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Archive for the ‘State Agencies’ Category

No sooner did we call U.S. Sen. David Vitter out for potential improprieties for using his Senate franking privileges to gain an edge over his three opponents in this year’s gubernatorial election than our old friend C.B. Forgotston send us evidence of an even more flagrant misuse of his office for similar reasons.

It’s enough to make you wonder what the hell goes through these politicians’ minds except that we already know: they are so convinced they are above the law that they couldn’t care less what the great unwashed think about their flaunting of the rules.

We’ve previously reported Jindal’s acceptance of tainted campaign contributions from the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (non-profits are prohibited from making campaign contributions), laundered money from a St. Tammany Parish bank board of directors (without the 11 directors’ awareness they were “contributing” $5,000 each to Jindal) and the head of Florida’s largest-ever Ponzi scheme who funneled $30,000 in contributions to Jindal from himself, his wife and his law firm.

Within an hour of posting the story about Vitter’s use of franking privileges to promote his gubernatorial campaign, LouisianaVoice’s email exploded with messages about Jindal’s latest post on the governor’s web page, paid for by Louisiana taxpayer dollars.

The first email was from Forgotston, who has fired off a letter to Inspector General Stephen Street demanding an answer to his inquiry as to the legality of Jindal’s “press release” on Tuesday.

So what, exactly, is all the fuss about?

Quite simply, Jindal used the state computer and web page (and presumably a state employee) to gin out a “press release” personally attacking one of Jindal’s probable opponents for the Republican nomination for president under the headline “Gov. Jindal: Senator Paul unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief.” http://www.gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?md=newsroom&tmp=detail&articleID=4965

Paul, a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, is an announced candidate for the Republican nomination. https://randpaul.com/

And what did Paul do or say that prompted Jindal to ignore legal constraints on the use of state web pages? Apparently, Paul said something to the effect that ISIS exists because of the U.S. hawkish foreign policy—a claim, by the way, that we cannot entirely disagree with.

“This is a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief,” Jindal whined.

Except he did his whining on a state-funded web page and that immediately invoked the wrath of a number of readers and Forgotston, who once worked as a legal counsel for the legislature, is not the one you want to tick off when it comes to matters concerning the state constitution.

In his email to Street, Forgotston began by describing the Jindal press release as “a violation of Louisiana Constitution, Article XI, 4.”

In case you don’t want to take the time to open the link, it says that while there is no prohibition against the use of public funds to disseminate factual information about a proposition appearing on an election ballot, “no public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization.”

“It (the press release) clearly urges a vote against U.S. Senator Rand Paul for President of the United States,” he said. “The press release was issued by state employees (the release contained the names of Shannon Bates Dirmann and Shannon, Deputy Communications Director for the Governor’s Office) and has no disclaimer that public funds were not used.

“If this is not a violation of the law, please advise why it isn’t,” Forgotston said. He ended his email by writing, in all caps, “A RESPONSE IS REQUESTED,” which he said “is not directed to any recipients of his email other than the State Inspector General.”

In case any of our readers also would like to submit a similar question to the OIG, here is Street’s email address: stephen.street@la.gov.

Forgotston said he will also share his concerns with Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

As Forgotston himself is fond of saying: you can’t make this stuff up.

 

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State Treasurer John Kennedy on Tuesday told the House Appropriations Committee that the Division of Administration exerts extortion-like tactics against legislators and takes the approach that it should not be questioned about the manner in which it hands out state contracts and that the legislature should, in effect, keep its nose out of the administration’s business.

Kennedy was testifying on behalf of House Bill 30 by State Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux) which provides for reporting, review and approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) of all contracts for professional, personal and consulting services totaling $40,000 or more per year which are funded exclusively with state general fund (SGF) or the Overcollections Fund. HB 30

HB 30 FISCAL NOTES

Kennedy, in a matter of only a few minutes’ testimony, attacked figures provided by three representatives of the Division of Administration (DOA) who objected to the bill because of what they termed additional delays that would be incurred in contract approval and because of claimed infringement upon the separation of powers between the legislative and administrative branches of government.

