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By MIKE STAGG (Independent filmmaker, citizen activist, political strategist – Special to LouisianaVoice)

For the past seven years, as Louisiana has lurched from one fiscal crisis to another, the State of Louisiana has paid the oil and gas industry $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Despite that massive transfer of public wealth into private hands, the oil and gas industry used its influence inside the Department of Natural Resources and the Jindal administration, to limit—and for three years shut down—audits that would have revealed whether the industry’s severance taxes and royalty payments to the state were accurate.

These facts have been hiding in plain sight, contained in five performance audits of the Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Department of Revenue conducted by the Legislative Auditor since 2010. Two of those audits focused on royalty collections from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms. Another focused on severance tax collections; yet another dealt with mineral leases handled by the State Mineral and Energy board, while the fifth audit examined how the Office of Conservation has handled the orphaned and abandoned well cleanup program.

The cozy relationship between DNR and the oil and gas industry is explicit in the department’s regulation of the industry. That coziness, when extended to state finances, has proven disastrous for the Louisiana treasury and its residents. DNR is responsible for collecting oil and gas royalties, which account for roughly seven percent of state General Fund dollars, or approximately $800 million per year.

For a three-year period, between July 2010 and July 2013, DNR had jurisdiction to determine the accuracy of severance taxes and royalty payments.

And DNR let industry have its way.

Audits on royalty revenue dropped. Audits on severance tax revenue all but stopped, even as the state’s financial condition continued to worsen. In short, when it came to providing rigorous oversight to ensure that the royalty and severance tax payments were accurate, DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources deferred to the oil and gas industry while programs that serve the citizens of Louisiana were cut, primarily in healthcare and higher education, the unprotected portions of the state General Fund.

DNR’s relationship with the oil and gas industry is a blatant example of regulatory capture. Regulatory Capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when an agency, created to act in the public interest, advances instead the special concerns of the industry it is charged to regulate.

Severance taxes are the constitutional expression of our, as Louisiana citizens, shared claim on our state’s vast mineral wealth. Exempting severance taxes negates the public claim on that mineral wealth and undermines our ability to invest in ourselves as a state.

Severance tax exemptions are direct payments from the state to the oil and gas producers after the companies have submitted their exemption certificates. Royalties are the property owners’ share of the proceeds from the sale of oil and gas produced from wells on their land. For purposes of this story, royalties are the state’s share of the revenue from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms after severance taxes have been paid.

Since the mid-1980s, Louisiana Department of Revenue has published an annual report on tax exemptions called “The Tax Exemption Budget.” In that document, the department identifies each tax exemption and quantifies the cost of each exemption to the state.

It makes clear that tax exemptions are in fact a spending of state funds — here’s how the LDR explains it in every report: “Tax exemptions are tax dollars that are not collected and result in a loss of state tax revenues available for appropriation. In this sense, the fiscal effect of tax exemptions is the same as a direct fund expenditure.”

Between 2008 and 2014, according to the Tax Exemption Budget, the State of Louisiana paid oil and gas companies more than $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Those checks went out at the exact same time that our legislature cut funding for programs like aid to families of children with disabilities, behavioral health programs, home health care, and programs that assisted victims of domestic violence. During that same period, state funding for higher education was also cut by more than $700 million as the tuition and fees paid by those attending technical colleges, community colleges, and state universities were jacked up to cover the difference.

The first performance audit on royalty collections was released in July 2010. Royaltieshttps://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/B6B5DE331E9D48818625776E005CFDA5/$FILE/00018070.pdf The Legislative Auditor found that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources took a lackadaisical approach to verifying the accuracy of royalty payments from the 1,888 active mineral leases on state-owned lands and water bottoms.

The Legislative Auditor noted that severance taxes and royalties are connected, that both are dependent on the amount of oil and gas produced, as well as the price of the resource.

Desk audits compared the volume of oil and gas sold to the volume of oil and gas produced, which ensures that royalty payments are properly calculated. These audits also help ensure that production wells on state lands are submitting properly calculated royalty payments.

The Legislative Auditor found that the Office of Mineral Resources (OMR) had not conducted a single such audit in a decade. Despite the Auditor’s recommendation that it resume these audits, OMR waited another three years before getting around to doing so.

The Legislative Auditor also found that OMR did not compare royalty reports against severance tax reports filed with the state Department of Revenue, nor did it compare royalty reports to production reports submitted elsewhere in DNR.

In its response to the Legislative Auditor’s Royalty performance audit findings, on June 24, 2010, DNR announced that “As part of the Streamlining Commission’s recommendations, OMR will take over LDRs severance tax field audit program and the two audits will be integrated beginning July 1, 2010.”

In September of 2013, the Legislative Auditor released a follow-up performance audit on royalty collections. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/DB918AD8E33411F286257B490074B82A/$FILE/00031C97.pdf

The auditors were dismayed to find that the revenue produced by OMR’s audits had fallen below the levels reported in 2010.

