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Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

As recently as Jan. 16, a headline on NOLA.com proclaimed, “No mid-year budget cuts will be required as Louisiana revenue dips only slightly.”

For the first time in six years, the ensuing story said, “Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration will not have to make mid-year budget cuts because of less than projected state revenue.”

Fast forward to last Friday, April 4, (late Friday, that is; the tradition of announcing bad news late on Fridays is known in political circles as “taking out the trash,” according to our friend Bob Mann):

Jindal releases a five-page executive order that, says, among other things:

  • Whereas, to ensure that the State of Louisiana will not suffer a budget deficit…prudent money management practices dictate that the best interests of the citizens of the State of Louisiana will be served by implementing an expenditure freeze throughout the executive branch of state government;
  • Now, therefore, I, Bobby Jindal…do hereby order and direct as follows:
  • “All departments, agencies, and/or budget units of the executive branch…shall freeze expenditures as provided in this executive order;
  • “No department, agency, and/or budget unit of the executive branch…shall make any expenditure of funds related to…travel, operating services, supplies, professional services, other charges, interagency transfers, acquisitions and major repairs.”

There followed, as is the case in all such executive orders, a laundry list of exemptions and escape clauses.

But the bottom line nevertheless is tantamount to mid-year budget cuts; the meaning is the same, no matter how the governor tries to spin it.

Oh, there are those who will, of course, argue that a spending freeze is not a budget cut. Those would be the same people (read: Jindal) who said a couple of years back he would veto a 5-cent per pack cigarette tax renewal because he was opposed to new taxes.

Or, taking to its extreme, the administration could trot out Sen. Elbert Guillory (R-D-R-Opelousas—we never know from one day to the next if the announced candidate for lieutenant governor is Republican or Democrat; he’s been both Republican, Democrat and back again) who so eloquently explained the subtle difference between cockfighting and “chicken boxing” during the current legislative session. And yes, he actually did employ that term in defending the activity that is illegal in every single state, including New Mexico, the last to ban cockfighting.

That’s a quick turnaround: less than three months after Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols assured us that a projected $35 million budgetary shortfall could be made up with extra revenue expected to be generated by the state’s recent tax amnesty program.

Apparently not.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), a member of the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference, blamed Internet shopping for part of the shortfall, saying Louisiana internet shoppers were not submitting sales taxes on their purchases.

Other states—including Arkansas and Alabama who must not have Internet access for their citizens—have experienced increases in sales tax revenues.

All this voodoo economics (to borrow a term from George Bush the First) boils down to one simple yes-or-no question we all should ask of ourselves:

Would we trust this governor or this commissioner of administration to do our taxes?

Here’s the sobering answer to that not-so-rhetorical question: we already are.

Indeed, we have been for the past six years.

 

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An interesting civil trial is transpiring at the 19th Judicial District Court. Though estimates vary, if the plaintiffs prevail, about one taxpayer in five in the Greater Baton Rouge area may eventually wind up with a surprise check in the mail.

The trial involves a group of taxpayers, now represented as a class, who have sued the Amite River Basin Commission (ARBC) over what they claim are vastly overpaid property taxes covering construction of the Comite River Diversion Canal. The project was originally envisioned after the massive 1983 flood which resulted in significant backwater flooding long after rains had stopped. The concept behind the project involves providing a sort of relief valve (the Canal) to divert water from the Comite River into the Mississippi River. By lowering the water level of the Comite River, water levels would also be lowered in the Amite River basin in flood-prone areas such as Port Vincent and French Settlement.

What is in dispute is the amount of funding for which the ARBC (through local property owners) is responsible. The original estimate of the project’s construction costs was approximately $120 million (the current estimate is $199 million). Of that $120 million, the Army Corps of Engineers (through the Federal government) was to be responsible for 70% of the construction costs, or $84 million. The remaining $36 million cost was originally designated to be $30 million to the State of Louisiana, and $6 million to the ARBC.

A sidebar to the whole affair is how a Baton Rouge lawyer is legally or ethically able to represent ARBC when he also served as the plaintiff attorney in litigation against the state that could ultimately cost the state from $60 million to $70 million.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated that $6 million was the full extent of the construction costs for which the ARBC was responsible. To date, by way of a 3-mill property tax approved by voters in the District in 2000, combined with a renewal (at 2.65 mills) of that tax in 2010, plaintiff attorneys say about $24.5 million has been collected to date. The suit seeks a refund of the alleged $18.5 million overpayment.

At various stages in the trial, plaintiff attorneys have accused ARBC Executive Director Deitmar Rietschier of financial mismanagement and voter deception in order to “keep a project alive that is on life support.”

The attorneys have argued that Rietschier has an ulterior motive for over-collecting on the tax in order to fund his own $93,000+ annual salary along with his executive secretary’s $38,000 salary.  The board’s executive secretary, Toni Guitrau, also happens to be the Mayor of the Livingston Parish Village of French Settlement.

So, basically, the trial boils down to the claim that taxpayers of the district have been tricked into paying around $1.1 million in salaries for Rietschier and Guitrau during a period for which no funding has been appropriated for the project’s continued construction.

Plaintiff attorney Steve Irving argued that it is virtually impossible to accurately estimate the final cost of the project or if, it may even be completed.

Defense attorney Larry Bankston says there never was any intent to cap the ARBC’s contribution to construction costs at $6 million. He argues that the Canal project remains viable and is fully ongoing. He indicated that he has eight more witnesses to call.

Bankston’s roles as both plaintiff and defense attorney in cases involving the state would appear to pose a conflict of interests. Currently, he is:

  • Legal counsel to the State Auctioneer Licensing Board under a $25,000 contract;
  • Defense attorney for ARBC in its ongoing litigation over the overpayment of taxes to that board;
  • Plaintiff attorney in ongoing litigation against the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, and the state’s Rice Promotion Board and Rice Research Board over claims of excessive assessments against the state’s rice farmers.