Here is the link to the committee hearing. While Kennedy spoke at length on the bill, the gist of his remarks about DOA begin at about one hour and 13 minutes into his testimony. You can move your cursor to that point and pick up his attacks on DOA. http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/VideoArchivePlayer.aspx?v=house/2015/may/0526_15_AP

That argument appeared to be a reach at best considering it is the legislature that appropriates funding for the contracts. It also appeared more of a smokescreen for the real objections: DOA’s, and by extension, Bobby Jindal’s wish that the administration be allowed to continue to operate behind closed doors and without any oversight, unanswerable to anyone.

DOA representatives tried to minimize the effect of the bill by downplaying the number and dollar amount of the contracts affected (which raises the obvious question of why the opposition to the bill if its impact would be so minimal). The administration said only 164 contracts totaling some $29 million would be affected by the bill.

Kennedy, however, was quick to jump on those figures. “The numbers the division provided you are inaccurate,” he said flatly. “The Legislative Auditor, who works for you,” he told committee members, “just released a report that says there are 14,000 consulting contracts, plus another 4600 ‘off the books.’

“The fiscal notes of 2014 by the Legislative Fiscal Office—not the Division (DOA)—said the number of contracts approved in 2013 by the Office of Contractual Review was 2,001—not 160—professional, personal and consulting service contracts with a total value of $3.1 billion,” he said. “I don’t know where DOA is getting its numbers.

“To sum up their objections,” he said, “it appears to me that DOA and more to the point, the bureaucracy, is smarter than you and knows how to spend taxpayer dollars better than you. That’s the bottom line. They don’t want you to know. This bill will not be overly burdensome to you. Thirty days before the JLCB hearing, you will get a list of contracts. If there are no questions, they fly through. If there are questions, you can ask.”

Kennedy tossed a grenade at DOA on the issue of separation of powers when he accused the administration of blackmailing legislators who might be reluctant to go along with its programs.

“Let’s talk about how the division’s advice on contracts has worked out,” he said. “The Division advised you to spend all the $800 million in the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. Now they have zero in that account. In fact, they pushed you to do that. Some of you were told if you didn’t do that, you’d lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers? How’d that work out for you?

“My colleagues from Division who just testified against the bill are the same ones who told you to take $400 million out of the (Office of Group Benefits) savings account set aside to pay retirees’ and state employees’ health claims. How’d that work out?”

Kennedy didn’t stop there. He came prepared with an entire laundry list of accusations against the administration.

“My colleagues from Division are the ones who told you, ‘Look, we need to privatize our health care delivery system,’ which I support in concept. They sat at this table and I heard them say we would only have to spend $600 million per year on our public-private partnership and (that it would be) a great deal ‘because right now we’re spending $900 million.’ I thought we’d be saving $300 million a year. Except we’re not spending $600 million; we’re spending $1.3 billion and we don’t have the slightest idea whether it’s (the partnerships) working. How’d that work out for you?

“I sat right here at this table and I heard my friends from Division say we need to do Bayou Health managed care. You now appropriate $2.8 billion a year for four health insurance companies to treat 900,000 of our people—not their people, our people,” he said. “There’s just one problem: when the Legislative Auditor goes to DHH (the Department of Health and Hospitals) to audit it (the program), they tell him no.”

Kennedy said that pursuant to orders from DOA, “the only way they can audit is if they take the numbers given him (Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera) by the insurance companies.

“This is a good bill,” he said. “It’s not my bill. My preference is to tell Division to cut 10 percent on all contracts and if you can’t do it, you will be unemployed. But this bill allows you to see where the taxpayer money is being spent.

“I have more confidence in you than I do in the people who’re doing things right now,” he said.

