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Senator Daniel R. Martiny's Picture

STATE SEN. DAN MARTINY

C.B. Forgotston may have opened a can of worms…with the unwitting help of State Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie)—and much to Martiny’s chagrin.

Forgotston, you see, is an independent old cuss who used to work for the legislature and he has been serving for a number of years now as an unofficial overseer of all things state government and few events escape his skeptical critique of the actions and motives of elected officials, particularly legislators, or as he calls them, leges.

Called “King of Subversive Bloggers” by no less an expert on cynicism than Baton Rouge Advocate columnist James Gill, Forgotston is beholden to no one and any leges who crosses swords with him does so at his own peril.

Martiny may have found out the hard way when he sent this email to Forgotston Sunday around 4:16 p.m. informing C.B. that his emails to the good senator were no longer welcomed:

From: “Martiny, Sen. (Chamber Laptop)” <dmartiny@legis.la.gov>

To: “C.B. Forgotston” Date: Sun, 15 Feb 2015 16:16:34 -0600 Subject:

Re: Where’s Buddy?

Take me off your list until u do something positive about anyone.

Martiny was responding to Forgotston’s “Where’s Buddy” post in which he took Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to task for the AG’s reluctance to do his job in telling the Caddo Parish Commissioners they are in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution by virtue of their illegal participation in the Caddo Parish retirement system.

Forgotston noted that Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has done his job in saying commissioners’ participation in the retirement system is illegal but Caldwell, as has been his M.O. since taking office, has been strangely quiet on public corruption.

And while there is certainly nothing wrong in going after free-lance pharmaceutical salesmen (drug dealers), child pornographers and the like, Caldwell has displayed an obvious dislike for making waves in the political waters and has steadfastly run from public corruption cases.

And we know that while the 1974 State Constitution took much of the prosecutorial duties from the attorney general, the AG is still the legal adviser for all state agencies and if nothing else, Caldwell should step forward and whisper in officials’ ears when they are seen skirting the edge of the law. (Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ open violation of the state’s public records law comes immediately to mind. So does Auctioneer Board attorney Larry Bankston’s advice to the board to actually refuse to release public records.)

But we digress.

If you notice, Martiny’s message for C.B. to delete future mailings to him was written on his Senate chamber laptop, which some might interpret as an unwillingness on his part to hear from citizens on matters that concern them.

“My periodic mailings address issues of concern to me primarily about state and local government,” Forgotston said on Monday.

“The mailings are sent to each lege via a public server owned by taxpayers. The address to which it is sent is also provided by the taxpayers.”

Forgotston said that after a “gentle reminder,” Martiny, an attorney, relented and acknowledged the provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Other leges may not be as familiar with the First Amendment as is Martiny,” he said. “As a public service, here is some background on the First Amendment which leges might find useful in dealing with members of the public.

“The First Amendment states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’” (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

The right to freedom of speech, he says, “allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

“The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through the courts (litigation) or other governmental action. (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

“Not only do we have a right to contact the leges regarding matters of government, they are prohibited from interfering with our exercise of that right,” Forgotston said. “That includes the blocking of emails as some leges have done in the past.

“Any lege not wishing to receive my communications, please forward me a copy of your letter of resignation from the lege and you will be promptly removed from all future mailings.”

Now, just to give you a little background on Sen. Martiny, who:

  • Fought a bill by State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) which would have prevent legislators from leaving the House or Senate and taking six-figure jobs in order to boost their state retirement. It’s worth noting that several legislators had been appointed to cushy state jobs by the Gov. Bobby administration. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro was named second in command at the Louisiana State Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year; Jane Smith of Bossier City was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Department of Revenue ($107,500), though she admitted she knew nothing about taxes or revenue; Troy Hebert of Jeanerette was named Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board ($107,500); Kay Katz of Monroe, named to the Louisiana Tax Commission ($56,000); former St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis named Director of Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness ($165,000), and former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro was appointed Director of Hazard Mitigation and Recovery ($150,000).
  • Pushed through an amendment that gutted Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), a bill originally designed to protect vulnerable borrowers from predatory payday lenders. Nevers sought to cap payday loan annual interest rates at 36 percent which was an effective way to rein in those lenders who were charging annual percentage rates of up to 700 percent. Martiny’s amendment removed the APR cap and instead simply limited borrowers to 10 short-term loans each year.
  • Pushed through a bill that was subsequently signed by Gov. Bobby which prohibited state contractors from entering into agreements with labor unions, prohibited public entities from remaining neutral toward any labor organization, and prohibited the payment of predetermined or prevailing wages.
  • Introduced a bill that was subsequently signed by Gov. Bobby which re-created 17 state boards, offices and commissions. Louisiana already has far more boards and commissions than any other state but apparently no one saw a need for reducing the number.
  • Introduced a bill subsequently signed into law by Gov. Bobby that gave judges on state district courts, courts of appeal and the Louisiana Supreme court pay raises ranging from 3.7 percent to 5.5 percent—even as Louisiana civil service employees were forced to go without a pay raise for the third straight year.
  • Introduced but later withdrew a bill that would have allowed the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (DED) the authority to offer air carriers a rebate of up to $500 annually for each incremental international passenger flying to or from a state airport for a period of up to five years.
  • Introduced a bill allowing DED to offer tax credits refundable against corporate income and corporate franchise taxes for businesses agreeing to undertake activities to increase the number of visitors to the state by at least 100,000 per year. (We’re beginning to see the problem with the state’s economic incentive tax breaks here).
  • Introduced a bill to provide tax credits for solar energy systems of up to 50 percent of all costs.
  • Introduced a bill that would have allowed the Commissioner of Insurance to fire the Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Advocacy without cause.