Employing the doctrine that “the state is the state is the state,” it would appear that Bankston may have a conflict of interests under the code of ethics which governs attorney representation.

But as we discovered years ago, nothing is ever cut and dried in the legal world. And it’s obvious those in charge of attorney ethics or either ignorant of the subject or protective of their peers—or both.

And so it is with this question. We contacted a number of organizations, including the Attorney Disciplinary Board, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center, and the State Bar Ethics Council and each one punted. Eric K. Barefield of the State Bar Association’s Ethics Council did finally respond to our email question about the propriety of working both sides of Litigation Street but his answer did little to shed light on the issue:

“Thank you for your inquiry. The Louisiana State Bar Association’s Ethics Advisory Service is designed to provide eligible Louisiana-licensed lawyers with informal, non-binding advice regarding their own prospective conduct and/or ethical dilemmas under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct (the “LRPC”).  According to limitations set by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, we are not permitted to evaluate contemplated disciplinary complaints, to serve as the catalyst for potential complaints or even to comment on the conduct of lawyers other than that of the requesting lawyer. 

“As such, regrettably, we are not permitted to help you evaluate whether the lawyer in your scenario has or may be violating the LRPC nor are we permitted to give you legal advice on matters such as those contained in your e-mail. 

“In addition to the foregoing, if you are concerned about protecting and/or asserting your rights and interests in this matter, perhaps you should strongly consider consulting another lawyer as soon as possible with regard to getting an evaluation of your facts and a legal opinion about your rights, interests and options.  Regrettably, no one on the staff at the LSBA is permitted to offer legal assistance and/or legal advice.”

That rendition of the Bureaucratic Shuffle would easily get a “10″ rating on Dancing with the Stars.

Bankston, you may remember, is a former staff attorney for the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, was assistant parish attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish and a member of the Baton Rouge City-Parish Commission before his 1987 election to the Louisiana State Senate.

In 1994, while serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bankston met in his law office with Fred Goodson, owner of a Slidell video poker truck stop. The FBI later said Bankston and Goodson discussed a plan to manipulate the legislative process in order to protect the interests of video poker companies in exchange for providing key legislators secret financial interests in video poker truck stops.

Bankston was subsequently indicted and convicted on two racketeering counts, one of which was a scheme whereby Goodson would pay Bankston “rent” of $1,555 per month for “non-use” of Bankston’s beachfront condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama—a bribe, according to prosecutors.

Bankston was sentenced to 41 months in prison in 1997 and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

Released on Nov. 6, 2000, Bankston was subsequently disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Mar. 9, 2002, retroactive to Nov. 19, 1997, but was re-admitted to practice law on Feb. 5, 2004.

So, now he represents two state boards and is suing two others and a state agency.

And there apparently is no one who can—or will—call a foul in this game.

 

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may have suffered a mass exodus of sorts in the wake of its Stand Your Ground mantra that led to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, but ALEC is far too strong to let a few defections stand in the way of its political agenda in such areas as public education (even to borrowing from John White’s playbook), weakening workers’ rights, diluting environmental protections, healthcare and now even in the way U.S. senators are nominated and elected.

For that reason alone, the upcoming legislative session which begins at noon on March 10—less than two months from now—will bear close watching for any bills that might appear to have originated at ALEC’s States & Nation Policy Summit last month in Washington, D.C.

ALEC, while striving to change laws to meld with its agenda, nevertheless denies that it is a lobbying organization. That way, corporations and individuals who underwrite ALEC financially are able to claim robust tax write-offs for funding ALEC and its companion organization, the State Policy Network (SPN).

ALEC has a strong presence in Louisiana. Former legislator Noble Ellington, now a deputy commissioner in the Louisiana Department of Insurance, is a former national president of the organization and Gov. Bobby Jindal was recipient of its Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award a couple of years ago when ALEC held its national conference in New Orleans.

Current Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC are:

House of Representatives:

  • Rep. John Anders (D-Vidalia), Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans),      attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting;
  • Rep. Timothy G. Burns (R-Mandeville), Civil Justice Task Force Alternate;
  • Rep. George “Greg” Cromer (R-Slidell), State Chairman, Civil Justice Task Force (announced he was resigning from ALEC and from his position as Alec state chairman of Louisiana on April 17, 2012);
  • Rep. James R. Fannin (R-Jonesboro), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Franklin J. Foil (R-Baton Rouge), Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Brett F. Geymann (R-Lake Charles), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Rep. Johnny Guinn (R-Jennings);
  • Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), State Chairman, member of Education Task Force; (solicited funds for “ALEC Louisiana      Scholarship Fund” on state stationery July 2, 2012);
  • Rep. Cameron Henry, Jr. (R-Metairie), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville);
  • Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Girod Jackson (D-Marrero), (resigned last August after being charged with fraud);
  • Rep. Harvey LeBas (D-Ville Platte),  ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Rep. Walter Leger, III (D-New Orleans), ALEC Education Task Force;
  • Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie), (attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting where he spoke on “Saving Dollars and Protecting Communities: State Successes in Corrections Policy”);
  • Rep. Nicholas J. Lorusso (R-New Orleans), ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Rep. Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge;
  • Rep. John M. Schroder, Sr. (R-Covington), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force;
  • Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport);
  • Rep. Scott M. Simon (R-Abita Springs), ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force;
  • Rep. Thomas Willmott (R-Kenner), ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force;

Senate:

  • Sen. John A. Alario, Jr.(R-Westwego), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force;
  • Sen. Jack L. Donahue, Jr. (R-Mandeville), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Dale Erdey (R-Livingston); Health and Human Services Task Force;
  • Sen. Daniel R. Martiny (R-Metairie); Public Safety and Elections Task Force;
  • Sen. Fred H. Mills, Jr. (R-New Iberia), ALEC Civil Justice Task Force member;
  • Sen. Ben Nevers, Sr. (D-Bogalusa), ALEC Education Task Force member;
  • Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Gary L. Smith, Jr. (R-Norco), ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi)
  • Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, Jr. (R-Central), ALEC Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force.