The Auditor also found that that the State Mineral and Energy Board had waived 45% of the $12.8 million in penalties that were assessed against companies by OMR for late payment of royalties.

Neither the Office of Mineral Resources nor the State Mineral and Energy Board seemed at all concerned about the fiscal impact their indifference to generating revenue had on the programs that Louisiana residents depend on. Their primary concern was with not inconveniencing their friends in the oil and gas industry.

The Legislative Auditor conducted an audit on severance tax collection procedures in the

Louisiana Department of Revenue in 2013 but, because severance tax audit functions had been transferred to the DNR in 2010, auditors had to return to the Office of Mineral Resources close on the heels of the second royalty collections audit. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/AC044A6D3709B90C86257BE30065348B/$FILE/000351F7.pdf

In this audit, the Legislative Auditor found that oil and gas industry complaints about the LDR’s use of GenTax software (which identified possible nonpayers of severance taxes) led first, to LDR shutting off the software, and second, audit power being transferred to DNR.

The scale of the oil and gas production not audited as a result of that shift was staggering. DNR’s field audits ignored oil and gas production on private lands — which comprises 98.1% of all oil and gas leases in Louisiana — for a three-year period.

Revenue from severance tax audits fell 99.8% from the levels produced by the Department of Revenue once responsibility was transferred to the Office of Mineral Resources. The actual dollar amount fell from $26 Million in 2010 to $40,729 in Fiscal Year 2012.

For the three-year period that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources had responsibility for severance tax audits, the industry essentially operated under an honor system.

Prior history shows why this was a problem. In the late 1990s, the Mike Foster administration filed lawsuits against more than 20 oil and gas companies claiming they had shortchanged the state by as much as $100 million on severance tax payments. Now, for three years as recurring revenue shortfalls continued, the Office of Mineral Resources ignored that history.

During this time, the Haynesville Trend emerged as the most productive shale gas field in the country.

Even though the severance tax exemption on horizontal drilling meant that the state was denied severance tax revenue for much of that play, companies still managed to game the exemption system at taxpayer expense.

Under the rules for severance tax exemptions, the state pays back the taxes already paid once it receives the exemption certificate from the company — plus “Judicial Interest” which in the period covered by the audit averaged about 4.5%.

That is, the state had to dip into non-exempt severance tax payments in order to cover the interest costs on those certificates that the companies chose to sit on for several months.

The Audit found that over the course of four fiscal years running from 2009 through 2012, the Department of Revenue issued 13,818 severance tax refund checks totaling $360,190,583. An extra $23,859,012 in interest was tacked on to that. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/CF6244B77E3A958686257C30005E80B1/$FILE/000368DA.pdf

In addition, the Auditor found that the Department of Revenue overpaid severance tax exemption refunds by $12.9 million between July 2010 and May 2012.

The decline in audit revenue, the interest paid to companies on the gaming of the severance tax exemption process, the overpayment of severance tax exemption refunds, the decision by the State Mineral and Energy Board to waive 45% of fines for late payment of royalties combined to benefit the industry at taxpayer expense to the tune of $68 million.

These gifts to the oil and gas industry were made at a time when the industry was already receiving $2.4 Billion in tax exemptions and at a time when every dollar the state did not collect translated into a cut to programs that Louisiana residents depended on.

The Auditor also pointed out that hiring additional auditors within DNR and LDR would produce a great return on the state’s investment. Each auditor costs a department between $50,000 and $60,000 per year, but they bring in an average of $1.3 million per year. LDR said it had requested additional auditors in its budgets but they were never approved by the Jindal administration.

Oil and gas companies control all of the information used in the severance tax and royalty payment process. The industry has used this power to its advantage and to the state’s detriment.

Vigilant auditing can close that information gap.

The Office of Mineral Resources has shown little interest in that kind of work. DNR’s abdication of its oversight role on royalty revenue has had an outsized impact on Louisiana because of the role that revenue plays in state finances. When added to the three-year period when DNR failed to perform severance tax audits, the agency has likely cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the past seven years.

That is corruption.

Not all of this went unnoticed. In the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Rick Gallot (D-Ruston) and Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) introduced concurrent resolutions to order LDR, DNR and the Legislative Auditor to agree upon a means to conduct a thorough audit of oil and gas production, severance taxes and royalty payments. Gallot’s resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 35-0. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/D6A0EBE279B83B9F86257CE700506EAD/$FILE/000010BC.pdf

But by the time the resolution reached the House floor in early June, the oil and gas industry and the Jindal administration recognized the threat the audit posed, so they joined forces to kill it. SCR 142

The resolution had to be killed to keep the secret.

In the midst of a prolonged and deepening fiscal crisis, the Jindal administration and the industry did not want legislators and the public to question whether the severance taxes and royalties paid to the state were accurately calculated.