Let’s examine that very last one again. Louisiana law provides for the appointment of a deputy commissioner of consumer advocacy by the Commissioner of Insurance.

This is important, provided that person is wholly independent of Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon who gets the bulk of his campaign finances from insurance companies he is supposed to regulate.

Donelon, obviously, cannot be expected to ride herd over his benefactors. That’s just not the way politics works in Louisiana. So a consumer advocate in the department is critical—especially after all those stories about Allstate and State Farm denying legitimate claims from Hurricane Katrina and other tactics such as the Delay, Deny, Defend strategy as taught the insurance companies by Gov. Bobby’s former employer, McKinsey & Co.

The law provides that the consumer advocate may be terminated only for cause.

But Martiny wanted to change that and though the bill did not pass, one has to wonder about his motives.

To learn that, you’d probably have to email him at dmartiny@legis.la.gov

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“That clanking sound you heard,” says blogger C. B. Forgotston, “was Louisiana’s proverbial fiscal can hitting the end of the road.” And he has been around state government long enough to know the signs.

“Like a kid behaving badly, we’ve been placed on probation,” added State Treasurer John Kennedy.

Both men’s assessments were in response to the double whammy of two investor rating services’—Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s—action to move Louisiana’s credit outlook from stable to negative on Friday and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.

“This should be a wake-up call that we need to stop spending more than we take in,” Kennedy said.  “We’ve drained our trust funds, we’ve relied on nonrecurring money and we’ve had to cut the budget in the middle of the fiscal year for too many years now.  Many have been warning that this day would arrive, and it has.”

The dual action by the two ratings services impacts $2.7 billion in outstanding general obligation debt and $1.25 billion in related debt.

Moody’s warned that continued structural imbalances, steep growth in pension costs, deterioration in financial liquidity and failure to contain costs in the state’s Medicaid system will result in a credit rating downgrade, making it more costly for the state to borrow money.

S & P added a warning that “Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating” even further.

Gov. Bobby immediately attempted to put a positive spin on the bad news (or as Forgotston described it, tried to pour perfume on the manure pile to change the smell but not the content) by saying that the agencies didn’t lower the ratings on the existing outstanding General Obligation bonds.

But what Gov. Bobby did not say, according to Forgotston, was that the rating on those bonds was not lowered because the Louisiana State Constitution gives those bonds first call, even before employee retirement benefits, on all the money in the state treasury. “In other words, if the state goes bankrupt, those bonds will be paid,” he said, adding that future state borrowing will also cost more.

It could also mean that in the event of default, retirees won’t be getting their pension checks, something that should get the gray panthers up in arms.

At this point, we feel it important to point out—just in case anyone still needs reminding—that Gov. Bobby has been traveling all over the country (well, mainly to Iowa and Washington, D.C.) spewing his rhetoric about how he has cut the number of state employees, how Louisiana’s economy is out-performing other states, how new industry is locating to Louisiana, and how little it costs to attend LSU.

Except it’s all part of his big lie—except, of course, the part about hauling state workers out to the curb.

But if he is so hell-bent on claiming and then taking credit for all these wonderful events and trends (of course he never mentions the state’s high poverty rate, poor health care availability, our second lowest median household income, the eighth lowest percentage of citizens with a bachelor’s degree or higher, or our fifth highest violent crime rate), then he must shoulder the blame for the bad news as well.

Any coach will tell you that’s the way the game is played; if you take credit for the wins, you have to take the blame for the losses.

And of course, he never, never does that. Everything out of his mouth is about all the great accomplishments of his administration, and always spouted off in such rapid-fire fashion as to give little chance for argument from dissenters. It’s his style to overwhelm with statistics quoted by rote in his boring staccato delivery.