Kennedy said he was somewhat reluctant to testify about the bill “but I’m not going to let this go—especially the part about separation of powers.

“You want to see a blatant example of separation of powers?” he asked rhetorically, returning to the issue of the administration’s heavy handedness. “How about if I have a bill but you don’t read it. You either vote for it or you lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers?”

That evoked memories from November of 2012 when Jindal removed two representatives from their committee assignments one day after they voted against the administration’s proposed contract between the Office of Group Benefits and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.

“Everything they (legislative committees) do is scripted,” said Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), speaking to LouisianaVoice about his removal from the House Appropriations Committee. “I’ve seen the scripts. They hand out a list of questions we are allowed to ask and they tell us not to deviate from the list and not to ask questions that are not in the best interest of the administration.” http://louisianavoice.com/2012/11/02/notable-quotables-in-their-own-words-142/

Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) asked Kennedy what his budget was to which Kennedy responded, “Less than last year and less that year than the year before and probably will be even less after this hearing. But you know what? I don’t care.

“There’s nothing you can say to get Division to support this bill,” he said. “They’re just not going to do it.

“You can’t find these contracts with a search party. But if you require them to come before you, you can get a feel for how money is being spent that people work hard for and you can provide a mechanism to shift some of that spending to higher priorities.

“Next year, you will spend $47 million on consulting contracts for coastal restoration. I’m not against coastal restoration; I’m all for it. But these consultants will not plant a blade of swamp grass. Don’t tell me they can’t do the job for 10 percent less. That $47 million is more than the entire state general fund appropriation for LSU-Shreveport, Southern University-Shreveport, McNeese and Nicholls State combined.

“Under the law, agencies are supposed to go before the Civil Service Board and show that the work being contracted cannot be done by state employees but that is perfunctory at best,” Kennedy said.

To the administration’s arguments of delays in contract approvals and infringements on the separation of powers, Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles) dug in his heels. “This is not a bad thing,” he insisted. “We’re not going to go through every page of every contract unless someone calls it to our attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s 14,000 or 14 million contracts. The number is immaterial. If there’s an issue with a contract, we need to look at it.”

For once, the administration did not have its way with the legislature. The committee approved the bill unanimously and it will now move to the House floor for debate where Jindal’s forces are certain to lobby hard against its passage.

Should the bill ultimately pass both the House and Senate, Jindal will in all likelihood, veto the measure and at that point, we will learn how strong the legislature’s resolve really is.

But for Kennedy, the line has been drawn in the dust.

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That hateful, smugly, self-serving Executive Order 15-8 signed by Grovernor Jindal on Tuesday could ultimately blow up in his face, although his tenure as grovernor will be long over by the time the courts get around to ruling on his license to openly discriminate against gays.

In case you’ve been living in a cave these past few months, Jindal signed the executive order this week, in effect enacting the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act only hours after House Bill 707 by freshman Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) was rejected in a 10-2 vote by the House Civil Law Committee.

Similar bills were passed by state legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas earlier this year.

Standing beside Jindal as he made the announcement of the executive order was Johnson but that ceremony could well be as close to a victory for the bill as the two tools of Gene Mills, Tony Perkins and Grover Norquist will get.

That’s because a challenge to a previous executive order, BJ 2012-16 (that would be the 16th executive order of year 2012) was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge back in December and last month the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear the matter.

Janice Clark, 19th District Court Judge in Baton Rouge had approved the state’s motion to dismiss the case brought by the Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA) and the Louisiana State Medical Society against the Department of Insurance over Jindal’s executive order. The case will now be tried on its merits in state district court as a result of the higher court’s reversal.

Though far from over, observers will be watching the LHA closely case as it unfolds so as to gauge the effect it has on the governor’s powers to issue executive orders such as the one he handed down on Tuesday relative to the so-called marriage and conscience act which opponents see as little more than an effort to legally deny services by retail establishments, schools and medical facilities to gay couples.

