a declaration that the wrong-headed courts are henceforth barred from challenging his decisions.

(Come to think of it, such a move is not exactly unprecedented. President Andrew Jackson said of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that the state of Georgia could not impose its laws on Cherokee tribal lands, “(Chief Justice) John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”)

After that, he could even take it a step further and, like North Korea’s late Kim Jong-il, bestow upon himself the title of “Dear Leader,” and, again like Kim Jong-il, commission a song of the same name in his honor.

Think about it. If he were to take that action, he could sell prisons, the old insurance building property, hospitals, roads, universities, the Saints and the Zephyrs, not to mention a few state-owned golf courses and state parks.

That water from Toledo Bend Reservoir? Sold. Gone to Texas and a few select political cronies are even richer than before.

And you only think you’ve seen a lot of corporate tax breaks, incentives and exemptions. Once he issues his decree, corporate taxes would disappear into that sink hole in Assumption Parish.

All state employees who aren’t fired outright (to be replaced by telecommuting administrative types from Florida, California, Alabama and elsewhere) would immediately forfeit all health and retirement benefits—except for friendly former legislators who, of course, would be elevated to six-figure salaries with full benefits.

The Department of Civil Service, public schools and the State Ethics Board would become distant memories for the nostalgic among us.

Of course, were he to take such action, he could always say his decision was predicated “by three things: one, to protect needed reform packages; two, to streamline government so at the end of the day, we can do more with less, and three, I have the job I want.”

Opponents could be expected to condemn his decrees as heavy-handed and dictatorial but what else would you expect from those who represent the coalition of the status quo?

Read Full Post »

During the 1988 presidential race, Vice President George H.W. Bush proclaimed, “Read my lips: no new taxes!”

That famous line helped him defeat Michael Dukakis but when he was forced to back-track on that promise, it was his eventual undoing. Bill Clinton’s own pithy campaign slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” swept the Arkansas governor into the White House in 1992.

Now, 19 years later, Louisiana’s Governor seems determined not to repeat Bush’s mistake. Bobby Jindal doggedly clings to his stated refusal to consider new taxes—or even to reinstate repealed taxes—to help lift the state out of its current financial morass.

Ironically, his stubbornness to keep that promise could conceivably cause him problems in his own re-election bid if he and the legislature cannot work together find some alternate means of achieving financial solvency for the state.

The state will be facing a budgetary shortfall estimated at $1.6 billion when legislators convene at noon on April 25. They will have less than two months to come up with a way to keep the state afloat.

The crux of the problem is lawmakers’ propensity to spend one-time revenue on recurring expenses with no long-term plan for addressing future needs. Jindal has tossed out a plan to sell off state assets, including state buildings and two state-run prisons, but that would be a temporary Band-Aid at best. Likewise, his tentative proposal to draw against future State Lottery revenues would seem to be a desperation ploy that would do nothing to address fiscal problems in ensuing years.

Jindal’s reluctance to use the line-item veto to kill more than $500 million in spending on local projects like golf courses, councils on aging, baseball parks, tennis courts, court houses, and community centers, has done little to assuage the situation and in fact, makes him complicit in perpertrating the state’s current dilemma.

So, just where does that leave the state?

In a word, broke.

So, what are the alternatives?

How about hefty increases in the state’s tobacco tax?

How about comparable increases in alcohol taxes?

Together, they’re commonly referred to as sin taxes.

Louisiana currently taxes cigarettes at a rate of 36 cents per pack, which ranks 48th among the 50 states and 51st overall, when Guam ($3 per pack), District of Columbia ($2.50 per pack), and Puerto Rico ($2.23 per pack) are factored into the equation.

The national average is 99 cents per pack.

Only Virginia, a tobacco state, and Missouri tax cigarettes at a lower rate at 30 and 17 cents per pack, respectively. Even North Carolina, another tobacco producing state, taxes cigarettes at 45 cents per pack. South Carolina, likewise a big tobacco producer, held its cigarette tax down to a paltry 7 cents per pack until July 1, 2010, when it was raised to 57 cents.

New York, which until July 1, 2010, taxed cigarettes at $2.75 per pack, now has the highest rate in the nation at $4.35 per pack. But over-taxing any commodity can have adverse effects. Enterprising bootleggers need only go across the state line to Connecticut ($3 per pack) New Jersey ($2.70), New Hampshire ($1.78), or Pennsylvania ($1.60), return to New York, and sell them on the black market, thus depriving the state of untold millions of dollars.