Well, Bobby, your rhetoric—and for that matter, you as well—are wearing a little thin.

The doubt began creeping in here in Louisiana midway of your first term and has continued to build until now the national media have caught on. Only last week, three or four national stories revealed the pitiful shape you are leaving our state in for your unfortunate successor to attempt to clean up.

Unfortunately, whoever follows you will most likely be a one-term governor because no one can clean up your mess in a single term and the voters are likely to grow weary of whoever is unfortunate enough to follow you and turn him or her out of office after four years in a desperate attempt to find a quick solution that in reality may take decades. You have set this state back that far (Thank you, Gov. Mike Foster for inflicting this plague upon us).

And, Gov. Bobby, you can just mothball your national political ambitions. Being President is a far distant fantasy by now and any prospects of a cabinet position are just as surely disappearing like so much sand through your fingers. You can now only accept that you will go down as one of, if not the most vilified governor in the history of this state. You have succeeded, by comparison, in making Earl Long appear to have been in full control of his mental faculties back in 1959.

And lest anyone think we are giving the legislature a free pass on this situation, think again. With only a handful of exceptions, those of you in the House and Senate have been complicit in this charade of governance. You have aided and abetted this pitiful excuse of a chief executive who, while pandering repeatedly that he had the job he wanted, nevertheless plunged full speed ahead toward his fool’s errand of seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Why, his own family was talking openly of his becoming President—at his first inauguration way back in 2008!

Moody’s and S &P were each quite thorough in laying out the reasoning for their simultaneous actions on Friday.

Moody’s said its action reflects a $1.6 billion structural deficit, continued budget gaps, the state’s large Medicaid caseload, job growth below the national average and significant unfunded pension liabilities.  “The negative outlook reflects the state’s growing structural budget imbalance, projected at $1.6 billion for fiscal 2016, or about 18% of the $8.7 billion general fund even after significant budget cuts of recent years,” Moody’s said. “The state has options for reducing the imbalance, including scaling back various tax credit programs, but the overall scale of balancing measures needed may further deplete resources and reduce the state’s liquidity, which has been one of its strengths.”

S & P was no kinder, citing Gov. Bobby’s reliance on non-recurring revenue which it said only served to increase future budgetary pressures. “In our view, the state’s focus on structural solutions to its general fund budget challenges will be a key determinant of its future credit stability.

“We could consider revising the outlook back to stable if revenue trends stabilize and if Louisiana makes material progress in aligning its recurring revenues and expenditures on a timely basis with a focus on recurring solutions. Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating,” S & P said.

Forgotston, in his own unique way, tells us what Moody’s and S & P were really telling us: “Bobby, you and the legislators have made a big ‘number-two’ mess in your fiscal pants and we have no faith in your ability to clean it up. Folks, don’t let the legislators try to fool you; this is very bad news for us taxpayers and the legislators are the reason for it.”

Yes, it’s easy to blame Gov. Bobby because he has in his seven years initiated every Ponzi scheme one could imagine from giving away something like $11 billion in tax incentives (according to one recent story), to giving away the state’s charity hospitals, to robbing the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, to attempting to rob the state’s retirement system, to refusing federal grants for needed projects, to rejecting Medicaid expansion and thus depriving the state’s indigent population access to decent health care which in turn led directly to the announced closure of the emergency room of a major Baton Rouge hospital. The list goes on.

But, as Gov. Bobby is so fond of saying, at the end of the day, it was the legislature, through the “leadership” of Senate President John Alario, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin that allowed him to do it by refusing to grow a collective set and stand up to this vindictive little amateur dictator.

This is an election year and Louisiana voters—particularly state employees, former state employees who have lost their jobs because of Gov. Bobby, teachers, retirees and the state’s working poor would do well to remember what this governor has done to them and which legislators voted to support the administration’s carnage inflicted upon this state.

There are those few in the House and Senate who have spoken up and tried to be the voices of reason but those voices have been drowned out by Gov. Bobby’s spinmeisters.

So when you vote for governor next fall, you would do well to ignore the TV commercials bought by those who want only to continue down this same path of economic destruction and growing income disparity and consider who you believe really has the best interest of the state, and not the special interests, at heart. In other words, think for yourselves instead of letting some ad agency do your thinking for you.

If you don’t get your collective heads out of the sand and in the most emphatic manner you can muster, tell your neighbors, your friends, your family, the clerk at the store where you shop for food and clothing, the cashier at the restaurant where you eat what this governor and this legislature have done to you and to them, then come next fall, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

The time for joking about Gov. Bobby is over. We’re at the end game now.