The decision by the First Circuit, throwing the challenge to Jindal’s 2012 executive order back into state district court could impact his latest executive decision as well—long after a new governor has moved into the Capitol’s fourth floor. https://casetext.com/case/la-hosp-assn-la-state-med-socy-v-state

That 2012 order, creating Rule 26, suspended existing laws and granted far-reaching powers to Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon in the wake of Hurricane Isaac in August of 2012. The order’s justification was that Donelon could “be hindered in the proper performance of his duties and responsibilities…without the authority to suspend certain statutes in the Louisiana Insurance Code and the rules and regulations that implement the Louisiana Insurance Code including, but not limited to, cancellation, nonrenewal, reinstatement, premium payment and claim filings with regard to any and all types of insurance subject to the Louisiana Insurance Code.”

Accordingly, Jindal made the suspension of rules applicable to all insurance lines, including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), health and accident insurance, as well as property and casualty lines. Read the entire Rule 26 HERE.

LHA and the State Medical Society immediately filed their joint petition seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive and declaratory relief against the Department of Insurance, challenging the constitutionality of the rule.

Along with several other specific challenges, they claimed that the state statute does not grant the governor the authority to make “substantive, affirmative law.”

But it is the challenge to the governor’s authority to make “substantive, affirmative law” that should attract the attention of opponents of this week’s executive order.

It’s not likely that a ruling will be made on the 2012 executive order and the accompanying Rule 26 before Jindal leaves office and even it a ruling does come down, it’s likely to be appealed. But should a ruling adverse to his 2012 order, especially on the point of the governor’s ability to make law, result, it would obviously bolster the courage of opponents of the latest order creating the marriage and conscience act that specifically singles out gays on religious grounds but which could conceivably be expanded to other target groups.

No matter which direction the legal winds ultimately blow, the resulting publicity will be used by Jindal to continue to project himself onto the national stage, an invitation that has thus far eluded him.

If he wins, he will crow that justice has prevailed because his policy was on the same page with God. Should he lose, obviously, the judiciary will have come under left-wing, liberal influence.

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Our friend C.B. Forgotston, who follows the legislature relentlessly, alerted us to this little tidbit this morning that illustrates just how far the legislature is willing to go to absolve itself of any responsibility in the current fiscal mess in which the state currently finds itself.

Year after year, when stinging budget cuts are imposed on higher education and health care, the same cry goes up from the citizenry: “Why are only higher ed and health care subjected to repeated budget cuts? Why aren’t other agencies made to share the pain?”

And year after year, the same response from legislators: “Because under the State Constitution, those are the only areas that can be cut.

“Our hands are tied,” they wail in unison.

Not so, says Forgotston, who once was a staff attorney for the legislature.

Of the $30 Billion in the current state budget, $3.9 Billion or only 13 percent is constitutionally-protected, he says.

Of the dedicated funds:

  • $3.3 Billion (85 percent of the constitutionally-dedicated funds) funds public elementary and secondary education’s Minimum Foundation Program (“MFP”) which is approved by the leges.
  • $318 Million (9 percent) pays the annual debt service on state borrowing (bonds).
  • $115 Million (3 percent) pays the supplemental pay for municipal policemen, firemen and deputy sheriffs.

What’s not protected?

            Of the $30 Billion budget, Forgotston says 87 percent is not constitutionally-protected. That includes:

  • NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other local pork barrel projects in the Operating and Capital Outlay budgets.

The constitutional scapegoat

            The constitution is a convenient scapegoat for the governor and the legislators’ lack of political courage to set priorities,” he said, “especially, since none of them appear to have ever read the document.”

No matter. On Monday, they had a chance to do something about it and they didn’t.

They punted.

And the vote wasn’t even close.

The Senate Finance Committee deferred, by an 8-2 vote, Senate Bill 196 by State Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) which would have placed a constitutional amendment before Louisiana voters that would have repealed the constitutionally-imposed dedications. SB 196 TEXT

The Legislative Fiscal Notes, which accompany any bill dealing with fiscal matters, says there would be “no anticipated direct material effect on governmental expenditures.”