Likewise, if Louisiana gets too greedy, a new, prohibitive tax of say, $1.50 per pack, might well drive Louisianians into Mississippi where the current tax is 68 cents per pack. But a tax of that amount would put the state on virtual equal footing with Texas, which imposes a tax of $1.41 per pack.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s say the legislature does man-up in this, an election year, and increase the tobacco tax to $1 per pack. What would that mean in terms of revenue, assuming the increase would not cause a corresponding decrease in the number of smokers and that citizens would not traverse the state line into Mississippi in search of cheaper smokes?

During the fiscal year 2008-2009, the last year for which figures are available, Louisiana collected almost $147.2 million in tobacco taxes, the third straight year of increases. At $1 per pack, the state would conceivably reap $407.2 million, a 176.6 percent increase. A tax of $1.50 per pack would kick that amount up to $613.3 million, barring a reduction in sales.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy calls tobacco taxes both “regressive” and “declining”—regressive in that low-income smokers are the most adversely impacted, and declining because, it says, cigarette taxes are among the slowest-growing revenue sources available.

In 2006, the institute said in its 2007 policy brief, the state’s poorest smokers spent .6 percent of their income on cigarette taxes, 10 times the .06 percent spent by the wealthiest Louisiana smokers. Moreover, low-income Louisianans are more likely to smoke than higher-income taxpayers, the report said.

The same report said the state’s 36-cent-per-pack tax income will be static because the tax is not based on the retail price of cigarettes where tax revenues increase with price increases. Oddly, all 50 states have flat-rate cigarette taxes as opposed to basing them on a percentage of retail prices.

Another factor in the declining tax theory is the decrease in sales when cigarette taxes are increased. In fact, cigarette consumption by Louisianans has declined steadily over the past quarter-century, the report shows.

From a high of more than 600 million packs sold (about 132 packs per person) in 1982, sales plummeted to 410 million packs (91 packs per person) by 2005.

An increase in tobacco taxes, then, could serve as a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it might not produce a significant increase in revenue, but if it resulted in fewer people lighting up, the health benefits derived from the tax increase could be immeasurable with a lessening of the financial strain on the state’s charity hospitals.

Alcohol could be quite another story. Of the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. only 12 have higher taxes on beer than Louisiana. On the other hand, only five of the 53 have lower taxes on liquor. Like tobacco, however, alcohol is taxed on the amount sold as opposed to basing the tax on a percentage of the retail price.

The Louisiana Department of Revenue reports that for Fiscal Year 2008-09, the state collected nearly $56.9 million in alcohol tax. The breakdown was $37.3 million on low-alcohol content (beer) and almost $19.6 million on high-alcohol (liquor) sales. Should the legislature decide to raise Louisiana’s liquor tax to the national average of $6.25 per gallon, it could mean an income of $49 million—more than double the present amount.

The solution, then, insofar as the state’s sin taxes are concerned, could be found not so much in an increase (though a modest increase in both tobacco and liquor taxes might well be in order) as a change to a rate based on the retail cost.

More simplistic revenue-producing suggestions from a non-CPA, non-financial analyst, layman perspective will follow in subsequent posts.

Read Full Post »

Earl Long is generally credited with the following quote:

“Don’t write anything you can phone. Don’t phone anything you can talk. Don’t talk anything you can whisper. Don’t whisper anything you can smile. Don’t smile anything you can nod. Don’t nod anything you can wink.”

And so it came to pass that one day just before the Christmas season in the year of our Lord 2010, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his Chief of Staff Little Timmy Teepell were sitting across from one another at a table heavily laden with seasonal food winking at each other.

It was the governor who, breaking political protocol, interrupted the silence first.

BJ: I’m bored.

Little TT: Bored?

BJ: Yes, bored. I’ve been stuck here in the state for three whole days now.

Little TT: What do you suggest, Governor?

BJ: A road trip.

Little TT: But governor, all the elections are over. There’s no one to campaign for. And we’ve done the book tour thing.

BJ: Well, I’m bored. What can we do?

Little TT: Well, Governor, the natives are pretty restless. They think you should remain in the state a couple of weeks and work on the budget deficit.

BJ: TWO WEEKS!!!!?? Bor-ring!

Little TT: Seriously, Governor, we need to discuss ways to raise revenue for the state to offset an anticipated $1.6 billion budget deficit next year.