The Department of Natural Resources betrayed the trust of the people of this state. It failed its fiduciary responsibility twice; first, as collector of royalty payments, and again during the time it served as chief auditor of severance tax collections. It has repeatedly put the needs of the industry above the needs of the people of this state.

For the oil and gas industry, $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemption payments were not enough. Its greed is so great that, in a time of fiscal constraints on state government, it went out of its way to cheat the state out of still more money. It used its power and influence in the Department of Natural Resources and its ties to the Jindal administration to do so.

By these acts, the oil and gas industry has shown itself to be unworthy of the trust we have placed in it.

For Looting Louisiana in our time of fiscal need, the oil and gas industry must be stripped of its severance tax exemptions. Under the Louisiana Constitution, we are entitled to the full benefits of this state’s mineral wealth.

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Bobby Jindal has promised to find money to address the funding crisis facing Louisiana’s public colleges and universities but besides the obvious dire financial straits in which the state currently finds itself, two important obstacles must be overcome by our absentee governor: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Grover Norquist.

The odds of appeasing just one in efforts to raise needed funding for higher education will be difficult enough, given Jindal’s allegiance to the two. Obtaining the blessings of both while simultaneously distracted by the siren’s call of the Republican presidential nomination will be virtually impossible.

Higher education, already hit with repeated cuts by the Jindal administration, is facing additional cuts of up to $600 million, or 82 percent of its current budget, according to news coming out of the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/louisianas_higher_education_bu.html

Such a fiscal scenario could result in the closure of some schools and across the board discontinuation of programs.

Moody’s, the bond-rating service, has warned that Louisiana higher education cannot absorb any further cuts. http://www.treasury.state.la.us/Lists/SiteArticlesByCat/DispForm_Single.aspx?List=c023d63e%2Dac65%2D439d%2Daf97%2Dda71d8688dff&ID=884

Louisiana has already cut per student spending by 42 percent since fiscal year 2008 (compared to the national average of 6 percent), fourth highest in the nation behind Arizona, New Hampshire and Oregon. The actual cut in dollars, $4,715 per student, is second only to the $4,775 per student cut by New Mexico. To help offset those cuts, Louisiana colleges and universities have bumped tuition by 38 percent, 10th highest in the nation but still a shade less than half the 78.4 percent increase for Arizona students. http://www.cbpp.org/research/recent-deep-state-higher-education-cuts-may-harm-students-and-the-economy-for-years-to-come?fa=view&id=3927

But that’s all part of the game plan for ALEC, the “model legislation” alliance of state legislators heavily funded by the Koch brothers which has as its overall objective the privatization of nearly all public services now taken for granted: prisons, pension plans, medical insurance, and education, to name but a few. http://www.cbpp.org/research/alec-tax-and-budget-proposals-would-slash-public-services-and-jeopardize-economic-growth?fa=view&id=3901

Jindal has already incorporated some of ALEC’s privatization proposals, namely state employee medical insurance and elementary and secondary education. He met with less success in attempts to initiate prison privatization and state retirement reform.

ALEC also proposes abolishing state income taxes, another proposal floated and then quickly abandoned by Jindal but pushed successfully by Kansas Gov. Brownback. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/21/vwelfap/

And then there is Norquist, the anti-tax Republican operative who founded Americans for Tax Reform and who somehow survived the Jack Abramoff scandal and thrived. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Abramoff_Indian_lobbying_scandal

What strange hold does he have over Jindal?

The pledge.

Jindal, as did a couple dozen Louisiana legislators, signed onto Norquist’s “no-tax” pledge—a promise not to raise taxes under any circumstances. The pledge even prompted Jindal to veto a 4-cent cigarette tax renewal in 2011 because in his twisted logic, it was somehow a new tax. The legislature had to adopt a last-minute constitutional amendment to make the tax permanent.

Undeterred, Jindal, through communications director Mike Reed, has said he would support a cigarette tax increase this year only if it is offset with a tax cut elsewhere. This despite estimates that a higher tax would not only generate needed income for the state, but would, by encouraging smokes to quit and teens to not start smoking, create long-term health care savings for the state. His veto also flew in the face of a 1997 article that Jindal authored while secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in which he said, “Society must recover those costs which could have been avoided had the individual not chosen the risky behavior only to prevent others from having to bear the costs.” http://theadvocate.com/news/11930951-123/lawmaker-proposes-154-state-cigarette

Not to be confused with the “no-go” zones of Jindal’s vivid imagination, the “no-tax” pledge apparently is a good thing for Republicans and tea partiers and is considered sacrosanct to those who have taken the oath even if it locks politicians into the impossible situation of trying to resolve a $1.6 billion budgetary crisis while not increasing revenue.