The fiscal notes also said, “Due to the elimination of approximately 20 constitutional funds and the requirement that the revenue source of such funds now flow into the State General Fund (SGF), the SGF will have approximately a statutorily dedicated fund balance transfer of approximately $3.9 billion in FY 16 and annual SGF revenue flow of approximately $730 million per year.” SB 196 FISCAL NOTES

Morrell lectured committee members as he testified on behalf of his bill, saying, “We fixed higher ed but not health care. We have too many ‘not me’s’ coming before you to defend their programs.

“If you kill this bill,” he cautioned members, “you’re saying to your constituents not only that your hands are tied but that you like your hands to be tied.”

Which is precisely what they did on motion from Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge).

Before the vote on Claitor’s motion, Sen. Fred Mills (R-St. Martinville) offered a substitute motion to approve the bill, sending it to the Senate floor. Only Sen. Bodi White (R-Central) voted with Mills in favor of the bill. Those voting against approval were committee Chairman Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), committee Vice-Chairman Norbert Chabert (R-Houma), members Bret Allain (R-Franklin), Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Shreveport), Claitor, Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles), Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), Edwin Murray (D-New Orleans), and Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport).

As an unspoken acknowledgement of the committee’s concern over a possible veto by Bobby Jindal, a fretful White went so far as to suggest to Morrell that he might get a more favorable consideration of his bill if he waited until next year “when we have a new governor.”

So, bottom line, it appears that legislators remain unwilling to confront a lame duck, largely absentee governor despite his abysmal approval ratings by Louisiana voters.

Something is wrong with this herd mentality, folks.

This is not the time to wait for a “new governor.” This is the time for bold, decisive action that says to Jindal, “We damned well dare you to veto this or we’ll throw it back in your face with a veto session like this state—or any other state—has never seen. We will bring the attention of the national media down upon your delusional head.”

Instead, they choose to wait.

Again.

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Because of our limited staff (one, plus a few occasional contributors), we often fall behind in our efforts to keep up with the news of our misbehaving public officials. We try to keep up, but these guys are pretty slick and very resourceful in finding new ways to siphon off funds, whether they be state funds or contributions from campaign supporters.

So, today, we will highlight a couple of politicos who are very tight: Bobby Jindal and his director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), Troy Hebert (whose wife just happens to be the Jindal children’s pediatrician, we’re told).

We have an update on the status of Frederick Tombar III, who, like Hebert was appointed to a high-level position in the Jindal administration only to harass himself out of a job.

Tombar, it seems, has landed on his feet after leaving his $260,000 a year job as director of the Louisiana Housing Corporation because of some sexually explicit emails he sent to two female employees—one, a contract employee and the other an actual employee of the agency.

Both women attempted to put off Tombar’s advances because of fear of losing their jobs but eventually each filed complaints and Tombar left before he could be interviewed during an investigation by Ron Jackson, Human Resources Director for the Division of Administration.

Not to worry. We’re told by sources that Tombar, of New Orleans, had a soft landing at Cornerstone Government Affairs consulting company where he will work alongside two former state Commissioners of Administration, Mark Drennan and Paul Rainwater. http://www.cgagroup.com/index.html

http://www.cgagroup.com/team/RainwaterPaul.html

http://www.cgagroup.com/team/mark_drennen.html

Efforts to reach both Drennan and Rainwater for comment were unsuccessful.

It’s not known what Tombar’s salary at Cornerstone will be, but we are willing to bet it doesn’t approach the quarter-million a year he was making as a Jindal appointee.

That other appointee mentioned earlier, Troy Hebert, of whom much has been written here, little of it good, recently sent a bill to former ATC agent Howard Caviness of West Monroe who now serves as Grambling State University chief of police. Well, actually, the bill was not from Hebert, but from the agency under which he serves, the Department of Revenue (LDR).