BJ: Isn’t there a hurricane or an oil spill or some other disaster that can give me face time on the TV cameras so I can act governorential?

Little TT: Governorential?

BJ: Yes. You know, where I go on TV and blame the federal government for everything.

Little TT: No there isn’t anything like that right now. Let’s talk about the budget.

BJ: I know! I can take the state helicopter to a little Baptist Church up in Shongaloo and give ‘em a stimulus check.

Little TT: We can do that on Sunday. Today’s Tuesday. Let’s talk about the budget until then.

BJ: All right. But it’s boring. There’re no TV cameras.

Little TT: That’s okay. You’ll get all the TV coverage you want if you solve the budget crisis.

BJ: Really? Oh, boy! What do we have to do?

Little TT: We need to take measures to raise cash to erase next year’s budget deficit.

BJ: That should be easy. I’m a Rhodes Scholar and (laughing) you’re a Roads Scholar. Isn’t that what you said in your interviews, you’re a Roads Scholar?

Little TT: That’s right, Governor, but remember, we were both absent on pothole day.


BJ: That’s funny. A Roads Scholar. Pothole day. I get it. What does that mean?

Little TT: Don’t worry about it. It was just a joke. Now to generate some revenue, we need to sell off some state assets.

BJ: Like what?

Little TT: Well, we can sell all those new state buildings that Governor Foster built and then lease the space back. That should gives us about a hundred million or so up front.

BJ: But didn’t I read somewhere once that selling any fixed asset on a sale-leaseback basis is an act of desperation triggered by cash flow problems?

Little TT: But that’s precisely where we are: We’re desperate because we have cash flow problems.

BJ: But it would place us, the seller, in the position as a long-term lessee. Isn’t that the same as a debtor or bond obligor? That seems like a quick fix to a long-term problem. It’s just deferring a permanent resolution to a problem and not fixing the underlying problem.

Little TT: Governor, you’ve been reading your old campaign literature again, haven’t you? You need to eighty-six that. Drop the rhetoric; you won the election.

BJ: Oops, I forgot.

Little TT: We can also sell a couple of state prisons—those in Winn and Allen parishes. That should bring in about $64 million or so.

BJ: Won’t the buyer just work the mortgage payments back into what he charges the state to house state prisoners?

Little TT: Governor, have you been talking to legislators and not telling me?

BJ: Sorry.

Little TT: Governor, you’ve got to stop that. Legislators aren’t your friends. Now focus. We can also draw against future lottery revenue to get another infusion of cash.

BJ: But what if somebody living in a trailer park wins the lottery? I don’t want him knocking on the front door of the governor’s mansion asking for his money.

Little TT: Don’t worry about that. Listen to me. These are all short-term solutions. It will give us one-time money to cover recurring expenditures but it doesn’t matter. By the time those people in north Louisiana who elected you figure it out, you’ll be well on your way to running for president.

BJ: And you’ll be my little Karl Rove. TT, I see where you’re going with this and I like it. Hell….I mean heck, we can sell the state police cars and put them on bicycles. That should work. When I was in Oxford doing my Rhodes Scholar bit, they had Bobbies on foot. We can call ‘em Bobbies on bicycles. Voters will love that.

Little TT: That would be pretty drastic. The state police would probably need cars….

BJ: How ’bout if I just sold my soul?

Little TT: You already did that to get elected.

BJ: How about selling some of the state golf courses?

Little TT: That’d probably look pretty bad. We just bought the Tournament Players Club in New Orleans and took over the Poverty Point club up in Delhi and we’re in the process of building a couple of others. How could we explain the sudden change? Those golf courses are viable investments. Even as we speak, we’re in the process of taking bids on the construction of a miniature golf course at City Park in New Orleans. What I’m saying, Governor, is we’re committed on these expenditures.

BJ: How about selling the Pentagon Barracks?

Little TT: Can’t do that, either. We have legislators living in them and the new owners might raise their rent from the $300 they’re paying now to a level comparable to other apartments. The legislature is already mad enough. We can’t risk that.

BJ: How about cutting higher education and health care benefits then?

Little TT: Now you’re thinking like the governor I know and respect. Let’s sing some nice Christmas carols:

Jindal Bells, Jindal Bells,
Jindal all the way;
Oh how sad
Is his wishy-washy way—HEY!

Jindal Bells, Jindal Bells,
On another flight
Oh how nice we all do feel
When he is out of si–ight.

Away at a fund raiser
No one does he dread;
Not running for president,
At least that’s what he said.