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The Baton Rouge Advocate last December ran an excellent eight-part series on Giving Away Louisiana in which the paper examined inventory tax rebates, movie tax credits, Enterprise Zone tax credits, solar energy subsidies, fracking incentives and the state’s 10-year property tax exemptions, all of which combine to gut the state treasury of billions of dollars in tax revenue.

We took a little different approach.

Sometimes all one has to do to illustrate the folly of Louisiana’s corporate tax exemptions and tax credits is do the math.

The theory in Baton Rouge is that such tax breaks create jobs which in turn produce taxes for the state coffers through consumer spending and state income taxes, thus making the exemptions and credits a win-win for everyone concerned.

Take the five-year tax credit awarded in 2013 to Lakeview Regional Medical Center in St. Tammany Parish for an upgrade to its hospital facilities, for example. In exchange for the creation of five new jobs with a new five-year payroll of $1 million, Lakeview was awarded $330,000 in Enterprise Zone tax credits. (A tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction of a tax liability meaning a $1 tax credit reduces one’s taxes by a full dollar.)

Broken down, that comes to $200,000 per year in new payroll, or an average of $40,000 per new employee per year against a tax credit of $66,000 per year.

At Louisiana’s 4 percent tax rate for that income bracket for a family of three, that means the state will rake in $4,000 per year total for all five employees ($800 each). http://www.tax-brackets.org/louisianataxtable

For a single employee, the state income tax revenue increases to $5,650 for all five employees ($1,130 each), still a far cry from the $66,000 per year in tax credits awarded to the hospital.

Obviously, the new employees will spend money locally which will generate local and state sales tax revenues, but it will take a lot of income and sales taxes from five employees to make up for the loss of $66,000 per year over that five-year period.

Louisiana, meanwhile continues to offer inducements to business and industry that defy logic—projects like the $152,000 Enterprise Zone five-year tax credit for Wal-Mart. Enterprise Zone credits are awarded ostensibly for businesses to locate in areas of high unemployment.

This Wal-Mart, however, was built in St. Tammany Parish, one of the most affluent areas of the state. And Wal-Mart pays low wages, has been cutting back on offering medical benefits for its employees and last March, the EEOC filed a an age and disability discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart stores in Texas.

In this case, the total five-year payroll for the 65 new jobs created by the new Wal-Mart was $2.78 million, or about $8,550 per year per employee. The federal poverty level for a single person is $11,670 per year and $19,790 for a family of three. That means the typical Wal-Mart employee in Louisiana is eligible for food stamps and Medicare/Medicaid–at state expense. The 2014 That salary for a family of three produces a state income tax of $21 ($41 for a married person with no children or $61 for a single employee claiming only him/herself).

The total taxes owed, depending on marital status and number of dependents, would range from $1,365 to $3,965 for all 65 employees, or between $6,825 and $19,825 for the five years of the Enterprise Zone tax credit—a far cry from the $152,000 tax credit awarded Wal-Mart.

In 2013 alone, Entergy, the electric-utility holding company with total assets of $43.4 billion and which provides electricity throughout south Louisiana and parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas, received 21 separate 10-year property tax exemptions totaling $115 million while creating….not a single new job.

Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard received $27.3 million in compensation in 2009 and that same year, Entergy directors awarded him an additional $15,871 to pay part of his 2008 federal income taxes. The question here might be: how many Entergy employees did the directors help with their federal income taxes?

All this from a company that, after independent audits of charges, had to refund nearly $3.4 million to the New Orleans Sewer and Water Board in 1992 ($1 million), the City of New Orleans in 1993 and 1994 ($2.2 million), the New Orleans Superdome Mall ($70,000) and LSU ($90,000).

While state income taxes are not the only barometer in calculating the impact of corporate tax breaks (state and local sales taxes paid by those employed as a result of the incentives, for example, would add to the equation), but just taking state income taxes for a typical family of three or four, this what LouisianaVoice found:

  • The state gave 10-year Quality Job payroll rebates of an estimated $40.85 million in 2013 against projects creating 1,357 new jobs with a combined new 10-year payroll of $680.85 million. That comes out to an average salary of $49,700 per year. For an employee married, filing jointly and with 3 exemptions (including him/herself) that comes to an average state income tax of $1,008 per year—or a 10-year total of $13.7 million total for all 1,357 employees. So, the state collects somewhere between $13.7 million and $20.6 million (depending on marital status and dependents) against payroll rebates of $40.85 million over 10 years—a net loss to the state of about $20 million.
  • The state gave five-year Enterprise Zone tax credits totaling $19.6 million during 2013 for projects producing 4,857 new jobs with a combined five-year, new job payroll of $658.3 million, an annual average salary of only $26,900—an average state income tax liability of $400 per employee which, over a five-year period, produces about $9.7 million to $10 million in state income taxes—against tax credits of $19.6 million, or a net loss of $9.6 million to $9.9 million to the state over the five year life of the tax credit.
  • But the real kicker is the 10-year property tax exemption of $790 million in 2013. For that, 3,696 new jobs were created with a new 10-year payroll of $1.84 billion, or about $184 million per year, which comes out to $49,780 per new employee per year. That salary would produce an average state income tax liability of about $1,200 per year per new employee, or about $44.4 million over 10 years, a loss to the state of more than $750 million over 10 years. By these calculations, it would take something like 17.5 years of state income taxes from these 3,696 employees to make up for the $790 million in lost property taxes.

These three programs combined for a net loss to the state of about $80 million per year just in state income and property taxes. And that doesn’t even include the movie and TV credits or tax abatements, the inventory tax rebates, and the other incentives. So, since Jindal has been in office, the state has given away well over $5 billion dollars in Enterprise Zone, Quality Jobs, and 10-year property tax exemption programs without coming anywhere near recovering that amount in individual taxes paid by employees of those corporations who nevertheless are called upon to shoulder a disproportionate share of the cost of government not borne by their employers.

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Pulitzer Prize winning author Hedrick Smith’s best-selling book Who Stole the American Dream? is a real eye-opener for anyone who still believes our elected officials in Washington are the watchdogs of democracy and are ever-vigilant in protecting the interests of their constituents (that would be you and me).

Smith is not the only one who has tried to warn us of the unholy alliance between Wall Street, large corporations, lobbyists and members of Congress. Charles Derber’s Corporation Nation, says one critic, “is the single best explanation of how big corporations have usurped the power of ordinary citizens…”

David Cay Johnston, another Pulitzer winner, has three books (Free Lunch, Perfectly Legal and The Fine Print) that illustrate how complicated tax laws and federal regulations favor the very rich by transferring the tax burden and other costs to the fast disappearing middle class.

For our purposes here, however, we shall limit the discussion to Smith and his book by highlighting some of the book’s timeline:

  • 1950—Top CEO salary in America: GM chairman Charlie Wilson is paid $663,000, roughly  $5  million  in  today’s  dollars,  and  about  40  times the annual wage of his average assembly line worker. Corporate ethic frowned on CEOs taking stock grants as unfair “competitive avarice.” Economists call this period “The Great Compression because the income gap between the rich and the middle class is at its narrowest in the twentieth century.
  • November 1967—Pat  O’Neill, at nineteen, starts a thirty-five-year career with United Airlines  as  a  jet  airline  mechanic,  working  the  overnight  “graveyard  shift”  at Chicago’s   O’Hare  field. He works his way up to chief mechanic, making $60,000 a year, leading a crew that does repairs and safety checks so that planes are ready to be airborne by dawn.
  • August 1971—Corporate attorney Lewis Powell sparks a political rebellion with his call to arms for Corporate America. Circulated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Powell’s   memo warns that anti-business attitudes and government regulation are threatening to “fatally weaken or destroy” the American free enterprise system. Powell declares that business must arm itself politically, battle organized labor and consumer activists, and mount a long-term campaign to change the balance of power and policy trends in Washington. Later that same year, President Nixon appointed Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • 1971–1972—The CEOs  of  America’s  biggest  corporations, responding to Powell’s  memo, organize the Business Roundtable, which becomes the most potent political lobbying arm of Corporate America. The National Association of Manufacturers moves its headquarters to Washington. In one decade the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doubles its membership and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (small business) grows from 300 to 600,000 members.
  • 1973—The productivity of U.S. workers rises 96 percent since 1945, and average hourly compensation rises in tandem—94 percent from 1945 to 1973. Average Americans share in the nation’s prosperity.  In the next three decades, from 1973 to 2011, worker productivity rises another 80 percent but hourly compensation rises only 10 percent. Ordinary Americans are cut out of their share of the nation’s economic gains.
  • October 1976—Inspired by their mentor, free market economist Milton Friedman, business school professors Michael Jensen and William Meckling propose in an academic study that CEOs be given stock options to align their interests with those of stockholders. Corporate boards, seeing an advantage because options are not charged as a company expense, adopt this “pay for performance” idea, and by 1980, 30 percent of CEOs are receiving stock option grants.
  • Late 1970s—Business mobilizes politically. The number of companies with Washington lobbying offices grows from 175 in 1971 to 2,445 a decade later. Along with 2,000 different trade associations, businesses have a combined Washington staff of 50,000, plus 9,000 lobbyists and 8,000 public relations specialists. Business lobbyists and advocates now outnumber members of Congress by 130 to 1.
  • 1980—Congress passes a deregulatory bill that overrules state usury laws and effectively abolishes limits on interest rates for first mortgages, paving the way for the future subprime mortgage boom.
  • 1994—The CEO stock option boom takes off. 70 percent of CEOs now receive stock option grants and by 2000, grants of millions of stock options become the norm, hugely increasing CEO pay. Corporate executives overtake the inherited rich as the biggest portion of the nation’s richest 1 percent.
  • 2001–2003—The Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Alan Greenspan, cuts interest rates 11 times from 6.5 percent to 1 percent, providing cheap money to fuel a housing boom and revive the U.S. economy. Home prices rise so fast that Americans borrow $700 billion a year from their home equity. Despite warnings about the dangers of rising personal  debt,  Greenspan  hails  home  owners’  “equity  extraction”  as  the  engine  for consumer demand and economic growth.
  • 2003—Airline  mechanic  Pat  O’Neill  retires from United Airlines after 35 years on the job, but when United Airlines declares bankruptcy, his lifetime pension is drastically cut, and his employee stock option plan collapses. His 401(k) suffers from a sharp stock market decline and he is forced to take another job. To rebuild financially, O’Neill is still working today, and he expects never to retire.
  • 2005–2006—More than half of the people to whom banks sell subprime mortgage loans, at high interest rates with heavy fees, are actually solid mainstream middle-class borrowers who qualified for—and should have been sold—prime loans.
  • 2006—Oracle CEO Larry Ellision, with $706.1 million in pay and stock in 2001, tops a Wall Street Journal compilation of the biggest CEO pay packages from 1995 to 2005. Close behind are Michael Eisner of Disney, with payouts of $575.6 million in 1999 and $203 million in 1993; and Sandy Weill of Citigroup, with pay of $621.8 million in three big years between 1997 and 2000.
  • July 4, 2007—Hundreds  of  workers  at  Sunbeam Razor’s  profitable plant in McMinnville, Tennessee, are laid off and ordered to train their replacements in a factory in Mexico, in a firing ordered by Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap. Dunlap has makes a personal fortune as a serial downsizer of businesses. Jack Wahl, owner of Sunbeam competitor Wahl Clipper Corporation, criticizes the Sunbeam layoffs as shortsighted and “extremely wasteful,” and says his company runs profitably with U.S. workers.
  • 2007—The richest 1 percent take a near-record 23 percent of the personal incomes paid to all Americans, earning a combined $1.35 trillion a year, which is more than the entire economies of Canada, Italy, or France.
  • 2007—Among economic sectors, corporate profits see their share of national income rise during the Bush years to the highest level since 1943, while the share of national income going to employee salaries and wages sinks to its lowest level since 1929.
  • 2008—In a Cornell University survey, 57 percent of people say they have never benefited from any government program or policy. But questioned in more detail, it turns out that 94 percent have actually benefited from at least one program. The average person has used four government programs.
  • 2009—After a taxpayer bailout, big Wall Street banks rebuff President Obama’s appeal to “hire American.” They continue offshore hiring and domestic layoffs. In the 2000s, the Hackett Group reports, 3.9 million jobs in finance, IT, human resources, and back-office functions have been lost in North America and Europe. In 2011, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup sign new contracts to offshore $5 billion worth of ITJ and back-office work to Indian firms.
  • 2010—Wall Street financial firms hire 1,447 former government officials as lobbyists to fight new banking regulation legislation, attempting to eliminate or water down provisions for strict regulations. After the bill passes, Wall Street bankers and lobbyists continue the battle to delay or weaken new regulations.
  • 2010—In the Congressional elections of 2010, business interests outspend labor $1.3 billion to $79 million, a 16-to-1 advantage for business. In soft-money contributions to political parties, rather than donations made directly to candidates through political action committees, the business advantage is 97-to-1 ($972 million for business to $10 million for labor).
  • 2010—Thirty-three of 60 new Tea Party members elected to the House are millionaires. Tea Party members have an average net worth of $1.8 million. Overall, 261 of the 535 senators and House representatives are millionaires—49 percent compared to 1 percent among the public at large. http://hedricksmith.com/timeline-who-stole-the-american-dream/

The CEOs of the top corporations in the U.S. made, on average, 331 times the wages of the average rank-and-file U.S. worker in 2013, compared to that 4:1 ratio reported in 1950. The CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio was 774:1. http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014

Between 1978 and 2013, CEO compensation increased 937 percent.

