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Archive for the ‘LSU’ Category

Gov. Bobby’s ill-fated, self-serving decision to opt out of a Medicaid expansion for Louisiana is beginning to pay off in an ever-expanding crisis in medical care for the indigent population of Louisiana—on at least two fronts.

An occasional admission of error could go far in establishing a politician’s credibility but it is downright exasperating when this governor is so blind, so stubborn, so obnoxious, so obstinate, so pig-headed, and so disconnected that he cannot bring himself to cross Grover Norquist, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or the tea party—even when his decision endangers the health and even the lives of more than a quarter of a million of his constituents.

http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-more-evidence-medicaid-20141027-column.html

Of course it was only a matter of time before the chickens would come home to roost but Gov. Bobby, Timmy Teepell, Kristy Nichols, et al, figured they would long gone and on their way to the White House before the fecal matter hit the oscillating air circulation device.

They were wrong and now they’re covered with the metaphoric filth of their own making with no one to blame but themselves.

The details of the latest developments are so horrific as to defy logic but tragically, they are true.

When Gov. Bobby decided to privatize the state’s charity hospital system (which, by the way, accounts for most of the state employee cuts he loves to crow about on Faux News, in his op-ed pieces, and speeches to his right-wing zealot faithful), he closed Earl K. Long Medical Center (EKL) in Baton Rouge.

That, of course, forced many low-income residents in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish to go to Baton Rouge General’s Mid-City medical center for emergency room treatments.

The only problem with that was Gov. Bobby had entered into a cooperative endeavor agreement with Our Lady of the Lake (OLOL) in south Baton Rouge. Consequently, OLOL was—and is—one of only two facilities in East Baton Rouge Parish receiving payments from the state. The other is Woman’s Hospital. Neither of the Baton Rouge General facilities (Mid-City and Bluebonnet), Ochsner Medical Center, nor Lane Memorial in Zachary received a dime from the state.

Because of that, Baton Rouge General recently announced that its Mid-City facility would cease operating its emergency room, effective March 31, because of the financial strain placed on it by the overflow from EKL.

When Gov. Bobby announced the cooperative endeavor agreement with OLOL in January of 2010, he was quite specific in saying the agreement to pay OLOL something on the order of $34 million ($14 million as per the agreement, plus the $24 million already appropriated for the LSU Medical Center which previously had trained its residents at EKL; some estimates put the state’s payments as high as $100 million) would “improve and expand access to health care services for the poor and enhance graduate medical education for Louisiana’s doctors, nurses and health care professionals.” (Emphasis ours.) http://dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/newsroom/detail/88

Moreover, the cooperative endeavor agreement with OLOL says on pages 7 and 8:

  • WHEREAS, LSU is obligated by Louisiana law to provide free or reduced cost care to certain patients who qualify for such care;
  • WHEREAS, the State’s purpose of this initiative, which is recognized by OLOL and LSU, is to provide Medicaid recipients with integrated, coordinated care, management of chronic disease, improvement in access to preventive and diagnostic services for children and adults, improve recipient satisfaction with access to care and the care experience and provide the State with improved budget predictability;
  • WHEREAS, in the interest of advancing the State’s goal of improving integration and coordination of health care services for the low-income populations, and recognizing the opportunity presented by the integration of outpatient and community-based services provided by LSU, inpatient and outpatient services provided by OLOL, and a payment mechanism being made available by DHH (Department of Health and Hospitals) that integrates all services through a prepaid model, the State, OLOL, and LSU intend to participate as a coordinated care network within Medicaid as proposed by DHH;
  • WHEREAS, in order to successfully meet their respective purposes, OLOL, LSU, and the State intend to enter into this public/private collaborative whereby certain residency positions in the LSU GME (Graduate Medical Education) programs and patient care services will be relocated to the OLOL campus. (Emphasis ours.)

Click here to read the CEA.

But wait. Could there be a loophole in that agreement?

Apparently OLOL thinks so.

LouisianaVoice has learned that OLOL is taking the position that its only obligation under terms of the now infamous cooperative endeavor agreement is for residency training of LSU medical students. Apparently care for the indigent is off the (examination) table.

That should come as no surprise. After all, OLOL had already dug in its heels and had begun refusing to take indigent transfers from Baton Rouge General Mid-City’s emergency room if they were not already in the LSU system—and some, apparently, who were.

Woman’s also is refusing to take indigent patients.

Of course, it was also to the state’s advantage that OLOL and Woman’s not treat indigent patients or accept indigent transfers from Baton Rouge General because as long as those patients never see the inside of the OLOL emergency room or Woman’s treatment center, the state does not have to pay for their treatment (as in the decision to lower health insurance premium rates for state employees—not so much to help the employees as to lower the state’s premium share which in the long run only resulted in the depletion of Group Benefit’s $500 million reserve fund. Are we seeing a pattern here?).