Jindal routinely runs proposed legislation by Norquist for his blessings, according to Jindal spokesperson Reed who admitted as much. http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2015/03/in_jindals_world_tax_is_a_tax.html

Even U.S. Sen. David Vitter signed the pledge but has assured voters it won’t be binding on him as governor—a dubious promise that would make him unique among signers. After all, a pledge is a pledge and when one signs it, so what difference would it make which office he holds?

So, how does all this figure into the budget crisis for higher education in Louisiana?

In a word, privatization. Or, taking the “state” out of “state universities.”

While neither Jindal nor any legislator has dared breathe the word privatization as it regards the state’s colleges and universities, at least one Jindal appointee, Board of Regents Chairman Roy Martin of Alexandria, has broached the subject, speaking he said, strictly as an individual. http://theadvocate.com/news/11716059-123/regents-look-at-privatizing-public

The slashing of higher education budgets appears to be a pattern as governors attempt to wean colleges and universities from dependence on state funding, transitioning their status from state-supported to state-assisted to state-located. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/02/27/scott-walker-bobby-jindal-aim-to-slash-higher-ed-funding

Privatization of state colleges and universities would, of course, push tuition rates even higher, making a college education cost prohibitive for many. But that dovetails nicely with the ALEC agenda as income disparity continues to widen with ever more generous tax laws that benefit the super-rich while placing growing burdens on lower-income taxpayers. By winnowing out those who can least afford college, privatization necessarily enhances the selection process to serve the elite and at the same time, opens up additional revenue opportunities for those in position to take advantage of privatized services such as book stores, printing, food services, and general maintenance. http://gse.buffalo.edu/FAS/Johnston/privatization.html

There is already a backlog of nearly $2 billion in maintenance projects on state college and university campuses just waiting for some lucky entrepreneur with the right connections.

http://theadvocate.com/home/5997316-125/backlog-of-maintenance

States like Louisiana, by such actions as simply increasing our cigarette tax (third lowest in the nation) and being less generous with corporate tax breaks and initiatives, could have reduced the size of the spending cuts or avoided them altogether. Sadly, that was not done and those looking at someone to blame cannot point the finger only at Jindal; legislators have been complicit from the beginning and must shoulder the responsibility for the present mess.

As a result, state colleges and universities have already cut staff and eliminated entire programs to such a degree that Louisiana’s high school seniors already are considering options out of state and other states are obliging. https://lahigheredconfessions.wordpress.com/

Should the legislature adopt any measures to raise revenue for higher education, such measures likely would be vetoed by Jindal if he gets the message from Norquist to do so.

If that occurs, his palpable disregard for the welfare of this state as evidenced by his growing absence will be dwarfed by the affront of taking his cue of governance from a Washington, D.C. lobbyist as opposed to listening to his constituents who want real solutions and not political grandstanding.

But that certainly would be nothing new for Bobby Jindal.

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JINDAL STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS(FROM OUR ANONYMOUS CARTOONIST: CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

If there was any lingering doubt that Bobby Jindal has been committing payroll fraud, that doubt was erased in last Monday’s State of the State address to legislators at the opening of the 2015 legislative which, thankfully, will be his last such address.

Fraud is defined as:

  • The wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain;
  • Deceit, trickery, or breach of confidence perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage;
  • A person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

Payroll fraud is further defined as the unauthorized altering of payroll or benefits systems in order for an employee to gain funds which are not due. The person making financial gain could be the employee or could be an associate who is using the employee to commit the fraud while taking the funds for himself.

There are generally three types of payroll fraud but for our purposes we are interested in only one:

  • Ghost employees—A person, fictional or real, who is being paid for work he does not perform. In order for the fraud to work the ghost employee must be added to the payroll register. If the individual is paid a monthly salary this is easier for the fraudster, as once this has been set up there is little or no paperwork required. In order for the fraud to work, the ghost employee must be added elected to the payroll register. Once this has been set up, there is little or no paperwork required.

Under that definition, Jindal could certainly be considered a ghost employee. One person even suggested that it was not really Jindal speaking to legislators, that Jindal was actually in Iowa and they were being addressed by a hologram.

We maintain that Jindal is committing payroll fraud by vacating the state so often and leaving the details of running the state to appointed subordinates as inexperienced and naïve as he. The point here is this: No one on his staff was elected; he was. And he has not been at the helm of the ship of state and by absenting himself so frequently and so consistently as he gins up his presidential candidacy, he is committing payroll fraud, theft, and malfeasance. Others, like former Desoto Parish School Superintendent and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Walter Lee have been indicted and been prosecuted for payroll fraud.

Before we really get into his speech to legislators, JINDAL ADDRESS TO LEGISLATURE we simply must call attention to the feeble effort at humor he (or someone) injected into the third line of his speech:

“Well, here we are…at the moment that some of you have been waiting for a long time—my last state of the state speech.”

After an apparently appropriate pause, he continued: “No, that was not supposed to be an applause line…and I do appreciate your restraint.”