The pay increase of non-supervisory workers during this same time period? 10.2 percent.  http://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-continues-to-rise/

The breaks enjoyed by super rich at the expense of Joe the Plumber are such that even Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the richest men in America, publicly acknowledged the disparity. Noting that his 2010 tax rate was lower than that paid by 20 of his employees.

“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks,” he said. “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

So, what has all this to do with the price of eggs?

Plenty.

The House this week defeated by a vote of 168-243 House Resolution 5 which would have barred tax deductions for executive pay packages in excess of $1 million unless the company raised worker pay by a percentage tied to its productivity.

We suppose the executives of Wal-Mart need all the help they can get. WAL-MART TAX BREAKS

So how did the Louisiana delegation vote?

Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond (2nd District) was the only one of the six to vote in favor of the interests of workers over those of in the executive offices.

Voting “no” on the measure were newly elected Reps. Garrett Graves (6th District) and Ralph Abraham (5th District), as well as Steve Scalise (1st District), Charles Boustany (3rd District) and John Fleming (4th District).

We don’t feel that extending even more generous tax breaks for corporate executives to the detriment of those on whose backs they made their fortunes was in the best interest of Louisiana citizens who elected them to be their voices in Washington.

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By Robert Burns

(Special to LouisianaVoice)

In the 10 years immediately prior to my December 31, 2012 retirement, I held a real estate brokerage license in Louisiana primarily because the only thing I auctioned in my auction career was real estate.  During that time, I took numerous real estate courses and one thing that was repeatedly emphasized regarding property taxes in Louisiana was that “Orleans Parish is a whole different animal.”

LouisianaVoice readers may recall that, prior to Hurricane Katrina, Orleans Parish was unique in that it had seven assessors, each overseeing a different taxing district in New Orleans.  Orleans Parish already receives its taxes one year in advance while all other parishes collect at the end of the year.  In other words, Orleans Parish is already living on borrowed time.  Many changes were advocated after Katrina, and one proposal was the consolidation of those tax assessors into one.  It required an amendment to Louisiana’s Constitution, which overwhelmingly passed on a statewide vote in November of 2006.

LouisianaVoice has learned that considerable frustration and consternation has ensued among many Orleans Parish taxpayers since Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams became the first parish-wide solo assessor in Orleans Parish and was sworn into office in January of 2011.  Before addressing these taxpayer frustrations, however, a brief primer is necessary regarding property tax appeals in Orleans Parish.

Let’s begin with the hypothetical taxpayer who receives notice in the mail from Williams’ office that his property value has been reassessed to a value significantly higher than the taxpayer believes can be justified.  First, those reassessments in other parishes in Louisiana occur only every four (4) years as per Louisiana’s Constitution (the next year for reassessment is 2016); however, LouisianaVoice has learned that a significant number of taxpayers in Orleans Parish are receiving reassessments throughout the four-year timeframe.

One taxing official spoke with LouisianaVoice and relayed that Assessor Williams justifies the practice of annual reassessments by virtue of the fact Louisiana’s Constitution states such assessments shall take place “at least” every four years.  Some irate Orleans Parish taxpayers, however, have suggested that Assessor Williams is engaging in a practice called “sale chasing,” in which his office learns of a property that sells on a given street, and then he begins reassessments of other properties in the same vicinity immediately.

Taxpayers have the right to file an appeal of assessments. To use a judiciary analogy, let’s consider Assessor Williams the judge who rendered his ruling. Unhappy with the ruling, the litigant appeals. In the case of a legal case, it would be the appeals court who would hear the appeal. For an Orleans Parish property tax appeal, it is the New Orleans Board of Review that hears the appeal. Who is the New Orleans Board of Review? It’s the New Orleans City Council (NOCC). So, in the legal analogy, the NOCC is the appeals court.

This is where things become interesting. The NOCC is literally flooded with appeals of property tax notices every year; furthermore, the NOCC lacks the technical expertise to ascertain whether the taxpayer or Assessor Williams is correct in the asserted value. Accordingly, for years, the NOCC has contracted out with a firm named Hammerman and Gainer (HGI) to ascertain a valuation and see if an agreement can be reached between the taxpayer and Williams.  LouisianaVoice noted that, after obtaining sizable contracts post-Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (likely due to political connections and contributions to the campaigns of Gov. Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy), the New Jersey Sandy contract was cancelled six (6) months later due to substandard performance. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/12/31/louisianavoice-2014-year-in-review-part-dieu-it-just-gets-weirder-and-weirder-as-we-barrel-with-abandon-into-2015/

HGI subcontracts with licensed real estate appraisers to ascertain a valuation for the appellant. By subcontracting its work and not doing its own appraisals, HGI is adding a layer of cost to the process. Once HGI obtains a valuation from the appraiser, a mini-appeal hearing of sorts transpires with Williams, the taxpayer and HGI. It is unclear how many cases are resolved at this level, but what is known is that a substantial volume of cases winds up in the hands of the NOCC (serving as the first appeals court in our legal analogy) to resolve.