All of which raises the obvious question: could all this be by design?

Obviously, no one would admit to any conspiracy.

But how could OLOL refuse indigent patients if it is the only facility in East Baton Rouge Parish receiving payments from the state for treating indigent patients?

Good question and the answer to that goes a long way in the decision by Baton Rouge General to shut down its Mid-City emergency room, leaving indigent patients with no apparent place to go for emergency treatment—in flagrant violation of clause in the agreement that says the state is obligated by Louisiana law to provide free or reduced cost care to certain patients who qualify for such care.” (Emphasis ours.)

Sometimes those WHEREASes can come back to bite you.

LouisianaVoice also has learned that Gov. Bobby’s latest round of budget cuts may have figured in the decision by Children’s Hospital in New Orleans to delay taking over operations of the state’s new billion-dollar University Medical Center New Orleans (UMCNO) from May 15 to at least August. http://www.umcno.org/about-us

Gov. Bobby’s budget cuts, necessitated mainly by his squirrely fiscal policies, leaves all of the LSU hospitals across the state woefully short of the funding needed to keep them open under the various agreements the state has entered into with private hospitals for their management. http://theadvocate.com/news/11751470-123/state-hospital-operators-say-jindal

In the case of UMCNO, built to replace the old Big Charity that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the state is coming up $88 million short of needed funding, according to Children’s CEO Gregory Feirn.

“If the state does not restore the funding, then the state is deciding not to allow for care for the people of New Orleans, deciding not to open their state-of-the-art facility that is nearly finished and striking a crippling blow to medical education in Louisiana,” he said in a prepared written statement.

Strong words indeed, but then Gov. Bobby long ago, with his decision to opt out of the Medicaid expansion, made that decision.

Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), House Speaker Pro Tem, was especially critical of Gov. Bobby. “The budget is in such a mess,” he said. “We keep hearing from (Commissioner of Administration) Kristy Nichols that they are in negotiations to work matters out.

“We expect to operate a world-class facility that we invested a billion dollars in but now we learn that the date for Children’s Hospital to take it over has been pushed back,” he said.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, appearing on a New Orleans radio talk show, said the news concerned him. “Feirn is a very able administrator and I think they’ll be able to manage that facility better than the state could. We’ve invested and we’ve got to make that facility work. We do not have a choice,” he said. http://www.wwl.com/Garland-Is-the-University-Medical-Center-ready-to-/10773584?pid=461170

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“They’re still negotiating with the terrorists.”

That gem, said in a private email to LouisianaVoice, came from a blogger who is relative new on the scene but who is very perceptive about what the Bobby administration is trying to do to higher education. https://lahigheredconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/open-letter-to-higher-education-leaders-the-time-for-negotiating-is-over/

A two-page letter today (Feb. 26) from five higher education leaders lobbed fluffy white marshmallows at Gov. Bobby and an anticipated $400 million (or more) cut to the state’s public colleges and universities. Joint Higher Education Letter 2-26-15

The letter was signed by LSU President F. King Alexander, Southern University System President Ronald Mason, Jr., Louisiana Community & Technical College System President Monty Sullivan, University of Louisiana System President Sandra K. Woodley, and Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo.

Rather than digging their collective heels in and shouting “Enough!” the higher education officials attempted to appeal to Gov. Bobby’s well concealed humanitarian instincts which has about as much chance as the proverbial snowball.

The letter comes about as close as possible to the prediction of one of our readers who said the college presidents in the end would thank Gov. Bobby for not cutting them more.

The letter began, predictably, with the education officials thanking Gov. Bobby “for your support during last year’s legislative session and the creation of the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) Fund,” calling it an “unprecedented statewide collaboration across higher education.”

The pandering continued when the letter practically pleaded with Gov. Bobby to not lose “the momentum that began last year to raise the level of educational attainment in Louisiana.”

Have these educational leaders lost their collective minds? Have they forgotten that this governor’s policies of lavishing tax exemptions and incentives on corporations like Wal-Mart, chicken plucking plants and other corporations that offer little in the way of gainful employment are directly responsible for the fiscal mess we find ourselves in today?

And while Gov. Bobby did eventually support the move, it was the legislature that repealed the Stelly Plan, one of the most progressive tax programs in the history of this state, so we’re not giving lawmakers a pass on this.

“The need for college graduates, particularly in high demand fields such as engineering, computer science, business and industrial trades, is fundamental to meeting workforce goals and ensuring Louisiana graduates are prepared to reap the economic benefits Louisiana has realized,” the shameless communication said.

“Economic benefits Louisiana has realized”? Give us a freaking break! The only economic benefits realized by this state has been realized by Gov. Bobby’s campaign contributors. Why don’t these higher education officials just go on and kiss Gov. Bobby’s ring (yeah, we cleaned that up) and get it over with?