But from afar
We know what they say,
Move over Obama,
Jindal’s on his way.

Oh, little state of Louzian
How sorry is your plight;
With Bobby selling all our jails,
Citizens now feel pure fright.

While in our dark streets linger
A refracted gleam of light;
From guns and knives will lives
Be lost in thee tonight.

Read Full Post »

At the risk of sounding racist, Gov. Bobby Jindal has to be considered as a true Indian giver. More accurately, an Indian giver with no leadership qualities.

There. I’ve said it. Someone had to.

Gov. “I’m not taking and federal stimulus money” Jindal back in September finally acquiesced and made formal application for $147 million in education funding. That was the amount for which Louisiana was deemed eligible from the $26 billion federal stimulus bill that was passed by Congress in August.

State Superintendent of Education Paul—“I didn’t know it was improper to use a state vehicle for dozens of personal trips to Chicago”—Pastorek said the state was making the application for the money because there were “no policy strings attached.”

“No strings” notwithstanding, federal guidelines required that the money go directly to the local school districts and that the money be used to pay salaries and benefits for teachers, school administrators and other staff.

The local school district officials were ecstatic. In some parishes it had already been determined that the local districts could no longer afford to pay substitute teachers when regular teachers were out sick and that the regular teachers would have to pay them out of their own salaries. Suddenly it seemed there was relief for the local officials who worked the infusion of cash into their operating budgets.

Then, just as suddenly, Jindal last week pulled the rug from under the local districts. More precisely, he pulled the money.

He created his own strings, it seems, choosing to commandeer the money to plug the $106 million hole in the administration’s budget and to offset cuts to higher education, an area he has already gutted with earlier cuts. In fact, one might suspect that the political backlash against his higher ed cuts were such that in grasping for an answer, he fell upon the brilliant idea of jerking the $147 from public education. Problem solved or leadership void?

Jindal’s latest misstep lays bare the sad fact that he really has no plan for pulling Louisiana out of the current fiscal morass. He is every bit as lost in facing this crisis as Gov. Kathleen Blanco was in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But give Gov. Blanco her due: her crisis was not self-inflicted, but was a natural disaster with which nearly anyone would have been ill-equipped to deal.

Jindal, on the other hand, had to see this coming. We were warned that the legislature should not be spending one-time money from the hurricane recovery funds in the manner it was. No one listened; not the legislature and certainly not the governor who was loath to use the line item veto at his disposal.

And now, in the middle of a fiscal crisis and with an even bigger one looming next year, what does Jindal do? He scoots off to dozens of states to campaign on behalf of Republican candidates for governor, Congress, and the U.S. Senate, leaving home-schooled subordinates to grapple with the budget deficit. For those not especially good at history, Richard Nixon did the same thing in preparation for his successful 1968 run at the president’s office, except he did it as a private citizen. He lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960 and then somehow managed to lose the California governor’s election to Pat Brown, prompting his famous line, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any longer.”

Instead, Nixon, not as a sitting governor ignoring responsibilities to his state, began working on behalf of Republican candidates, amassing in the process, a hatful of chits that he was able to redeem in 1968. That’s exactly what Jindal seems to be doing. He was absent so often during the state’s worsening financial crisis, that the president of the LSU student body fired off a letter to a New Hampshire newspaper asking the governor to return home.

Jindal insists he has the job he wants. If that’s true, he should stay home and do that job. Instead of staying home once the November elections were over, however, he now embarks to a tour to tout his book, Leadership and Crisis. That begs the question, “what leadership?” Jindal “presided over Louisiana’s healthcare system at age 24, headed the University of Louisiana system at 27, became a U.S. congressman at 33, and was elected governor of Louisiana at 36,” according to the Amazon.com promotion of his book. Do we see a trend here? The two systems that he headed under former Gov. Mike Foster, higher education and health care, are the two agencies that he appears determined to dismantle.

Again, the question: “what leadership?”

Jindal had his chance. He blew it. He could have slashed away at the Capital Outlay Bill in the session that ended last summer, but he didn’t. He could easily have cut nearly half-a-billion in wasteful spending from the bill, but he didn’t. He could bring himself to cut only $9.4 million. And now he has backed himself into a corner.

Where was the leadership, Gov. Jindal?

Instead of spending millions of dollars purchasing golf courses, the governor could have said no. But he didn’t.

Where was the leadership?