All ALEC meetings are held under tight security behind closed doors. During one recent conference, a reporter was not only barred from attending the meeting, but was actually not allowed into the hotel where the event was being held.

Apparently, there is good reason for that. It is at these conferences that ALEC members meet with state legislators to draft “model” laws for legislators to take back to their states for introduction and, hopefully, passage. Some of the bills being considered for 2014 are particularly noteworthy.

We won’t know which proposals were ultimately approved at that December meeting in Washington, however, because of the secrecy in which the meetings are held. We will know only if and when they are introduced as bills in the upcoming legislative session. But they should be easy to recognize.

One which will be easy to recognize is ALEC’s push for implementation of Louisiana’s Course Choice Program in other states. Course Choice, overseen by our old friend Lefty Lefkowith, is a “mini-voucher” program which lets high school students take free online classes if their regular schools do not offer it or if their schools have been rated a C, D or F by the state.

Course Choice has been beset by problems in Louisiana since its inception first when companies offering classes under the program began canvassing neighborhoods to recruit students and then signing them up without their knowledge or permission. Vendors offering the courses were to be paid half the tuition up front and the balance upon students’ graduation, making it a win-win for the vendors in that it didn’t really matter if students completed the courses for the companies to be guaranteed half the tuition. Moreover, there was no oversight built into the program that would ensure students actually completed the courses, thus making it easy for companies to ease students through the courses whether or not they actually performed the work necessary to obtain a grade. The Louisiana Supreme Court, however ruled the funding mechanism for Course Choice from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program unconstitutional.

Three other education proposals by ALEC appear to also borrow from the states of Utah. The first, the Early Intervention Program Act, is based on Utah’s 2012 law which has profited ALEC member Imagine Learning by diverting some $2 million in tax money from public schools to private corporations. But Imagine Learning did not offer test scores for the beginning and ending of the use of its software, little is known of what, if any, benefits students might have received. The Student Achievement Backpack Act and the Technology-Based Reading Intervention for English Learners Act also appear to be based on Utah’s education reform laws.

The former provides access to student data in a “cloud-based” electronic portal format and was inspired by Digital Learning Now, a project of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education when he was Florida’s governor.

Not all of ALEC’s proposals address public education.

For example, do you like to know the country of origin of the food you place on your table? More than 90 percent of American consumers want labels telling them where their meat, fruits, vegetables and fish are from, according to polling data. ALEC, though, is resisting implementation of what it calls “additional regulations and requirements for our meat producers and processors,” including those that would label countries of origin.

ALEC’s “Punitive Damages Standards Act” and the accompanying “Noneconomic Damage Awards Act” would make it more difficult to hold corporations accountable or liable when their products or practices result in serious harm or injury.

The organization’s “Medicaid Block Grant Act” seeks federal authorization to fund state Medicaid programs through a block grant or similar funding, a move that would cut Medicaid funding by as much as 75 percent. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has pushed similar block grant systems for Medicaid in several of his budget proposals.

In what has to qualify as a “WTF” proposal, ALEC for the second straight year is seeking approval of a bill to end licensing, certification and specialty certification for doctors and other medical professionals as requirements to practice medicine in the respective states and to prohibit states from funding the Federation of State Medical Boards.

Then there is the “Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act,” which is considered an assault of sorts on the 17th Amendment. For more than a century, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures, a practice which often led to deadlocks and stalemates, leaving Senate seats open for months on end. But 101 years ago, in 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified, changing the method of choosing senators to popular vote by the citizenry.

While ALEC’s proposal doesn’t mean full repeal of the 17th Amendment, it does mean that in addition to other candidates, legislatures would be able to add their own candidates’ names to ballots for senate seats. ALEC, apparently, is oblivious or unconcerned with a national poll that shows 71 percent of voters prefer electing senators by popular vote.

To keep track of these and other ALEC bills introduced in the upcoming session, just keep an eye on the member legislators and the bills they file.

And keep reading LouisianaVoice.

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“A lot of people know they owe money. This gives an opportunity for them to save some money and get the debt cleared.”

—Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), on the two-month tax amnesty program that goes into effect on Sept. 23 and which will allow delinquent taxpayers to save 100 percent on penalties and half of the interest on their late taxes.

“By creating the Office of Debt Recovery and better collecting funds owed to the state, we can use taxpayer dollars more responsibly and ensure that we continue funding critical services like education and health care.”

—Gov. Bobby Jindal, on signing HB 629 (Act 399) into law, creating the Office of Debt Recovery within the Department of Revenue.

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Some things are just downright difficult to understand;

  • Item: On June 20, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed HB 629 (Act 399) into law. The bill, passed during the 2013 legislative session, created the Office of Debt Recovery within the Louisiana Department of Revenue for the collection of delinquent debts owed to certain government entities—taxes that one source said far exceed the official estimates.
  • Item: A month later, on July 21, Jindal signed HB 456 (Act 421) into law that created a tax amnesty program whereby those owing taxes to the state may have 100 percent of their penalties and half the interest waived. The letters being sent out this week to delinquent taxpayers, however, could provide them with an argument on a legal technicality that also won’t have to pay the tax principal amounts.

As we said, some things just don’t make sense.

On the one hand, the legislature passes and Jindal signs into law a bill creating an agency whose specific purpose is to collect debt—lots of debts—owed to the state.