“Commissioner (of Administration) Kristy Nichols has informed us of the impending budget shortfall and the funding impacts on higher education,” the letter continued. “We want to partner with you and our legislative leaders to craft both a short-term approach to address the immediate budget shortfall and offer long-term recommendations that fundamentally change the higher education funding model. In both instances, budget stability is the overarching goal,” it said.

First of all, the use of the word “partner” scares the hell out of us. The last time “partner” was used by this administration, it gave away an entire system of public hospitals that resulted in such an overbearing spillover to Baton Rouge General Mid-City that it is closing its emergency room, thus making it even more difficult for the poor in north Baton Rouge to obtain needed medical care.

“In the long term, higher education is requesting budget stability and increasing state supported investments in higher education,” the letter said.

“The economic stability of Louisiana hinges on our collective ability to find both a short-term solution in the budget for next year and a long-term solution to sustain and increase investments in Louisiana’s higher education system.”

If the economic stability of Louisiana hinges on the ability of this administration, we’re in for a long, hard winter of economic—and intellectual—instability.

In addition to sending the letter to Gov. Bobby, copies also were sent to Gov. Bobby’s various lap dogs in the House and Senate where it will be promptly ignored as legislators turn their attention to getting re-elected while dealing with a $1.6 billion distraction.

To paraphrase H. Ross Perot, “That giant sucking sound you hear is Louisiana college-bound students headed out of state.”

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Bobby just keeps on taking hits from the national media.

First it was Politico, then the Washington Post and the New York Times.

On Tuesday, Bobby made the unwise decision to appear on Morning Joe on MSNBC and got him appropriately scalded.

While he did his best to squirm out from under the host Joe Scarborough’s scrutiny of looming budget cuts of up to 40 percent for LSU and tuition costs that have already risen by 90 percent at the state’s other public colleges and universities, he kept getting steered back to an estimated $350 million in budget cuts anticipated for the entire state university system, including about $141.5 million just for LSU.

That means about $210 million for the other schools, or an average of about $21 million each.

All the latest budget cuts are on top of $460 million in cuts imposed by Bobby, who obviously failed economics while enrolled at Brown, since he took office seven years ago.

As further evidence of his disconnect since abandoning the governor’s office in his shameless quest for the GOP presidential nomination, when pinned down by Scarborough on the proposed university budget cuts, he stammered and sputtered and finally claimed that it cost “less than $10,000” per year for housing, fees and books at LSU.

When Bobby took office in 2008, tuition and fees at LSU were around $5,000 a year. That was then. This is now. Because Louisiana has experienced sharp increases in tuition over the past five years because of Bobby’s policies, it now costs not “less than $10,000” but $20,564 per year to attend the state’s flagship university, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. http://theadvocate.com/news/11567837-123/jindal-stumped-with-lsu-tuition

C.B. Forgotston, king of the subversive bloggers, noted that Bobby’s spokesperson Shannon Bates Dirmann claimed that her boss was not referring to housing costs in his estimate of fees but in a review of the video, Bobby clearly included housing in his estimate.

“Dirmann blatantly lied,” Forgotston said.

In a related matter, LouisianaVoice, with an assist from one of our readers and USA Today, came upon some interesting statistics that tie directly to one of our earlier stories about how the budget cuts might impact college sports.

Our earlier story, which was a bit more parody than serious, speculated on what would happen if budget cuts included the so-called “paper courses” that help keep student athletes eligible among the 1,400 classes LSU might lose.

Our reader suggested this web page to track the amounts schools all over the country receive in state subsidy funding. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/schools/finances/

We checked out the link and compiled the data for the Southern University and the nine schools under the University of Louisiana system.

                        ATHLETIC   ATHLETIC       ATHLETIC        PCT. ATHLETIC

SCHOOL       REVENUE    EXPENSES   ST. SUBSIDY      SUBSIDY

  1. TECH $18.5M            $18.44M                      $9.2M                49.6

ULM               $11.2M            $11.44M                      $4.1M                36.5

GSU                $6.3M              $7.85M                        $3.63M            57.9

SU                   $8.8M              $7.7M                          $4.75M             54.1

NWS               $11.8M            $12.34M                      $7.6M               64.7

SLU                $10.9M            $10.9M                        $6.54M            59.8

MCN               $9.7M              $10.3M                        $4.5M              46.3

ULL                $18.1M            $18.65M                      $7.7M               42.4

NSU                $6.96M            $6.96M                        $4.2M             60.6

UNO               $4.3M              $4.3M                          $2.96M          69.33

TOTALS       $106.56M        $108.88                         $55.18M          50.7% ave.

 

TEXAS           $165.7M          $146.7M                      0                   0

ALABAMA   $143.8M          $116.6M                      $5.79M             4.0

LSU              $117.5M          $105.3M                       0                  0

 

As you can perhaps see (the columns don’t line up precisely in our format), the state subsidized the 10 schools a total of nearly $55.2 million during 2013, which represents approximately 26 percent of the total combined cuts for the schools.