In ordering deeper cuts recently, Jindal told department heads the state needed more leadership and less whining. Immediately after making that brash statement, the state’s leader in abstensia left for Pittsburgh, PA, to campaign for yet another Republican candidate.

Where was the leadership?

Just in case you may have missed it, Governor, here again is a partial list of inappropriate appropriations that, had they been vetoed on one of the days that you were in the state, the financial mess in which we now find ourselves might have been averted.

That would be real leadership.

So, please read these during your next flight to some other state to promote your leadership book:

• $800,000 for land acquisition for the proposed Allen Parish Reservoir;
• $1.4 million for the proposed Bayou Dechene Reservoir in Caldwell Parish;
• $2.6 million for the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission Feasibility study;
• $17.2 million for Bayou Segnette Festival Park land acquisition and sports complex improvements;
• $28 million for modifications to the Performing Arts Center in Jefferson Parish;
• $2 million for construction of a playground Basketball Gym in Orleans Parish;
• $1.8 million for construction of the Little Theatre of Shreveport;
• $2.6 million for a new Westbank YMCA in Algiers;
• $2 million for the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame;
• $6 million for construction of a new courthouse in Baton Rouge;
• $2.8 million for the Dryades YMCA in New Orleans;
• $5.4 million for the Red River Waterway Commission;
• $7.7 million for the renovation of the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette;
• $2.5 million for improvements to the Coteau Water System in St. Martin and Iberia parishes;
• $2.4 million for the Union Parish Law Enforcement District;
• $1.8 million for construction for the Robinson Film Center in Caddo Parish;
• $12 million for construction of a convention center complex in Shreveport;
• $3.8 million for a new tennis center in Orleans Parish;
• $4.7 million for construction of the Louisiana Artist Guild Arts Incubator in New Orleans;
• $26.5 million for expansion and construction of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Millions more were spent on construction projects that included recreational facilities, councils on aging, courthouses, sheriffs’ offices, jails, drainage projects, work on parish and municipal road and street construction projects, community centers, and water systems.

As if that were not enough, when legislators found extra money lying around, as they always seem to do during each legislative session, the House quickly pushed HB 76 through, appropriating an additional $33 million in local pork projects. Some of those expenditures:

• $150,000 for the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in Winnfield;
• $500,000 for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities;
• $500,000 to “organizations which assist small towns and rural areas with their water and wastewater systems;”
• $250,000 for construction of an animal shelter in St. Charles Parish;
• $1 million to the Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government for infrastructure construction.

Where was the leadership?

Read Full Post »

Okay, after much deliberation, soul-searching, and with encouragement from family and friends (and co-workers who just want me go somewhere, anywhere else), it is with tongue planted firmly in cheek that I announce my candidacy for governor of the gret stet of looziana.

I am offering my services with a fairly simple no-frills platform. Some of the individual planks in my platform are certain to offend some very influential people—and that’s a good thing. So, without fanfare, frills or equivocation, and with the promise of no compromise, here is that platform:

No out-of-state campaigning for any Democrat or Republican candidate. My first responsibility will be to the citizens of Louisiana, not some two-faced, lying parasite who has never held a real job. Besides, I’m an independent. Plus, I don’t trust any politician. And no out-of-state travel for book signings, either;

Merge several universities and junior colleges throughout the state and convert some four-year schools to junior college status. Failing that, at least merge some of the programs—such as the law schools at Southern University and LSU in Baton Rouge. With the help of a reluctant legislature, this will cut duplication in athletic scholarships, salaries of coaches and university administrators, and in replicated programs;

Turn over all operations of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security (otherwise known as the Governor’s Patronage Department) to the State Police where it was originally and should be again. If you recall, the administration pushed through a constitutional amendment in October that changed the Office of Homeland Security from classified (civil service) to non-classified (appointive) so that Homeland Security employees may receive any size pay raise the administration deems appropriate. Civil service employees, meanwhile, have their merit raises frozen indefinitely;

Eliminate the lieutenant governor’s office and assign the duties of that office to the secretary of state. Hey, it worked with the elections commission;

Have the Office of Contractual Review do its job by reviewing ALL contracts, including consulting contracts, to determine need;

Use the governor’s line-item veto to cut wasteful spending and to balance the state budget instead of laying off employees who have families to support, college tuition and home mortgages to pay, and who need health insurance;