The new agency, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office will create 23 new state positions (the antithesis of the Jindal philosophy of government) at a cost of $1.7 million per year in salaries and benefits and another $4.4 million in administrative costs.

But with nearly $1.4 billion in payments owed to state government that are at least six months overdue, that would seem to be a good investment in that one estimate says that if the state increases debt collection efforts on such outstanding debts as delinquent college tuition installments and unpaid environmental monitoring fees by as little as 10 percent, it could generate an additional $100 million per year for the state.

On the other hand, Jindal’s new $250,000-a-year Secretary of Revenue and the Louisiana Legislature, by virtue of Act 421, will let delinquent taxpayers off the hook for all penalties and half the interest owed on those back taxes.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates about 300,000 persons and businesses who owe some $700 million in delinquent taxes will be eligible for the amnesty program, though only about 30,000 are expected to take advantage of the amnesty date, which will begin on Sept. 23 and end on Nov. 22.

The state anticipates receiving $200 million from the program for the current fiscal year with the revenues earmarked for health care bills. Any shortfall will result in even more health care cuts.

LouisianaVoice, however, has received information that indicates the amount of delinquent taxes, interest and penalties may be far larger than the $700 million estimate—almost three times that much, in fact.

Figures provided us shows that the total owed exceeds $2 billion. That includes taxes of $1.03 billion, interest of $687,000 and penalties of $301 million.

“It is amazing how many taxes are not paid,” said our source. “Amnesty will give us another few years in ‘garage sale’ money and then when it runs out, say four years from now in the middle of the next administration (the) Jindalites can cry foul and push for more of the same type programs.”

The amnesty letters are being printed this weekend and will be mailed out within the next few days. “The letter tells taxpayers what they owe and explains that they owe half the interest and no penalty,” the LDR employee said. “But it doesn’t mention anything about paying the tax. A good lawyer could mount a good argument on this.

“The word is that the error was discovered this week and the change would have been minimal (by) adding the words ‘tax and’ before the interest comment,” the employee said. “The really interesting thing is this form letter was put together some time ago and at the last minute someone decided to proofread it. Still, it seems as though someone, maybe in the legal department, would have been given this to read.”

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BATON ROUGE (CNS)—The Walton Family Foundation, already the largest single donor to Teach for America (TFA), recently committed an additional $20 million to recruit, train and place an another 4,000 unqualified teachers in America’s classrooms.

That includes $3 million to the New Orleans region, administered by one Kira Orange Jones who sits on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which just happens to be the agency that contracts with TFA for those novice teachers.

In case you live in a cave, the Walton Family Foundation is the benevolent offshoot of Wal-Mart, one of the most successful retail businesses in American history but which is alone responsible for the demise of more neighborhood mom and pop stores than any one factor since the Great Depression—all while enjoying the benefit of almost $100 million in various tax breaks in 19 Louisiana cities, according to incomplete figures that do not include newer state stores.

More on that later.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics, apparently kept in the dark as to Jones’ title of Executive Director of the New Orleans TFA regional office, ruled that her serving on BESE was not a conflict because her salary was not affected by the contracts with the state.

The ethics board member—its vice chairman—who lulled the board into believing she was a mere rank and file employee of TFA, has since resigned after it was revealed that he had his own conflict as a legal counsel for Tulane University which also had a contract with TFA.

LouisianaVoice recently obtained through a public records request of the Department of Education (DOE) copies of three separate contracts between DOE’s Recovery School District (RSD) and TFA. Two of those contracts, dated in September of 2009 and 2011, were signed by Kira Orange Jones, complete with the notation beneath her signature identifying her as “Executive Director.”

Exercising a bit more caution in 2012, the contract was signed by Michael Tipton, Jones’ boss.

Those contracts, by the way, called for the state to pay TFA up to $5,000 per teacher provided for RSD—up to 40 teachers—and RSD would then be required to pay their salaries.

TFA alumnus Jack Carey, vice president of the greater New Orleans program said the money would fund more than 500 positions in the 2013 to 2015 school years, though with the state paying that generous “finder’s fee,” and local school boards paying the salaries, it’s rather difficult to imagine why an additional $3 million is needed other than to surmise the whole TFA thing is one gigantic scam designed to line someone’s pockets. That “someone” would be someone other than Louisiana teachers who have invested thousands of dollars on bachelor’s, master’s, and plus-30s and even Ph.Ds., but suddenly find themselves taking a back seat to those who train for five weeks over the summer to become teachers.

But it’s not only established teachers who take a dim view of TFA. Many of TFA’s own alumni are critical of the organization to which they once pledged their loyalty.

http://truth-out.org/articles/item/17750-teach-for-america-apostates-a-primer-of-alumni-resistance

One former TFA teacher now says that the organization glosses over issues of race and inequality but “fits very nicely into an overall strategy of privatizing education and diminishing critical thinking.”

Whenever a TFA teacher begins to questions the motives and intent of the program, “The staff would get together and talk about how to handle these people,” another former TFA member says. “They’d plunk him down with groups of ‘stronger corps members’ to improve his attitude” by “trying to further indoctrinate others and myself.”

Yet another dissident said he no longer recognized TFA. “All I see is a bunch of liars who are getting themselves rich and powerful. They just can’t stop lying.” He added that TFA refuses to recognize established evidence that a child’s socioeconomic level at birth better predicts his future tax bracket and educational attainment than how well her teachers prepare him for standardized tests.

“We really get to know what schools across our community need in the way of high-quality teachers,” Carey said, “and we work with them over the course of a year to understand their needs and help make great matches.”

Wow. How noble.

But perhaps Mr. Carey has not taken a trip down to the Ninth Ward to George Washington Carver High School.

I have.

Has Kira Orange Jones toured Carver High?

I have.