By comparison, we also included three other schools. The University of Texas had the largest amount of sports revenues in the nation at $165.7 million in 2013 against expenses of $146.7 million and received no subsidies from the State of Texas.

LSU, with a revenues of $117.5 million against $105.3 million in expenses, also is self-sustaining in that it received no subsidies from the state. The University of Alabama had revenues of $143.8 million and expenses of $116.6 million and received nearly $5.8 million, or 4 percent of its total revenue, from the state of Alabama.

Of the 10 Louisiana schools receiving subsidies, Louisiana Tech had the most at $9.2 million, which was nearly half (49.6 percent) of total revenues.

Though the University of New Orleans had the lowest amount in revenues at $4.3 million and the lowest amount of state subsidies at $2.96 million, its percentage of state support was the highest at 69.33 percent.

The University of Louisiana Monroe was third lowest in the amount of funding from the state at $4.1 million against revenues of $11.2 million for the lowest percentage (36.5 percent) of state subsidies of the 10 schools.

Grambling State University’s state funding of $3.63 million was second lowest but it represented nearly 58 percent of its total revenue of $6.3 million, the USA Today report said.

In all, the 10 state schools received 50.7 percent of their sports budget in the form of state subsidies, something the Legislature may have to consider when it convenes in April to tackle the projected $1.6 billion in budgetary shortfalls anticipated for the state budget.

Granted, that $55.2 million for the 10 schools won’t go far in filling the void, but as the late Sen. Everett Dirksen once said: “A billion her and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

But according to Bobby’s math, the deficit is probably only a couple of million dollars and can be made up by selling a state building or two or by laying off a few hundred more state employees. We just don’t really know what he’s thinking because he is never in the state anymore and gives all his interviews to Politico.

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Louisiana’s colleges and universities are facing some difficult choices.

With the latest round of budget cuts to higher education announced by Gov. in Absentia Bobby Jindal, college presidents have been thrown into deep crisis mode in trying to figure out how to keep their schools afloat in the wake of another $350 million slashed from their cumulative budgets.

The LSU campuses are facing cuts of 35 percent to 40 percent, or about $141.5 million which translates to the elimination of 27 percent of faculty positions, 1,572 courses, 28 academic programs and 1,433 faculty and staff positions, according to Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte. http://theadvocate.com/home/11535937-125/lsu-outlines-dire-budget-scenarios

Because of Jindal’s disastrous fiscal policies over the past seven years, repeated budget cuts have been imposed on both health care and higher education.

Conspiracy theorists might attribute that to the goal of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its objective of “taking the state out of state colleges,” or including public colleges and universities in its stated drive toward near total privatization of government.

And those conspiracy theorists, in this case at least, might not be too far off.

As has already been reflected in tuition increases of 90 percent for state colleges and universities in Louisiana since Jindal took office (with more undoubtedly on the way), it’s rather easy to see what such privatization would mean: soaring tuition costs putting college out of reach for all but the wealthiest Americans absent the securing of ever-rising student loans from private banks with debts guaranteed by the federal government (ALEC wants privatization to go just so far, it seems).

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has conducted an exhaustive state by state study of cuts to higher education which show Louisiana has undergone some of the deepest cuts (fourth highest in the nation) at 43.6 percent from Fiscal Year 2008 (the year that began six months before Jindal assumed office in January of 2008) through FY-13 (2012-2013). There have been two additional cuts since then in Louisiana. The $4,714 per student cut through FY-13, for example, has increased to more than $5,000 since then in Louisiana. http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3927

The center’s report said state could have reduced the size of the spending cuts by enacting “significant new revenues, but many (including Louisiana) chose not to.”

It is an understatement to say that Louisiana colleges and universities are going to have to make some hard decisions, but the one issue that has flown under the radar thus far is intercollegiate athletics.

This is going to get some push back from the more rabid sports fans, especially at LSU which plays in the big leagues of the Southeastern Conference. Not to slight the other schools, but the reality is (as Jindal is fond of saying) the LSU athletic program is the only one in the state that is self-sustaining—but athletics could be adversely impacted in another key area: keeping players academically eligible.

You see, there is something out there called Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which was written to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.

Section 504 is employed by elementary and secondary schools to help students with learning and other disabilities but is especially popular in college athletic programs, according to one former high school coach who is familiar with the program.

Because any school receiving federal funding (which is all Louisiana colleges and universities) is mandated to provide extra assistance to those with learning disabilities. Section 504, therefore, is protected and exempt from any state cutbacks—much to the appreciation of college athletic programs.

Athletes with learning disabilities, and let’s be honest: there are a lot of college jocks who can’t read or write above fifth or sixth-grade levels and some have comprehension skills that fall lower than that, are provided special tutors. These tutors, our source tells us, not only do much of the students’ academic assignments for them, but even sit with them during testing, coaxing them on when they provide an incorrect answer and often even pointing to the correct answer.