In lieu of layoffs, offer state employees the option of accepting a pay cut of 7.5 to 10% for those making $50,000 to $100,000; 15% for those making up to $200,000; 20% for salaries of $200,000 to $300,000, and 25% for anyone making more than $300,000. Most employees would opt for a pay cut if it meant saving their jobs but sadly, the present administration has never even considered this option. Legislators would also be required to take a 25% cut. In fact, cut cabinet level salaries altogether;

Sell off all state golf courses. No additional explanation necessary;

Revisit the sacred Homestead Exemption (see? It’s even capitalized.);

Increase tobacco and alcohol taxes to at least the national average. If people are going to kill themselves with their indulgences, at least make ‘em pay for the privilege and make ‘em pay for the use of our charity hospital system when they develop catastrophic illnesses related to their vices;

Pass a constitutional amendment that future budget cuts, when necessary, won’t affect education or health care (someone needs to do this.);

Block computer games and internet access to legislators on Senate and House floors during legislative sessions;

Require all lobbyists to register with the Secretary of State (they already register with the House Speaker, but that’s too close to the center of power) and assess a hefty registration fee for all lobbyists except for non-profits;

Discontinue publishing legislative acts and other legal news in the Baton Rouge newspaper. This practice is cost prohibitive now that we have the free internet;

Enact a tough ethics code with real teeth. Bar any gifts to legislators, including meals, drinks, parties, etc. Any lobbyist violating said act shall be subject to severe fines and shall be barred from all future legislative sessions. Any legislator violating said act shall be subject to heavy fines and forfeiture of legislative pay for duration of his/her term of office.

Consolidate investigative agencies. Louisiana currently has five investigative agencies: the attorney general’s office, the ethics commission, the inspector general, the state police investigation program and the legislative auditor. Total budget for the five agencies: $55 million. Because the present administration has already gutted, stripped, and otherwise neutered the ethics commission. I suggest the state police absorb the auditor’s office, the inspector general, and ethics commission and that any investigations now pending with the latter three agencies be turned over to the state police. You may have noticed that the attorney general was left out of the loop. That’s because the AG is elected and as such, is a politician and not to be trusted with any investigation of state officials.

There you have it: my complete platform. Oh, wait. There is one more: No campaign contributions shall be accepted from any person, organization, foundation, PAC, or lobbyist.

I guess I should go ahead and write my concession speech now.

Read Full Post »

When the State of Louisiana purchased the assets of financially troubled Tournament Players Club (TPC) golf club in Marrero in Jefferson Parish on September 10, 2009, it’s no wonder the Division of Administration did not inform the State Land Office for a full year.

State Land Office (SLO) Administrator Charles St. Romain said his office is responsible for the identification, administration and management of state public lands and waterbottoms, but that he was unaware that the state had purchased the TPC facilities until September of this year.

The Act of Sale, dated September 10, 2009, was signed by then-Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis. The purchase price was $9,150,000. Davis resigned in August of this year.

Marrero Land and Improvement Association, headed by real estate developer Buckner Barkley, a financial backer of the Louisiana Republican Party and Gov. Bobby Jindal, donated about 250 acres of land in 2001—during the administration of then-Gov. Murphy Foster. The state in turn spent about $12.8 million to pay for the cost of building the course which hosts the Zurich Classic PGA Tournament each year.

The state then leased the property to TPC and Foster agreed to a deal whereby the state guaranteed a minimum number of rounds of golf at the facility each year. The rounds were to be purchased through hotel concierges in New Orleans but the hotel industry was not informed of the deal initially and the state found itself shelling out $5.1 million in the club’s very first year.

The club continued to lose money and in 2009, the state purchased the facility. The Division of Administration in November of 2008, more than nine months before the execution of the sales agreement, entered into an agreement with the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) to administer the club. LSED also manages the Louisiana Superdome.

LSED in turn executed a “golf facility management agreement” with TPC Louisiana under which TPC would manage the club for 30 years for a minimum of $100,000 per year, plus an incentive management fee of 2.5 percent of gross revenues and 10 percent of net revenues not to exceed $150,000 per year with annual increases not to exceed 3 percent per annum. That agreement was dated September 10, 2009, the same date as the sales agreement between TPC and the state.

No explanation was given as to why the state bailed out a failing facility for nearly $9.2 million and immediately turned the operation of that facility back over to the company that had been running it at a financial loss.