Washington Carver High School is the alma mater of Marshall Faulk, Heisman Trophy runner-up at San Diego State and all-pro running back for the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams (where he won a Super Bowl).

But you’d never know it.

Eight years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the entire Ninth Ward, the school still has not been rebuilt. Today, it consists entirely of T-buildings. Superintendent of Education John White’s annual report, released last February, lists Carver as among the schools scheduled for new construction. Even though the proposed construction is to be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), no steps have actually been taken to start construction other than the naming of two architectural firms. No contractor, though, eight years post-Katrina.

The football weight room is pathetic, consisting of three or four weight benches any other school would have thrown out years ago. There is no cover for the foam padding on the benches—padding that is crumbling. And the players’ lockers consist of plastic bins scattered across the floor—easy pickings for anyone who wanted to steal a watch or an i-Pod.

No one visiting the T-building weight room would ever believe that an NFL Super Bowl player once escaped the Desire Housing Project by playing his high school ball here.

Despite these conditions, George Washington Carver made it to the quarter-final round of the state high school football playoffs last year.

But far worse than the deplorable athletic facilities eight years post-Katrina is the fact that incredulous as it may sound, the school has no library.

Let that sink in. There is a public high school in Louisiana today that does not have a library.

Yet John White and Bobby Jindal and BESE President Chas Roemer would have us believe they’re all about education.

Gov. Jindal, Superintendent White, Chas Roemer, BESE member/TFA Director Kira Jones: what say you to the revelation that a public high school has allowed to exist under your watch that has no library? A school comprised exclusively of T-buildings? We’d love to hear your take on this. But please don’t hide behind Kyle Plotkin or your respective public relations sycophants in your response. (Surely is quiet; are those crickets we hear chirping?)

And so the Walton Family Foundation goes about with its press releases that glorify its generosity on behalf of education.

In truth, the Walton Family Foundation is all about the Waltons. TFA is simply the vehicle by which the Waltons try to put on their civic face. They are probably among the least civic minded of all.

Remember those patriotic television ads of a few years back when Wal-Mart was all about “American made” products? How long has it been since you’ve seen one of those ads? But we do hear about Bangladesh sweat shops collapsing on workers even as they turn out products for Wal-Mart.

And we hear plenty about how Wal-Mart exploits its U.S. workers with low wages and no benefits—all so it can keep corporate earnings up and competition out.

Wal-Mart is all about tax credits and making money. Here are 20 examples of economic development subsidies in 19 Louisiana cities, subsidies that total $96.5 million (the figures are probably higher because it’s virtually impossible to get updated figures from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development):

  • Abbeville: $1.665 million;
  • Alexandria: $2.5 million;
  • Bossier City: $1.7 million;
  • East Baton Rouge: $1.385 million;
  • Hammond: $1.365 million;
  • Monroe (Supercenter): $840,000;
  • Monroe (former discount store) $3.09 million;
  • Natchitoches: $1.5 million;
  • New Orleans: $7 million (estimate);
  • Opelousas (distribution center): $33 million;
  • Port Allen: $1 million;
  • Robert (distribution center): more than $21 million;
  • Ruston: more than $947,000;
  • Shreveport: $6.3 million;
  • St. Martinville: $3.725 million;
  • Sulphur: $1.8 million;
  • Vidalia: up to $1.65 million.

Wal-Mart’s expansion has been made possible to a large extent by the generous use of public money. This includes more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments, though the precise figures aren’t always available.

That’s because in Ruston, for example, the total subsidy was more than $947,000. That included a $647,000 enterprise zone tax break, plus $300,000 from the city in infrastructure improvements around the site through a state grant. But the city also made $12 million in road improvements throughout the area through a sales tax increment financing district. But since the district includes neighboring developments and because other area businesses benefitted from the road improvements, the benefits to Wal-Mart were impossible to quantify.

In addition, Louisiana Wal-Mart stores also receive about $5.4 million a year from a state policy that allows stories to keep a portion of the sales tax they collect from customers.

So, while the Walton Family Foundation gives itself a metaphoric pat on the back with its news release trumpeting its $20 million gift to TFA ($3 million allocated to Louisiana), it conveniently ignores how it has managed more than a billion dollars in tax dodges (nearly $100 million in Louisiana)—money that could have been used to support education.

Like perhaps permanent buildings, including a library, at George Washington Carver High School.

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It seems Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $500,000 advertising campaign was good money thrown after bad.

You’ve probably seen those ads paid for by Believe in Louisiana, the non-profit 527 political organization founded by Jindal supporter and Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister.

The advertising blitz was supposed to turn the tide in favor of Jindal’s proposal to abolish the state income tax in favor of a state sales tax increase that kept changing. The ads laid it out loud and clear: you either wanted to get rid of the state income tax or you preferred to “keep loopholes for lobbyists.” The ad concludes with the question, “Whose side are you on?”

Pretty simplistic. Very much like former President George W. Bush’s “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” in his dust-up to his Big Iraq Attack.

But just as Bush’s “Mission accomplished,” and his “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie” were a bit premature, so was the ad campaign.

And they were still running on Tuesday, a day after Jindal suddenly folded like a cheap suit on his tax proposal. That’s what happens when you make a large media buy. Just like furniture store and automotive ads that often continue to run a couple of days after a special promotional ad, the tax ads continue to implore viewers to tell their legislators to support the tax plan.

Jindal unexpectedly pulled the rug from under legislators who first heard that he was pulling the tax proposal bills when the governor announced it during his uncharacteristically brief 13-minute address to open the 2013 legislative session on Monday.

His decision, besides catching legislators short, also disappointed many who have grown to detest everything about this governor.