(Had I had that kind of help at Louisiana Tech, I could have made the dean’s list other than the one I found myself on most of the time.)

There has been much written about Mary Willingham, the former academic advisor at the University of North Carolina who finally had enough and blew the whistle on so-called “paper courses,” or “counterfeit classes” for 18 years involving more than 160 student-athletes.

Willingham said athletes were literally funneled into the program as a means of keeping them eligible at the sacrifice of any semblance of a real education. The “paper classes” produced boiler plate papers that were shamelessly plagiarized. Professors in those classes rarely, if ever, bothered to read the papers but instead relied on counselors who simply advised the professors as to the grade an athlete needed to remain eligible, a practice they called “GPA boosters.”

Willingham said the “paper classes,” many of which were African and African-American studies, were openly discussed as a way to keep athletes eligible to participate in sports. One email from a counselor to a professor advised, “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs. I didn’t look at the paper but figured it was a recycled one as well, but I couldn’t figure out from where.”

Willingham called the system “corrupt because many of these young men are passed through the system without really being given what they’re promised, which is a real education.”

She said universities have lowered their admissions standards for athletes and the NCAA allows it to keep the revenue-producing sports going.

That’s because NCAA-level college football alone is a $16 billion (with a B) business for tax-exempt, “non-profit” universities which ostensibly are focused on research and education.

No wonder that subsequent to releasing her research on the poor literacy levels, UNC officials went to extreme of hiring outside academics in an attempt to discredit her findings.

We attempted to learn how many LSU athletes are currently participating in the Section 504 program. We submitted the following public records request:

Please provide any and all documents and/or public records that provide the following information;

The number of learning-disabled student athletes currently enrolled at the LSU Baton Rouge campus;

The percentage of learning-disabled student-athletes to the overall student population currently enrolled at the LSU Baton Rouge campus.

Please understand I am not asking for names—just the raw numbers and percentages of overall student population.

LSU responded that it had no record of such data, a claim we find extremely difficult to believe. Nevertheless, we tried once more, making the same request of Louisiana Tech. This time we received not so much as even a response to our request.

Never wishing to leave part of the story untold, LouisianaVoice did a little research of its own into some of the degree programs into which athletes may be “funneled,” to borrow a phrase from Willingham. We should preface what follows by stressing the samples of classes come directly from the LSU 2014-2015 catalog: http://catalog.lsu.edu/index.php?catoid=6

General Studies:

Semester 1: Gen. Ed. Analytical Reasoning MATH Course; “C” or better in ENGL 1001 . Semester 2: Gen. Ed. Natural Sciences; Gen. Ed. Social Sciences or Gen. Ed. Arts; Declare a Degree Program. Semester 3: Gen. Ed. Analytical Reasoning or Gen. Ed. Arts; 2.0 LSU and cumulative GPA.
African & African American Studies: Black Popular Culture (3); African Diaspora Intellectual Thought (3); Topics in History of Africa and the African Diaspora (3) (non-U.S.); Topics in Pre-Colonial Africa (3) (non-US); Special Topics in African & African American Studies (1-3); Black Music in America (3); Folklore of the African Diaspora (3); African American History (3); The New South (3)
Child & Family Studies: General Education course – Humanities (3); General Education course – Natural Sciences (3); Electives (6) or Fundamentals of Communication (3) or Introduction to Performing Literature (3); Public Speaking (3) or Introduction to Agricultural Economics (3)
Kinesiology: KIN 3513 Introduction to Motor Learning (3); KIN 3515 The Physiological Basis of Activity (3); PHYS 2001 General Physics I (3); KIN 3525 Laboratory Techniques in Exercise Physiology (1); KIN 1801 Movement Fundamentals for Physical Activity (2) or KIN 1802 Individual/Lifetime Activities (2) or KIN 1803 Team Activities (2)Sports Administration: History and Philosophy of Kinesiology (3); Sport in Society (3); Introduction to Management Information Systems (3); General Education course – Natural Sciences (3)

Sports Studies Minor: To graduate with a minor in sports studies, students must complete 18 semester hours from the following: KIN 2530 , three activity courses and 12 semester hours from the following courses: KIN 2502 , KIN 2511 , KIN 2525 , KIN 2526 , KIN 3507 , KIN 3800 , KIN 4513 , KIN 4515 , KIN 4517 , KIN 4800 , MKT 3410 .

Okay, you get the picture. Obviously, these are important courses. The beast must be fed so we can continue to kneel at the altar of intercollegiate athletics. Some things, after all, are sacrosanct. The option of cutting these programs is not even on the table.

So the cuts must be made elsewhere. But where?