Seriously? You actually wrote that line in your speech? If you have to write that in, if you are incapable of ad-libbing that simple line, then we now understand that idiotic response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.

Before getting to the real meat of his legislative agenda for this year (if you can call it that), he touched ever-so-lightly on a few other points he generously referred to as his administration’s accomplishments. Our responses to each point are drawn directly from statistics provided by 24/7 Wall Street, a service that provides a steady stream of statistical data on business and government:

  • “We cleaned up our ethics laws so that now what you know is more important than who you know.” (A quick look at the appointment of Troy Hebert as director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after the baseless firing of Murphy Painter could quickly debunk that bogus claim. So could several appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors and the equally egregious firing of key personnel like Tommy Teague who did their jobs well but made the fatal mistake of crossing Mr. Egomaniac.)
  • “We reformed our education system…” (Louisiana is the fifth-worst educated state and we are the third-worst state for children who struggle to read);
  • “We reformed our health care system…” (Really? Is that why the privatization of our state hospitals remain in turmoil? That same reform ultimately forced the closure of Baton Rouge General Mid-City’s emergency room because of the overload brought on by the closure of Earl K. Long Hospital? Can we thank your “reform” for the fact that Louisiana still has the nation’s third-lowest life expectancy rate or that we enjoy the nation’s third-most unhealthy rating, that we are fifth-highest in cardiovascular deaths or that we have the highest obesity rate in the nation?);
  • “…Our economy is booming.” (Seriously? Louisiana is rated as the worst state for business in the U.S.; we rank sixth-highest among states where the middle class is dying; we remain the eighth-poorest state in the nation with a poverty rate that is third-highest, and we’re saddled with the fourth-worst income disparity in the nation and we’re rated the 10th-worst state in which to be unemployed.);
  • “We have balanced our budget every year…and have received eight credit upgrades.” (This one of those claims so preposterous one doesn’t know how to respond, but we’ll give it our best. Jindal has repeatedly patched budget holes by skimming funds from other agencies, like more than $400 million from the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, from the sale of the tobacco settlement, from ripping funds for the developmentally disadvantaged (to fund a race track tied a political donor—what was that line again about “what you know, not who you know”?), by cutting health care and higher education, by selling state property, and now he’s trying to cover the current $1.6 billion budget hole by selling the State Lottery. As for those credit upgrades, we can only point to the February action by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s bond rating agencies to move the state’s credit outlook from stable to negative—and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.);
  • “The end result is a stronger, more prosperous Louisiana for our children. I measure Louisiana’s prosperity not by the prosperity of our government, but by the prosperity of our people.” (So, why are the fifth-most dangerous state in the nation? The 10th-most miserable state? Why do we have the eighth-worst quality of life? And the 11th-worst run state in the nation? And why have you never once addressed in your seven-plus years in office our ranking as the number-one state in the nation for gun violence or our ranking as first in the world for our prison incarceration rate?)
  • “We don’t live by Washington’s rules of kicking our debts down the road.” (For the love of God…);
  • “We have laid out a budget proposal that seeks to protect higher education, health care and other important government functions.” (And that’s why higher education and health care have been cut each of your years in office and why more cuts are anticipated that could conceivably shut down some of our universities. You really call cuts of up to 80 percent “protecting” higher education?);
  • “We have a system of corporate welfare in this state.” (Wow. After more than seven years of giving away the store to the tune of billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks, you finally come the realization that perhaps your generosity to the Wal-Marts, chicken processing plants and movie production companies may have been a bit much—that those policies may have actually hurt the state? What brought about this sudden epiphany? Bob Mann, in his Something Like the Truth blog, was all over that when he called attention to Jindal’s latest comment in the face of his claim a couple of years ago that we were “crushing businesses” with oppressive taxes. We’ll let him take this one.) http://bobmannblog.com/2015/04/17/bobby-jindal-is-now-against-corporate-welfare/
  • “We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut…” (Why the hell did it take you seven years?)

After all was said and done, after his hit-and-run sideswipes at all his purported “accomplishments,” Jindal devoted the bulk of his address to only two issues: Common Core and religious liberty. Of the latter issue, he said, “I absolutely intend to fight for passage of this legislation.”

Jindal was referring to Bossier City Republican State Rep. Mike Johnson’s HB 707 which would waste an enormous amount of time and energy—time that could be better spent on far more pressing matters, like a $1.6 billion deficit—on preventing the state from taking “any adverse action” against a person or business on the basis of a “moral conviction about marriage.”

Despite claims by Jindal and Johnson to the contrary, the bill is nothing more than a clone of the Indiana law that constitutes a not-so-subtle attack on gays or anyone else with whom any businessman deems a threat to his or her definition of marriage.