“I was almost sorry Jindal folded,” one Baton Rouge resident said. “I was hoping for a well-deserved humiliating defeat, which would have been good for the state, if not for him. He’s got about three more years to keep wrecking Louisiana. I’d rather have Edwards or Uncle Earl (Long) when he was in Mandeville,” he said in reference to Long’s commitment to East Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville in 1959 during the waning days of his last administration.

“Jindal is wrong about the GOP being the stupid party,” he said. “It’s the crazy party now and for the immediate future.”

Another longtime political observer said, “I wasn’t surprised that he capitulated. That was going to happen sooner or later. But I really was surprised that he had no Plan B,” he said. “How could they not have a fallback plan?”

The sudden retreat should not have caught anyone by surprise. Trying to decipher the governor’s tax plan was closely akin to trying to watch a black and white movie from the back row of an old drive-in theater in a thick fog.

But then, anyone parking on the back row of a drive-in theater on a foggy night probably had no intention of watching a movie in the first place, so perhaps that’s a bad analogy.

The lack of an alternative plan prompted retired Louisiana State Budget Director Stephen Winham to say that Jindal “never had a plan beyond elimination of income taxes and franchise taxes as an ancillary.”

But then Winham perhaps captured the quintessential Jindal when he predicted that Jindal would turn lemons into lemonade. “I think he can possibly salvage his national reputation, again based on my original premise that he can claim he tried to lead us to the Promised Land, but we just didn’t have sense enough to go.”

Winham said in a guest LouisianaVoice column way back on Jan. 25 that Jindal had “already achieved a major goal of this proposal—getting extensive national media coverage for making a bold proposal to fix Louisiana’s budget and economic development problems.”

A somewhat jaded Baton Rouge political junkie said Jindal realized his ambitious tax plan was stalled and would never get out of the House Ways and Means Committee. “No governor could have his plan die in committee, so he got in front of it and pulled it,” he said.

“I also think he did the smart thing by throwing it to the legislature. Now it’s on their backs. If they don’t come up with a plan (and they won’t) Jindal can blame the legislature,” he said, echoing Winham in predicting Jindal will play the blame game on his renewed national speaking tour.

Moving forward at the end of the day (as Jindal is fond of saying), the blame game is about all that is left for him in his efforts to save face in the coming weeks.

With the tax issue all but dead now, we can all turn our attention to the legislative debate on Jindal’s patchwork budget proposal.

That should be every bit as interesting as the highly anticipated tax debate that went out with a whimper after a lot of bravado, buildup and B.S.

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By Dayne Sherman
Guest columnist

I am deeply disturbed by many of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent actions—his callousness toward the Bayou Corne sinkhole evacuees, his funding of state services by a “garage sale” of assets, his unwillingness to accept constitutional restraints on his pension and K-12 education policies, his ongoing assault on colleges and universities, and his rejection of the Medicaid expansion for 400,000 of Louisiana’s citizens.

As if that were not enough, he currently is pushing a sales tax plan that will wreck retail businesses within a 50 mile radius of the state line and will tax groups such as the Council on Aging and Habitat for Humanity. The actual bill has not been filed yet out of deceit far more than building good policy and consensus.

I believe this is a reckless tax plan. It will lead to massive state deficits, harm small businesses, hurt 80 % of Louisiana citizens, further destroy colleges, and only serve to help our governor’s national image.

But I am heartened by a recent development, the 250 ministers who signed “An Open Letter from Louisiana Clergy to Governor Bobby Jindal” on March 18th. Their letter goes to the heart of what’s wrong with Jindal’s immoral tax plan.

The signees are a diverse group, the president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans and nearly every variety of Louisiana clergy, including the bishops of the Methodist and Episcopal churches.

It is sad that Gov. Jindal, a man who has preached in evangelical congregations statewide (before his reelection, none afterward), cares nothing about the Christianity he professes.

As Charles Pierce wrote for “Esquire” online, “By his works shall you know him and, by his works, ‘Bobby’ Jindal is no more a Christian than the average wolverine is. He’s a Pharisaical monster who’d have sold Mardi Gras beads on Golgotha.”

Though he claims to be a Catholic convert, Jindal obviously did not get the memo that the new pope has emphasized advocating for the weak and the poor, and the pontiff has taken the name Francis after the great Saint Francis of Assisi. Jindal’s “faith,” however, appears more like the selfishness of Ayn Rand and the corruption of Al Capone than the religion of Saint Francis.

Thank God citizens are waking up, and his popularity is falling like a lead sinker dropped in a bayou.

To cite only one recent example, the governor was the joke of the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he gave a bungled speech and was tied for 9th place in the presidential straw poll. His trampling of Louisiana people and institutions has neither helped Louisiana nor his national profile. The sales tax scheme is simply a way to further his amazingly delusional quest to be President of the United States at our expense. Even many Jindal supporters are scratching their heads, wondering what happened to their Rhodes Scholar.

The only message that Jindal respects is strong public pushback that costs him politically. Remember the huge raises for legislators in 2008 and his planned cuts to hospice in early 2013? He backed off. After environmental activist Erin Brockovich showed up at the Bayou Corne sinkhole, Jindal followed suit and headed there for the first time a week and a half later. When the heat is poured on Jindal, he folds up like a cheap accordion.

We all have a responsibility to fight Jindal’s tax swindle. On March 17, I wrote my local representatives about the tax debacle, but I did not receive word back from any of them. Perhaps other citizens will have better luck.

It’s time for all of us to stop Jindal’s wrongheaded sales tax scheme. But it’s going to take every one of us speaking up before it is too late.

Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of “Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel.” His website is daynesherman.com.

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Remember when teaching was about answering to a calling—before the Jindal administration came charging onto the scene with its half-baked ideas of education reform through sweeping legislation that promoted something called Teach for America?

As noble and magnanimous as Teach for America (TFA) would have you believe its motives to be, it would be wise to keep your eye on the dollar sign.