Oh, such non-revenue producing programs as English, Arts, Physics, Engineering, Medical School (after all, who needs doctors after Jindal’s cuts to health care?), Business, Economics, History, etc. After all, who ever heard of TAF selling tickets to a science lecture?

Loss of accreditation of the business and engineering colleges? Hmpf, we don’t need no stinking accreditation when there’s a national championship to be won.

The alternative could be to sacrifice some of the courses we listed above in an effort at maintaining some semblance of academic integrity.

Of course, that would mean all athletes would have to take real courses—and pass. The lack of academic funding of the university and the resulting cancellation of the courses required for athletic eligibility will deal the death blow to athletic programs as we know them.

And that could have LSU playing Baton Rouge Community College in flag football next season.

Efforts to contact Les Miles and Johnny Jones for confirmation of the mothballing of the 2015 football and basketball seasons were unsuccessful.

We can only conclude that although Jindal, who has exhibited nothing but disdain and contempt for Louisiana’s education systems, knew of the consequences of his administration’s budget cuts on college and university athletic program, this was an “unintended consequence” by the legislature. To that, we can only say to legislators: “You should have done your homework and not sold your soul to Jindal for personal and political gain.”

(Thanks to Ruston High classmate John Sachs for the idea for this post.)

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In our lowlights review for the first six months of 2014, we were reminded by State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) that we had omitted a major low point in Louisiana politics.

Accordingly, we will preface our second half with the June veto by Gov. Bobby Jindal of HB 142 by Richard and Sens. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) and Mack “Bodi” White (R-Central) which was pass unanimously by both the House (84-0) and Senate (37-0).

Called by Richard as the only “piece of legislation that would’ve done anything in the form of reform,” HB142 called for a reduction in consulting contracts. Richard said the bill also “would’ve provided transparency in the way the state hands out contracts” and would have provided savings that would have been dedicated to higher education.

“It just made too much sense to Bobby,” Richard said.

Jindal, on the other hand, said the bill would “hinder the state’s efforts to continue to provide its citizens with timely, high-quality services.”

Such high-quality services as paying $94,000 to a firm to assistant students to learn to play during recess; paying consulting fees to Hop 2 It Music Co. or to the Smile and Happiness Foundation.

Jindal also said the bill would “cause significant delays and introduce uncertainty to executing a contract” and would “discourage businesses from seeking opportunities to provide services to the people of Louisiana.”

Which now brings us to the second half of political news that could only occur in Louisiana.

JULY

Troy Hebert back in the news:

Three former ATC supervisors, all black, have filed a federal lawsuit in the Baton Rouge’s Middle District claiming a multitude of actions they say Hebert took in a deliberate attempt to force the three to resign or take early retirement and in fact, conducted a purge of virtually all black employees of ATC.

Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III filed the lawsuit on behalf of Charles Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimian T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit said that all three plaintiffs have received the requisite “right to sue” notice from the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints.

So, where are all those savings we were promised?

To probably no one’s surprise except a clueless Gov. Bobby Jindal, the takeover of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana a scant 18 months ago has failed to produce the $20 million per year in savings to the state.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The OGB fund balance, which was a robust $500 million when BCBS took over as administrators of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in January of 2013, now stands at slightly less than half that amount and could plummet as low as an anemic $5 million a year from now, according to figures provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

There is no tactful way to say it. This Jindal’s baby; he’s married to it. He was hell bent on privatizing OGB and putting 144 employees on the street for the sake of some hair-brained scheme that managed to go south before he could leave town for whatever future he has planned for himself that almost surely does not, thank goodness, include Louisiana.

So ill-advised and so uninformed was Jindal that he rushed into his privatization plan and now has found it necessary to have the consulting firm Alvarez and Marcel, as part of their $5 million contract to find state savings, to poke around OGB to try and pull the governor’s hand out of the fiscal fire. We can only speculate as to why that was necessary; Jindal, after all, had assured us up front that the privatization would save $20 million a year but now cannot make good on that promise.

We can save, but we have to let you go…

The Jindal administration announced plans to jettison 24 more positions at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) as a cost cutting measure for the cash-strapped agency but is retaining the top two positions and an administrator hired only a month ago.

Affected by layoffs are eight Benefits Analyst positions, three Group Benefits Supervisory spots, one Group Benefits Administrator, seven Administrative Coordinators, an Administrative Assist, two Administrative Supervisors, one IT Application Programmer/Analyst and one Training Development Specialist.

All this takes place at a time whe OGB’s reserve fund has dwindled from $500 million at the time of the agency’s privatization in January 2013 to about half that amount today. Even more significant, the reserve fund is expected to dip as low as $5 million by 2016, just about the time Jindal leaves town for good.

Completing the trifecta of good news, we also have learned that health benefits for some 200,000 state employees, retirees and dependents will be slashed this year even as premiums increase.