So, after eight addresses to the legislature, Jindal has yet to address any of the issues like inadequate health care, violence, poverty, pay disparity or equal pay for women, increasing the minimum wage, poor business climate (his rosy claims notwithstanding), our highway system (we didn’t mention that, but we are the seventh-worst state in which to drive, with the 15th-highest auto fatality rate), or our having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Instead, the thrust of his address is aimed at Common Core—he called it federal control even though Common Core was devised by the nation’s governors and not the federal government—and something called the “Marriage and Conscience Act.”

And he expects those two issues, along with something he calls “American Exceptionalism,” to thrust him into the White House as leader of the free world.

And, of course, attacking national Democrats like Obama and just today, Hillary Clinton, on her claim of having immigrant grandparents. Jindal, of course, wants exclusive rights to that claim and says so with his oft-repeated platitude: My parents came to this country over 40 years ago with nothing but the belief that America is the land of freedom and opportunity. They were right. The sad truth is that the Left no longer believes in American Exceptionalism.”

Well, to tell the truth, if Bobby Jindal is the example—the standard-bearer, if you will—for what is considered “American Exceptionalism,” then frankly, we don’t believe in it either.

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U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle could well be running for governor of Texas instead of Louisiana, if campaign contributions through March 31 are any indication.

That’s because between the two, there have been 69 contributions from donors in the Lone Star State totaling more than half a million dollars, according to campaign finance reports on file with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

In fact, it might even appear to some that there is a disproportionate amount of out-of-state money that has already been invested in the four major candidates for governor—and the Oct. 24 primary election is still six months away.

Besides the 317 out-of-state contributors who have combined to pour $900,000 into the four campaigns, 954 special interests (corporations, political action committees, etc.) have funneled more than $3 million of the total $6.1 million contributed to the campaigns of Republicans Vitter, Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards, records show.

With nearly half the total contributions coming from special interests—the numbers do not include donations made by individuals and family members affiliated with corporations—it is evident that the decision of choosing political leaders has been taken away from the citizenry in favor of moneyed power brokers.

Elections now go to the candidate who has the most money to spend on the slickest image building and most damaging character assassination of the opposition—all with little or no attention given to real issues or genuine political ideology. It’s as if every candidate has adopted the sales adage that says you don’t sell the hamburger, you sell the sizzle. To create that sizzle, politicians have shamelessly sold their souls to people like the Koch brothers, financier George Soros, Amway founder Richard DeVos, Las Vegas casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn.

Voters would probably be wise to examine the issues more carefully, question candidates on their positions and reject the big money the way the old 1960s-era print advertisement for the Volkswagen Beetle which shows two men campaigning from convertible vehicles, one photo has a candidate standing in the rear seat of a luxury vehicle (it appears to be a Cadillac) trailed by a marching band, and the other from the back seat of an economy Beetle with a lone bass drummer behind him—with the caption “Which man would you vote for?”

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Indeed, Louisiana, which man would you vote for? It would behoove us to take long looks at the candidates and what they stand for and not vote for the one who can best saturate TV ads with photos of him and his beaming family as he prattles on about how much he loves corporate donors and PACs this state.

Julia O’Donoghue, writing for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, noted that each of the four leading candidates for governor said he will not be signing the “no-tax” pledge of Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/03/post_584.html

“As Louisiana’s next governor, I’ll make fiscal decisions that are best for Louisiana, not based on what a Washington group dictates,” says Vitter, the top money-raiser of the four. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/03/grover_norquists_no_tax_increa.html

But though Vitter says he would not sign the pledge as governor, he already has, as U.S. Senator.

That’s why it is so crucial to watch what the candidates do and not what they say. As you watch the polished TV ads in the coming months remember that old expression “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you are saying.”

That’s especially true of Vitter and Angelle. One has somehow survived not one, but two, extra-marital scandals, either one of which would have destroyed the political careers of other men, and the other is nothing more than Third Term Jindal—an appointee of and anointed by the man who single-handedly wrecked higher education, the Office of Group Benefits, the state’s hospital system, the state’s infrastructure and the state’s economy while on his way (he somehow still believes) to the White House.

LouisianaVoice received a most interesting web post about so-called “dark money” in political campaigns. The post, entitled Be Afraid of the Dark: How Dark Money affects elections, is the creation of Accounting-Degree.org and though dated, provides a thorough explanation of how $200 million in dark money—money not covered by federal disclosure rules intended to inform the public of who is paying to influence its vote—was expected to be spent in the 2014 Congressional elections last fall. http://www.accounting-degree.org/dark-money/

It goes into a detailed explanation of:

  • The 1976 U.S. Supreme Court Decision Buckley v. Valeo, which allowed unlimited campaign expenditures by individuals;
  • The Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision by the Supreme Court allowing unlimited outside campaign expenditures by corporations and labor unions;
  • The 2010 Speechnow v. FEC Appeals Court decision allowing unlimited contributins to political action committees by individuals;
  • Super PACs, the political action committees that accept and spend unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions (donors publicly disclosed);
  • 501(c)(4) Committees, the nonprofit campaign committees regulated by the IRS, not elections officials. Though not political in their primary function, they may accept and spend unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions and may then funnel money to super PACs (donors not publicly disclosed).