Even more puzzling is why the state saw the need to invest in a golf course in the first place. Or in the case of the Louisiana Legislature, four golf courses. The state is also financing the construction of courses in Lake Charles and Alexandria and it assumed operation of Black Bear Golf Course at Poverty Point in 2006. Since 1997, the state has spent in excess of $141 million on golf courses—all at a time when the state budget is hemorrhaging red ink and designer golf courses are on the decline in popularity and shutting down all over the country.

The Louisiana Municipal Police Employee Retirement System (MPERS) in October 2009 lost its $24 million investment in the Hal Sutton designed Boot Ranch Development golf club in Fredericksburg, Texas. That would be bad enough if that were the only such loss by MPERS, but it’s not. The retirement system has also dropped $12.1 million on Olde Oaks Golf Club in Haughton (and still losing $500,000 a year) and $3.1 million on The Club at Stonebridge, also in Bossier Parish. MPERS also lost an additional $15.7 million on its purchase of and improvements to the development of Olde Oaks properties, bringing its total losses just on golf courses to more than $39 million.

Golf courses that have recently closed in Louisiana include:

• The Bluffs Country Club in St. Francisville, designed by Arnold Palmer and which opened in 1988, closed in March of 2009;
• Sherwood Forest Country Club, Fairwood Country Club, and Shenandoah Country Club in Baton Rouge;
• Santa Maria Golf Course in Baton Rouge, designed by Robert Trent Jones (closed for a year before being re-opened by East Baton Rouge Parish);
• Carter Plantation Golf Club in Springfield in Livingston Parish, designed by David Toms, while not closed, has not performed up to expectations and is currently mired in litigation;
• Belle Terre Golf and Country Club in LaPlace in St. John the Baptist Parish (closed in August of this year).

In Georgia, the Fairways of Canton has closed, leaving that city on the hook for annual payments of $300,000. Other golf courses that have closed in Georgia include courses in Jones Creek, Tucker, and Roswell. In all, at least 15 golf courses in Georgia currently are on the market.

A quick internet check revealed clubs for sale all over the country, including three in Louisiana (Florien, Ethel, and Monroe). Others on the market in neighboring states include four each in Mississippi and Alabama, three in Arkansas, and a dozen in Texas.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, the state will realize on its investments in the four golf courses but should any or all of them fail, it’s pretty certain some hard questions will need to be asked—and answered.

Read Full Post »

As the Jindal administration considers even more budgetary cuts—as much as 35 percent—in an attempt to offset the effects of an anticipated fiscal free fall estimated to be as much as $2 billion next year, the sacrificial lambs of higher education and health care are once again being led to the altar for the ritualistic bloodletting.

Meanwhile, as is usually the case when the legislature is faced with budgetary shortfalls, many other spending programs by lawmakers go on unabated. As puzzling as it must be to taxpayers constantly bombarded with bad news out of Baton Rouge, the elected representatives and senators just can’t seem to bring themselves to exercise the fiduciary discipline to keep reckless spending in check.

They are, to use a time-worn metaphor, the foxes guarding the henhouse.

A good example of the leadership void can be found in the way the legislators spend unexpected financial windfalls. When agencies fail to spend all of their budgets during a fiscal year, the excess funding reverts back to the state treasury where lawmakers are waiting like so many vultures to pounce on it for local pork barrel spending.

Take this year’s HB-76, the so-called “ancillary appropriations bill.” As soon as the extra money was “found,” legislators, instead of allocating all the new money to education and health care, poured $33 million into local funding projects like convention centers, municipalities and parishes, arts councils, councils on aging, and museums.

As irresponsible as all this may seem, it pales in comparison to what the state has spent on golf courses, baseball parks, and other recreational complexes down through the years.

Because figures prior to 1997 are unavailable, this post will address only those expenditures dating back to that year. But those 14 years should be sufficient for even the casual reader to detect a disturbing trend in spending priorities in this state.

Since 1997, the state of Louisiana, through the legislative process, has deemed it necessary to spend $141 million on golf courses.

One doesn’t have to be a math wizard to see that that averages out to $10 million per year. And that doesn’t include various university golf courses. These are private golf courses, one and all.

Another $18.5 million was spent during that same time frame on baseball parks, including nearly $4 million on a baseball stadium in Baton Rouge, which has no baseball team.

The real irony in all this can be found in two 2007 appropriations for the city of Westlake, near Lake Charles. That year, $6.12 million was appropriated in Priority 1 funding for golf course planning and development. That same year, $100,000 in Priority 2 funding and $800,000 in Priority 5 funding was appropriated for planning and construction of a new emergency response center for Westlake, which was putting up $900,000 in local matching funds.