Neil Riser helps Edmonson revoke the irrevocable:

One of the single biggest state political stories of the year was the surreptitious attempt of State Sen. Neil Riser to slip an amendment into an otherwise nondescript bill ostensibly addressing procedures in handling claims against police officers that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an illegal $55,000 per year retirement boost.

Events quickly began to spin out of control after Riser first denied, then admitted his part in the ruse and as retired state police opposed the move and public opinion mounted against the move, Edmonson, after first claiming he was entitled to the raise, finally relented and said he would not accept the increase.

Meanwhile, Jindal, who signed the bill, was eerily quiet on the issue despite speculation he was behind the attempt to slip the increase into the bill.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, just to make sure Edmonson didn’t go back on his word, filed suit to block the raise and a Baton Rouge judge agreed that the bill was unconstitutional.

The bill, which quickly became known as the Edmonson Amendment, along with the Office of Group Benefits fiasco, constituted the most embarrassing moments for a governor who wants desperately to run for president.

AUGUST

Selective—and hypocritical—moral judgments

Gov. Bobby Jindal weighed in early on the kissing congressman scandal up in Monroe. When rookie U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister was revealed on video exchanging amorous smooches with a female aide, Jindal was all over him like white on rice, calling for his immediate resignation.

Jindal’s judgmental tone was dictated more by the philosophical differences between the two (McAllister wanted the state to expand Medicaid, Jindal most assuredly did not) than any real issues based on morals as Jindal’s silence on the philandering of U.S. Sen. David Vitter who did a tad more than exchange affectionate kisses.

Edmonson Amendment spawns other state police stories:

LouisianaVoice, in its continuing investigation of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), learned that a number of DPS employees enjoy convenient political connections.

  • Dionne Alario, Senate President John Alario’s daughter-in-law, is a DPS Administrative Program Manager;
  • Alario’s son, John W. Alario, serves as a $95,000 per year director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission.
  • DPS Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux retired on April 28 from her $92,000 per year salary but the day before, she double encumbered herself into the position and reported to work on April 30 in the higher position of Undersecretary. Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis ordered her to repay the 300 hours of annual leave (about $46,000) for which she had been paid on her “retirement,” but Davis resigned shortly afterward and the matter was never pursued.
  • DPS issued a pair of contracts, hired the contractor as a state employee, paid her $437,000 to improve the Division of Motor Vehicles and ponied up $13,000 in airfare for trips to and from her home in South Carolina. The contractor, Kathleen Sill, heads up a company called CTQ but the company’s web page lists Sill as its only employee.
  • Boudreaux’s son-in-law Matthew Guthrie was simultaneously employed in an offshore job and was on the payroll for seven months of the State Police Oil Spill Commission.
  • Danielle Rainwater, daughter of former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was employed as a “specialist” for State Police.
  • Tammy Starnes was hired from another agency at a salary of $92,900 as an Audit Manager. Not only was her salary $11,700 more than state trooper Jason Starnes, but she is in charge of monitoring the agency’s financial transactions, including those of her husband.

Thanks, retirees; here’s your bill for medical coverage:

LouisianaVoice was first to break the news that the Jindal administration was planning to force retirees out of the Office of Group Benefits by raising premiums astronomically and slashing benefits.

The news sparked waves of protests from employees and retirees alike, prompted legislative hearings at which Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols looked more than foolish in their attempts to defend the ill-conceived plan.

The entire fiasco was the result of the Jindal administrations foolish decision to cut premiums, which allowed the state to be on the hook for lower contributions as well. The money the state saved on matching premiums went to help patch those recurring holes in the state budget. Meanwhile, because of the lower premiums, the $500 million OGB reserve fund shrank to about half that amount as OGB spent $15 million per month more than it received in premiums.

All this occurred just three years after then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, in a letter on the eve of the privatization of OGB, promised the continuation of quality service, rates that would be “unaffected” with any increases to be “reflective of medical market rates.” More importantly, he emphatically promised that benefits “will NOT change.”

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

OCTOBER

What premium decrease?

Contrary to the testimony of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that Buck Consultants recommended that the Office of Group Benefits reduce premiums for members, emails from Buck Consults said exactly the opposite. State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) had asked Nichols during legislative committee hearings who recommended the decrease and she replied that the recommendation came from Buck. All witnesses before legislative committees are under oath when they testify.

Surplus, deficit, tomato, to-mah-to:

Nichols “discovered” a previously unknown “surplus” of $320 million in mystery money that set off a running dispute between her office and State Treasurer John Kennedy—an argument that eventually made its way before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

With a tip of our hat to cartoonist Bud Grace, we are able to show you how that surplus was discovered:

JINDAL SURPLUS SECRET

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Murphy Painter vindicated, Jindal humiliated:

Jindal’s attempted prosecution persecution of fired Director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter blew up in the governor’s face when Painter was first acquitted of criminal charges, costing the state nearly half a million dollars in reimbursement of Painter’s legal fees, but Painter subsequently won a defamation suit against his accuser.