While Teach for America is going around asking for money from state legislators and local school districts, the organization has quietly been amassing a fortune even as TFA comes under fire from former TFA teachers and the media.

Like a snake trying to swallow its own tail, TFA has begun to devour itself, to feed off its own perceived success to the detriment of those it was formed to help.

TFA’s 2010 federal tax return reveals that it has received nearly $907.5 million in gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees over the five-year period from 2006 through 2010, including $243.6 million in 2010.

The breakdown, by year, shows that TFA had $77.94 million in income in 2006; $142.35 million in 2007; $251.52 million in 2008; $193 million in 2009, and $243.65 in 2010.

Other 2010 revenue brought TFA’s total income to $270.5 million against expenses of $218.7 million for a net income of $51.8 million, the return shows.

Of those expenses, $129.9 million was for salaries.

Another $548,437 was spent on “direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials and legislative bodies,” or lobbying.

TFA CEO Wendy Kopp is paid $393,600 by the organization she founded in 1989, according to the tax return, but the salaries of her support staff are equally impressive for an outfit that purports to wants only to uplift the nation’s neediest students in poverty-stricken school districts. A few examples:

• Matthew Kramer, President: $328,100;

• Tracy-Elizabeth Clay, General Counsel, Secretary: $174,500;

• Osman Kurtulus, Vice President of Accounting & Controls & Assistant Secretary: $178,500;

• Miguel Rossy, Chief Financial & Infrastructure Officer: $260,600;

• Elisa V. Beard, Chief Operating Officer: $233,400;

• Elissa Clapp, Senior Vice President of Recruitment: $246,700;

• Ellen N. Shepard, Chief Information Officer: $214,800;

• Lily Rager, Executive Vice President: $178,500;

• Aylon Samouha, Senior Vice President, Teacher Preparation Support: $253,500;

• Eric Scroggins, Executive Vice President: $231,000;

• Jeffrey Wetzier, Senior Vice President, Chief Learning Officer: $235,300;

• Kevin Huffman, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs: $243,300;

• Gillian C. Smith, Chief Marketing Officer: $238,800;

• Aimee Eubanks Davis, Chief People Officer: $229,000;

• Theordore Quinn, Vice President, Strategy & Research: $179,900.

So now, TFA, which faced financial collapse several times in the early years, comes begging to the state of Louisiana with a $5 million request for NGO (non-government organization) funding even though that request is a bit misleading.

The request is made on behalf of TFA by the compliant Department of Education (DOE) to fund TFA operations in several high need areas of the state. Instead, the legislature funds, through DOE, three contracts totaling more than $2.3 million to help recruit TFA teachers in different school districts around the state, including $1.27 million to specifically recruit teachers for the Recovery School District and for the Teaching Fellows program in northwest Louisiana.

In neighboring Mississippi, TFA requested a legislative appropriation of $12 million to send 700 recruits to the impoverished Delta area of the state. Instead, the Mississippi legislature appropriated $6 million, sufficient to fund 370 teachers.

Just how the money is spent is something of a mystery because the local school districts are required to pay TFA a fee of $3,000 per teacher recruited and the districts must also pay the TFA teacher salaries.

On top of all that, TFA receives generous grants and contributions from such philanthropists as the Walton family of the Wal-Mart retailing empire.

TFA does offer summer training to prepare recruits for the classroom—an entire five-week training course as opposed to four years and more (for advanced degrees) for teachers to receive college degrees in education and who generally sign up for the long run as opposed to TFA teachers who commit to only two years.

Some remain beyond the two year hitch but for the most part the TFA turnover is a negative factor in educating kids and in school staffing continuity.

Despite that, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, himself a TFA alumnus, calls TFA “an incredibly good investment.”

Of course they are. School districts are laying off veteran teachers with years of education and classroom experience in favor of TFA corps members because they are less expensive to hire. Some districts seem to prefer to cycle through ill-trained TFA teachers every two years.

A former TFA teacher claims that the organization’s five-week training model is ineffective, that TFA spends $33 million “doing a poor job teaching corps members to teach.” He describes the TFA training as “not enough depth, not enough breadth, not enough time.”

Reuters News Service, in an article entitled “Has Teach for America betrayed its mission,” quotes TFA alumni as claiming that policies promoted by TFA-trained reformers threaten to damage the very schools TFA once set out to save and that TFA’s relentless efforts to expand has betrayed its founding ideals.

For example, Reuters says that TFA, founded to serve public schools so poor or dysfunctional they couldn’t attract qualified teachers, now sends fully one-third of its recruits to privately-run charter schools, many of which have outstanding academic credentials, wealthy donors and flush budgets.

It’s about the money, folks.

And while there certainly are TFA teachers who truly have the welfare of students at heart and who are effective teachers, TFA has backed off its claim that almost half of its teachers achieve outstanding academic gains by students.

Heather Harding, TFA’s former research director, told Reuters that statistics claiming significant gains were unreliable and misleading because only 15 percent of TFA recruits even teach subjects and grades that are assessed by state standardized tests. As an alternative means to measure growth, Harding said, many teachers rely on assessments they design themselves.

So while TFA recruits may come into the classroom with high ideals and lofty goals for their students, TFA long ago stopped being about the students and became all about the money.

It would be a mistake for parents, legislators, school administrators and benefactors to forget that.

Any coach of any sport will tell every player on his team to keep his eye on the ball.

In this case, keep your eye on the dollar signs.

It’s all about the money.

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For five long years now we have patiently (or impatiently in some cases) awaited the arrival of all that transparency touted by Gov. Bobby Jindal upon his part time occupancy of the governor’s office.

Now it seems that heretofore elusive aspect of the Jindal administration has finally arrived.

No, it wasn’t Superintendent of Education John White telling News Corp. Senior Vice President Peter Gorman (aka “Dude”) that he is White’s “recharger.”