The invoice, for all of $123.59 is for an alleged overpayment to Caviness in Dec. of 2012, according to the letter dated April 29 which is stamped “2nd notice.” Supposedly, the $123.59, when collected, will go to help patch over Jindal’s $1.6 billion budget deficit. LDR letter

Attached to the letter is a time sheet for the two-week time period of Nov. 26—Dec. 9, 2012, with no explanation other than a hand-scrawled, “will leave a balance owed.” ATC timesheet

(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE)

Caviness, contacted by LouisianaVoice, feels the action is in retaliation for his having testified on behalf of another former agent, Brett Tingle, who Hebert fired while Tingle was recovering from a heart attack.

Reprisals against a state employee by officials in the Jindal administration? Surely not!

But that would fit the modus operandi of Hebert and would give credence to a third former agent who revealed she was ordered to conduct an investigation of LouisianaVoice publisher Tom Aswell (that would be me). That former agent admitted that she did indeed follow through on the investigation but found me “rather boring.” We’ll take boring any day.

But we did our own nosing around and found that Hebert played pretty fast and loose with campaign donors’ money while he was still a state senator—and even after he left office to take over operations at ATC after Jindal did a number on former ATC Director Murphy Painter.

At the top of the list, as with the case of so many office holders, was his $12,165 expenditure for the purchase of what seems to be the most sought-after perk of all state politicians: LSU football tickets—$4,930 of that well after he left the House of Representatives in 2010 to become head of ATC. It’s somewhat difficult to see how whose expenditures, especially the $4,930 spent after he left office, could be justified as being “related to the holding of public office,” as state campaign expense laws clearly dictate. related to a campaign  personal use  cannot use campaign funds for personal use

But, as they say in those cheesy TV commercials, “Wait! There’s more!”

Our boy Troy also shelled out the following amounts for other seeming unrelated purposes:

  • Nov. 11, 2014: All State Sugar Bowl tickets, $590 (again, quite a stretch in tying this to holding public office); SUGAR BOWL
  • April 22, 2009: Sullivan’s Restaurant, Baton Rouge, $2,323.10 for a fundraiser; RESTAURANTS
  • April 1, 2010: Delta Airlines, $691.80 (no explanation of any destination, but his House district was pretty small and probably didn’t require air travel to get around Iberia Parish; TRAVEL
  • April 1, 2010: Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C., $1,505.70. Ah! There’s his destination for that Delta flight. But what was he running for in Washington? HOTELS
  • May 10, 2011: Monteleone Hotel, New Orleans, $500. About those two hotel bills: state regulations limit hotel rooms to a mere $120 per night. Perhaps someone should sent Hebert a bill for the difference. Oh, wait. The rooms were paid out of campaign funds, not the state treasury. So that makes it okay, we guess.  travelguide

Still, $15,452 in campaign expenditures which somehow just don’t pass the smell test for legitimate campaign expenditures, especially $5,520 of which was spent after he left office.

And then there’s Jindal.

Since 2009, a year after he first took office, he has racked up an eye-popping expenditure of $169,597 in hotel room costs alone. TRAVEL

Even more revealing, all but $30,000 of that ($139,660) has been since his re-election in October of 2011, evidence that he has spent precious little time in Louisiana performing the “job he always wanted,” and the job to which he was elected.

Jindal also spent more than $185,000 in campaign money since 2003 on air travel, his campaign expense records show. Because his travel expenses were about equally divided between pre- and post-re-election in 2011, it would indicate that much of his lodging was provided by organizations to whom he was speaking.

By running as an “undeclared” candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, he was able to make free use of campaign funds he reaped while running for and serving as governor. That would explain why he is so cagey about his non-candidacy candidacy: the rules change and federal regulations kick in once he is a declared candidate. His self-serving claim to be “praying for guidance” over his decision has little or nothing to do with it; it’s all about the way he can spend the money.

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