With an estimated $5 billion poured into last fall’s federal election campaigns, one has to wonder why the contributors, those who love power and love using it, would not be satisfied with using that money for the greater good—feeding the poor, paying teachers more, building infrastructure, health care, etc., rather than using it for the more sinister purpose of buying candidates and elections.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the campaign contributions from Jan. 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015 for the four leading gubernatorial candidates:

DAVID VITTER (Rep.): VITTER CONTRIBUTIONS

  • Total contributions: 1,158 totaling $3.7 million (Ave. contribution: $3,195);
  • Total contributions of $5,000 maximum: 592 at $2.96 million (Ave. contribution: $5,000);
  • Total special interest (corporations, PACs, etc.) at $5,000 maximum: 328 at $1.64 million (Ave. contribution: $5,000);
  • Total special interest contributions of all amounts: 532 at $2 million (more than half his total contributions of all amounts from all sources) (Ave. contribution: $3,759);
  • Total out-of-state contributions: 186 at $490,835 (Ave. contribution: $2,639) (including Texas: 54 for $201,500; Virginia: 19 for $38,500; Washington, D.C.: 12 for $27,000).

SCOTT ANGELLE (Rep.): ANGELLE CONTRIBUTIONS

  • Total contributions: 430 at $1.5 million (Ave. contribution: $3,486);
  • Total contributions of $5,000 maximum: 230 for $1,150,000 (Ave. contribution: $5,000);
  • Total special interest contributions of $5,000 maximum: 130 at $650,000 (Ave. contribution: $5,000);
  • Total special interest contributions, all amounts: 213 for $800,500 (Ave. contribution: $3,758);
  • Total out-of-state contributions: 84 for $339,000 (Ave. contribution: $4,036) (including Texas: 74 at $316,000, an average contribution of $4,270).

JAY DARDENNE (Rep.): JAY DARDENNE CONTRIBUTIONS

  • Total contributions: 409 at $597,000 (Ave. contribution: $1,460);
  • Total contributions at $5,000 maximum: 46 at $230,000 (Ave. contribution: $5,000);
  • Total special interest contributions of $5,000 maximum: 16 at $80,000 (Ave contribution: $5,000);
  • Total special interest contributions, all amounts: 115 at $111,825 (Ave contribution: $972);
  • Total out-of-state contributions: 24 for $36,350 (Ave. contribution: 1,515) (Texas: 13 for $20,320 for an average contribution of $1,563).

JOHN BEL EDWARDS (Dem.): JOHN BEL EDWARDS CONTRIBUTIONS

  • Total contributions: 198 at $299,700 (Ave. contribution: $1,514);
  • Total contributions of $5,000 maximum: 15 at $75,000 (Ave. contribution: $5,000);
  • Total special interest contributions of $5,000 maximum: 5 at $25,000 (Ave. contribution $5,000);
  • Total special interest contributions, all amounts: 94 at $94,250 (Ave. contribution: $1,003);
  • Total out-of-state contributions: 23 at $24,200 (Ave. contribution: $1,052).

QUICK SUMMARY:

  • Out-of-state contributions: Vitter with 186 for $490,835, compared to 131 for $399,550 for the other three candidates combined;
  • Special interest contributions: Vitter with 532 for $2 million, compared to 422 for $1,006,375 for the other three candidates combined;
  • Special interest contributions of $5,000 maximum: Vitter with 328 for $1.64 million, compared to 151 for $755,000 for Angelle, Dardenne and Edwards combined;
  • Contributions of the $5,000 maximum: 592 for $2.96 million while the remaining three candidates combined for 291 contributions totaling $1,455,000.

Finally, it might be worth mentioning that in 2011 Bobby Jindal raised a whopping $12 million for his re-election campaign.

And you see what that bought us.

 

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By Stephen Winham (Special to LouisianaVoice)

I became the state budget director in 1988.  Because we had consistently spent more than we had taken in since 1984, we faced a $1 Billion dollar budget and cash flow hole in a budget less than half the size of today’s.  We literally did not have the money to pay our day-to-day bills and, like too many of our citizens, had to hold off paying them until we had the cash.  We were flat busted.

In an effort to ensure this never happened again, we enacted a comprehensive package of budget reforms, including establishing  an official revenue forecast; prohibiting the use of one-time money for recurring expenses; requiring a balanced budget from initial presentation through enactment  and to be maintained throughout the year; providing that any interfund borrowing (the mechanism that enabled us to go totally broke in 1988) had to be repaid by the end of the year in which it was borrowed, and many others.