Nor is the LSU Board of Supervisors which has refused to release the names of applicants for LSU president on the grounds that the applications are conveniently (convenient for the board and the administration, that is) submitted to a Dallas consulting firm which, being a private entity, is not subject to the public records law.

It wouldn’t be the Louisiana Office of Economic Development either. LED a couple of years back refused to surrender records to the Legislative Auditor’s office so that the state auditors could perform the function with which they are charged—auditing the state’s books.

And, needless to say, it is not Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who found a way to punt on our request for assistance in prevailing upon the Department of Education to comply with the Louisiana public records law (the law, the AG’s office informed us, says it can intervene on behalf of the public meetings law but there is no provision for it to assist with public records).

That’s a classic case of legal hair splitting, but hey, the attorney general’s office is the official legal counsel for state agencies (a veritable horde of state-contracted legal counsels notwithstanding), so who are we to argue? We’re just the low-lifes who work, pay taxes and vote in this state. Never mind some 80 or so (we finally quit counting when we reached that number) legal opinions by the AG issued to various state agencies which opine that public records must be surrendered.

But we digress (as we often do).

No, it’s none of those. The shocker here is that the transparency that has suddenly and without warning opened up before our very eyes originates in none other than the governor’s office.

Yep, chalk one up for Bobby, our part time, absentee governor who would rather run for president than run the state.

Don’t believe us? Still harboring some doubts as to the veracity of our claim?
Well, we have the proof.

Jindal is proposing scrapping the state personal and corporate income tax and replacing it with…well, something. He hasn’t the vaguest idea what (he said earlier this month that he’s still working on details of his plan).

In general terms, Jindal is talking about an increase in the state sales tax and a dollar increase in the cigarette tax (remember when he refused to sign the renewal of the 4-cent cigarette tax because, he said, he was opposed to “new” taxes?).

Never mind that a sales tax would hit the low- and middle-income taxpayers the very hardest http://louisianavoice.com/2013/01/16/par-lsu-economist-richardson-cast-doubts-on-%CF%80-yush-plan-to-replace-louisiana-income-tax-with-state-sales-tax-increase/, abolishment of state income taxes has become the mantra of Republican governors nationwide because it would represent the ultimate tax break (read: political reward) for corporate campaign donors.

But rather than rely on the lack of merits in a weak proposal, Jindal has enlisted his minions to launch a letter-writing campaign in support of his as yet incomplete tax plan.

That’s correct: the plan isn’t even completed, much less polished and officially presented to the legislature and the public, but the letter-writing campaign has already started. Never mind that the plan has as yet progressed no further than a two-page outline pretentiously entitled “A Framework for Comprehensive Tax Reform.” It apparently suffices for the purposes of initiating a well-orchestrated PR campaign from the governor’s office or perhaps from Timmy Teepell’s OnMessage (Oops, we forgot; they are one and the same).

It officially began on Feb. 20 with the publication in newspapers statewide of a letter by LED Secretary and presumed future LSU President/Chancellor/High Potentate Stephen Moret.

Boiled down to its essentials, Moret’s 12-paragraph letter claims that Jindal’s undefined, unreleased, still-in-the-works, everything-still-on-the-table plan would somehow magically bump Louisiana from No. 32 to No. 4 in something called the State Business Tax Climate.

Fine for business climate, yes, but Moret conveniently neglects how that plan, still being formulated somewhere out there in the fog-enshrouded concepts of the policy wonks, would affect the working stiffs. An addition 2 or 3 percent on the sales tax for the purchase of say, a package of toilet paper won’t be such a burden. But tack that same 2 or 3 percent onto the cost of a new refrigerator, central air and heating unit or a new automobile and suddenly, in the words of the late Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen, you’re talking about real money.

But no matter; Moret obviously had his marching orders: write a glowing letter about how the Jindal Plan (not to be confused with the Stelly Plan that he repealed, at a cost to the state of about $300 million a year) would be great for business—and everyone knows, as President Calvin Coolidge said way back in 1925, “The chief business of the American people is business.” (The stock market crash, of course, was only four years away when he said that, which subsequently put a lot of American people out of business.)

Exactly a week after Moret’s letter, on Feb. 27, the Baton Rouge Advocate (and probably a few other papers across the state) published a second letter endorsing the still mythical tax plan. This one was written by someone named Matthew Glans, who identifies himself as senior policy analyst for The Heartland Institute in Chicago (described by The Economist last May as “The world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change,” according to the institute’s own web page) and which also describes itself as an advocate of free market policies.

Probably its greatest claim to fame, however, came in the 1990s, when it worked with Philip Morris in attempts to debunk the science linking secondhand smoke to health issues and to lobby against government public-health reforms.

(The Heartland Institute bears an eerie resemblance to the fictional “myFACTS” currently being lampooned by Garry Trudeau in the comic strip Doonesbury.)

Glans calls Jindal’s plan “a strong step towards improving the state’s economic competitiveness and returning tax dollars to Louisiana citizens and businesses.”

At the same time he cautions against a system “that allows the government to choose winners and losers.”

“A tax system filled with tax increases on targeted items such as tobacco or subsidies for certain businesses (read: tobacco, in states like North Carolina), however, is not sound policy,” he says, adding, “A system that lowers rates across the board, like much of Jindal’s proposal, would spur economic growth.”

Strange how Glans, sitting in Chicago, could know so much about the part time, absentee governor’s tax plan when Jindal himself confesses that his “plan” is still evolving and stranger still that he would single out tobacco (and tobacco subsidies) as a potential victim of increased sales taxes.

Curious, too, that he is so knowledgeable when legislators remain in the dark.

But, hey, we wanted transparency from our governor.

And this “independent” letter-writing campaign is about as transparent as it gets.

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