Secret survey no longer a secret but “no one” more popular than Jindal:

A survey to measure state employee satisfaction in the Division of Administration (DOA) should be an eye opener for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols and agency heads within DOA.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) received some exciting news this week when a new poll revealed that no one was more popular among Republican contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.

The excitement was short-lived, however, when the actual meaning of the numbers was revealed.

It turns out that in a CNN poll of New Hampshire voters, Jindal tied with Rick Santorum with 3 percent, while “No one” polled 4 percent, prompting Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to joke that Jindal should adopt the slogan “Jindal 2016: No one is more popular.”

To shred or not to shred:

The controversy surrounding the sweeping changes being proposed for the Office of Group Benefits just got a little dicier with new information obtained by LouisianaVoice about the departure of Division of Administration executive counsel Liz Murrill and the possibly illegal destruction of public records from the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and the involvement of at least two other state agencies.

While it was not immediately clear which OGB records were involved, information obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Murrill refused to sign off on written authorization to destroy documents from OGB.

We first reported her departure on Oct. 14 and then on Oct. 22, we followed up with a report that Murrill had confided to associates that she could no longer legally carry out some of the duties assigned to her as the DOA attorney.

But now we learn that the issue has spilled over into two other agencies besides OGB and DOA because of a state statute dealing with the retention of public documents for eventual delivery to State Archives, a division of Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.

Reports indicate that Schedler became furious when he learned of the destruction or planned destruction of the records because records should, according to R.S. 44:36, be retained for three years and then delivered to the state archivist and director of the division of Archives, records management and history.

NOVEMBER

Secret grand jury testimony of Greenstein made public:

The Louisiana Attorney General’s office, in an unprecedented move, released the 100-plus pages of testimony of Bruce Greenstein, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals but the testimony did little in revealing any smoking gun related to the state’s $180 million contract with CNSI. About the only thing to come out of his testimony was the indication of an incredible bad memory in matters related to his dealings with his former bosses at CNSI and a razor-sharp recall of other, more insignificant events.

Approval? We don’t need no stinkin’ approval:

The very first state agency privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal was the Office of Risk Management (ORM) and after the state paid F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) $68 million to take over ORM operations and then amended the contract to $75 million after only a few months, the agency was subsequently transferred three times to other firms. The only hitch was a specific clause in the original contract with FARA that no such transference was allowable without “prior written approval” from the Division of Administration. The problem? When LouisianaVoice made an FOIA request for that written approval, we were told no such document existed.

Edwards’ Last Hurrah:

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, one of the most successful, colorful and charismatic politicians in Louisiana history, lost—decisively. Republican Graves Garrett rode the Republican tide to easily hand Edwards his first political defeat, dating back to his days on the Crowley City Council. Some may remember when Buddy Roemer led the field in 1987, forcing Edwards into a runoff. Technically, though, Edwards did not lose that election because he chose not to participate in the runoff, thus allowing Roemer to become governor. But he would return in 1991 to win his unprecedented fourth term.

DECEMBER

Friends of Bobby Jindal seeking donations:

A new web page popped up seeking donations for the Friends of Bobby Jindal, raising speculations of an attempt at a higher office (president?) since Jindal can’t run for governor again.

The new web page cited a speech by Jindal at a foreign policy forum at which he called for increased military spending.

Gimme the keys to the cars:

The Public Service Commission (PSC) became the second state agency (the State Treasurer’s office was the first) to openly defy Jindal when the administration demanded that the PSC relinquish possession of 13 vehicles as part of the administration’s cost-cutting measures.

We have already examined State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard’s attempt to cut consulting contracts which was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate but vetoed by Jindal.

But there was another veto that should be mentioned in context with Jindal’s penny wise but pound (dollar) foolish fire sale approach to state finances.

Earlier this year, State 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.

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.

Another (yawn) poor survey showing:

24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company, released a report which ranked Louisiana as the 11th worst-run state in America.

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

Louisiana had “one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation,” at just $44,164, the report said “and 10.7 percent of all households reported an income of less than $10,000, a higher rate than in any state except for Mississippi. Largely due to these low incomes, the poverty rate in Louisiana was nearly 20 percent (19.8 percent) and 17.2 percent of households used food stamps last year, both among the highest rates in the nation. The state’s GDP grew by 1.3 percent last year, less than the U.S. overall.

May we pray?

Meanwhile, Jindal prompted more controversy by having his favorite publisher and LSU Board of Supervisors member Rolfe McCollister run interference in securing the LSU Maravich Center for a political prayer event in January of 2015. The event will be sponsored by the controversial American Family Association and will not (wink, wink) be a political event, Jindal said.

And that, readers, is where we will leave you in 2014.

For 2015, we have an election campaign for governor to look forward to.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

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