To address the immediate emergency, we took the unprecedented step of creating a special taxing district that issued bonds we paid back over 10 years by dedicating one cent of our sales tax to debt service.

We began to diversify our economic revenue base.  For example, we went from a 40% reliance on mineral revenues to a less than 10% reliance on them today.  We raised other taxes, including, most notably, sales taxes.

We took full advantage of a federal Medicaid program paying high rates to facilities serving a disproportionate share of poor people (we made an annual “profit” of $700 million from this program during its peak).

We enacted the lottery, riverboat, and land-based casino gambling.

All of these kept us going until 1995 when our economy finally began to perform really well and did so through 1998.  Our economy slowed down in 1999 and it was necessary to pass more taxes.

In 2002, the legislature passed, and the state’s voters approved a plan by Representative Vic Stelly that substituted increases in income taxes for 4 cents of sales taxes on food and utilities and placed these exemptions, along with those on pharmaceuticals, in the state constitution.  The reason:  Because sales taxes are regressive and because income taxes generally respond better to our economy than sales taxes.  In my opinion, and that of many others, the Stelly Plan was the best fiscal legislation passed in our history.

We were doing pretty well until 2005 when Katrina struck.  Ironically, recovery from Katrina fueled our economy to the point that by the time Governor Jindal took office in 2007, we had a $1.1 Billion surplus.  Governor Blanco’s last proposed budget was $29.2 billion, of which over $8.0 billion was disaster relief money.  The legislature enacted a $32 Billion budget that year, including the $8.0 billion in non-recurring money.

So, what happened?

Well, remember those laws we passed to ensure we engaged in sound budgetary practices?  We began to ignore them and we spent the $1.1 Billion surplus and every other pot of one-time money we could find.  We repealed HALF, NOT ALL, of Stelly – the income tax increases that would be generating about what we lose in the sales tax exemptions still on the books today -about $700 million.

We cut corporate taxes in half – by a cool Billion.

We pretended we had a balanced budget every year, but using common sense and the letter of the laws we enacted, it is clear we, in fact, DID NOT.  And, although cuts were made – state funding to higher education, as one example, has been cut by $500 million – we NEVER made the cuts necessary to balance recurring spending with recurring revenue.  Why?  According to Kristy Nichols, Commissioner of Administration, as quoted in 2013, doing so would result in “needless reductions to critical services.”  WHAT?  Are you saying you didn’t cut the budget because you couldn’t?  Or, are you for cutting the budget, but you really don’t want to do so?

Governor Jindal continues to be widely quoted, to this day, saying we need to live within our means.  If that is true, why does he not present budgets that do so?  As long as projected revenues from reliable, stable sources do not equal projected necessary expenditures, we will NEVER have a balanced budget.

Could anything possibly be simpler, or make more sense, than balancing what you plan to spend with what is coming in so you don’t dig a hole for yourself?

It is certainly easy to understand why it is difficult to make hard cuts when cash is, or even may be available, but willfully allowing gross fiscal instability to continue indefinitely is a violation of the public trust and ultimately leads to wasteful spending and the inability to see true inefficiencies because the fiscal house is always on fire.  It is beyond time we were presented with an honest budget on which to make honest decisions.

So, you might rightly ask, “How would you fill the $1.6 Billion hole we read about every day in the papers?”

There are an almost infinite number of ways to do so.  Here’s one:

$1.600 reported gap

($0.160): Don’t Fund Inflation and other continuation costs. We rarely do, anyhow.

($0.180): Make cuts pursuant to consultant “efficiency” recommendations. We ought to get something for the $7 million we blew on this contract.

($0.100): Increase tobacco tax to the southern average

($0.700): Restore the income tax provisions of the Stelly Plan

($0.149): Eliminate the refundable tax credits proposed by the governor, except the inventory credit.

($0.100): Cap film tax credits at $150 million

($0.200): Eliminate exemption from severance taxes on horizontal wells. This was new technology when the exemption was granted. It certainly isn’t now, so no incentive is needed.

($0.011): A rounding figure, based on the Executive Budget. Or do $11 million of the $415 million in strategic cuts recommended by the governor – or, dozens of other possibilities.

$0.000 Remaining Problem.

Too simple, right?   And, perhaps, other holes could be poked in my scenario as well, but it proves it is possible to take a pragmatic approach, combining cuts with a limited number of revenue measures for a relatively simple solution.  We often make things a lot more complicated than they are.  I am convinced our government leaders often make simple things complicated in hope citizens won’t know and question what’s going on.

Regardless of what happens we must have an honest budget. If balancing recurring expenses with recurring revenues means making draconian cuts, so be it. Because they have been misled repeatedly, the bulk of our citizens will never believe we have a problem (or one that can’t simply be solved with cuts) until they experience the reality of a true “reform” budget that raises no revenues and cuts services to achieve balance. I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that, but it may be the only path to real reform.

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