The difference in Priorities 1, 2, and 5? Priority 1 means that the fund are virtually a certainty. Priority 2 means next year. Maybe. Priority 5 means lots of luck, you may get the money and you may not.

Over the 14 years in question, the Westlake golf club received nine separate Priority 1 appropriations totaling $37.96 million.

Not to be outdone, the Tournament Players Club in Jefferson Parish got seven separate appropriations totaling $48.2 million. City Park Golf Complex in New Orleans, with seven Priority 1 appropriations, got $33.8 million.

Other golf course expenditures included:

• $16.1 million for the England (Airpark) Golf Course in Rapides Parish;
• $600,000 for the Bayou Segnette Golf Course in Jefferson parish;
• $2.7 million for development of a golf resort at Toledo Bend;
• $2 million to promote the Audubon Trail golf courses in efforts to promote more rounds;
• $16,000 for the Delhi Municipal Golf Course;
• $301,000 for the Black Bear Golf Club at Poverty Point (part of the Audubon Trail);
• $250,000 for the 2002 Compaq Golf Tournament in New Orleans;
• $550,000 for junior golf facilities and the Fore Kids Foundation golf tournament;
• $250,000 for promotion of the Classic Foundation golf tournament in New Orleans;
• $1.7 million for the Louisiana Junior Golf Commission.

The state also spent an additional $5.25 million on the LSU golf course, part of which was relocating four holes on the course, money some might suggest would come from the LSU athletic department.

Of course, golf is not the only interest of the legislature. It also has appropriated funding for such projects as the Hot Air Balloon Championship in Baton Rouge ($50,000), the RedFish Tour ($75,000), the National Baptist Convention in New Orleans ($75,000), and the Bayou Classic football game between Southern and Grambling universities ($100,000), the Zephyrs’ baseball stadium in Jefferson Parish ($4.68 million over four years), a baseball complex for Iberia Parish ($7.34 million over eight years), improvements to a Baton Rouge baseball stadium with no tenant ($3.95 million over three years), construction of baseball fields at Negreet and Killian high schools ($35,000), and construction of a baseball-softball complex in Rapides Parish $2.73 million).

The Black Bear Golf Course at Poverty Point was constructed on private property owned by the Poverty Point Development Corp. under the auspices of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development as part of a retirement community developed by State Sen. Francis Thompson and his brother, Mike Thompson. Once completed, the golf course was donated to the Louisiana Office of Culture and Tourism with the proviso that a “professional manager” be appointed to administer the day to day operations of Black Bear. The manager appointed was Mike Thompson.

The Tournament Players Club Louisiana Golf Course (TPC) has proved to be the real money pit for the state. Promoted by Sen. John Alario of Westwego and developer Buckner Barkley, Jr., TPC has been a money loser from the outset. The course was developed in an effort to pull a major PGA tournament into Jefferson Parish.

The state, during the administration of Gov. Mike Foster, entered into an agreement with TPC and Marrero Land and Improvement Association whereby the state guaranteed a minimum number of rounds played. The rounds were required to be booked through New Orleans hotel concierges promoting the course. The hotel industry initially was not informed of the agreement and was unable to meet booking quotas.

The annual Zurich Classic is played at TPC and the fear was that it would lose the tournament and should that have happened, the property, with no professional tournament facilitator, would revert to Marrero Land. To avert that occurrence, the Superdome Commission and commission chairman Doug Thornton negotiated a new deal whereby the state would pay off TPC’s $10 million indebtedness and take ownership of the property in exchange for a six-year commitment from the PGA to keep the Zurich Classic there.

While some legislators maintain the state should not be in the golf business, proponents of the arrangement insist it is the best option for the state, that it is good for the economy.

Likewise, supporters claim that the golf courses, such as Black Bear, are good for economic development and make the state’s investments a good idea.

Manufacturing plants, Wal-Marts, and job-intensive industry also make good economic sense. So why doesn’t the state just go out and buy a dozen or so Wal-Marts, open a few car dealerships and manufacturing plants and give people jobs instead of taking over golf courses and putting a legislator’s relative in charge?

Don’t be surprised when next Spring, one of those tiny Smart Cars pulls up in front of the State Capitol and 144 clowns, complete with orange wigs, big shoes, red noses, seltzer bottles, pies, and horns, pile out, run up the steps of the Capitol and into the Senate and House chambers to call the 2011 legislative session into disorder.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,770 other followers