At an NOCC hearing, spreadsheets are distributed among council members, and they literally make an up-or-down vote on literally hundreds of these tax appeals after any individual recommendations are discussed regarding whether to go with HGI’s appraiser estimate or Williams’ valuation. LouisianaVoice has learned that, historically, the NOCC typically has sided with the HGI valuation from the appraiser rather than Williams’ valuation.

Once the decision is made, the NOCC is responsible for notifying both Assessor Williams and the taxpayer of its decision. The taxpayer is notified by certified mail, and NOCC has historically notified Williams via email (which Williams admits) with the entirety of its decisions from the meeting.

What is critical, however, is the timing of notification: By Louisiana Statute, both Williams and the taxpayer have 10 days from receiving notice to appeal the NOCC decision to the Louisiana Tax Commission (LTC) who, to carry our legal analogy a step further, serves as the Louisiana Supreme Court in that their decision typically constitutes the end of the matter.  However, if a taxpayer is still dissatisfied with the LTC’s decision, he can seek judicial review in a Louisiana District Court and simultaneously file a second lawsuit with the taxes being paid under protest.

Sources tell LouisianaVoice that, while taxpayers have been obtaining their certified mailings in a timely fashion, Williams’ notifications have consistently been delayed (one individual has stated the delays have been at Williams’ urging) until after the taxpayers’ 10-day appeal window has closed. Remember, the NOCC has historically tended to favor HGI’s (i.e. the appraiser’s number) which has been in the taxpayer’s favor and not Williams’ favor.  So, the taxpayer gets a warm and fuzzy feeling that everything is over and he can move on with his life because the 10-day window (from when he received notice) has passed.

Well, not exactly.

Sources tell LouisianaVoice that the fact that Williams’ notice has historically been delayed until after the taxpayer appeal period has lapsed has provided him with a “double-secret appeal” window, and he has exercised his appeal rights to the LTC.  The following table derived from stats provided by the LTC would seem to bear this out.

Property Tax Year LTC Appeals Filed by Orleans Parish Taxpayers LTC Appeals Filed by Assessor Williams Total LTC Appeals Filed for Orleans Parish Percentage of Appeals Filed by Assessor Williams
          2012    515    509    1,024   49.71%
          2013    175    421       596   70.64%

 

Now the taxpayer is notified of a third hearing (including the mini-hearing with HGI). This hearing is in Baton Rouge before the LTC.  Worse yet, the taxpayer who thought everything was okay suddenly finds that he is literally among hundreds of other taxpayers, all of whom have traveled to Baton Rouge to have their cases argued before members of the LTC which faces a crowded docket, thanks to Williams’ appealing so many Orleans Parish taxpayer assessments.

Worse yet, Williams reportedly sends no representative to the LTC hearing to defend his office’s valuation, nor is any evidence put on to support his valuation, the same tactic he uses in cases heard at the NOCC appeal hearings as well. Using the legal case analogy, this would be akin to an attorney filing an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court and then declining to attend the court’s hearing to argue his points.

Accordingly, the LTC has little choice but to rule in favor of the taxpayer and that concludes the matter. The result is significant time, energy, and financial resources shelled out by the taxpayer all to wind up where he was before Williams began this whole process, which some have characterized as a blatant abuse of power on Williams’ part.

Nevertheless, a certain number of taxpayers either just give up or accept Williams’ assessment (and that may well be exactly what he’s banking on with the theory that some money gained is better than none).  Obviously, to the extent some taxpayers opt not to appeal to the LTC, the result is in fact increased revenues for the City of New Orleans.

As a result, some New Orleans power brokers reportedly are demanding that notifications be sent by the NOCC simultaneously to taxpayers and to Williams (thus eliminating Williams’ double-secret appeal window). A NOCC high-level staffer confided that he is now “personally hand delivering” the spreadsheet nearly immediately after the NOCC approves the valuations.

Nevertheless, like many public officials who don’t like an infringement upon their fiefdoms delay notifying Williams (again, said to be at Williams’ urging). Williams sought an opinion from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office regarding when the NOCC is required to send notifications. Assistant Attorney General Emalie Boyce released this Louisiana AG’s Opinion on the matter on November 24, 2014, which said that notification must transpire contemporaneously or “within the same period of time.” Thus, Williams’ tactic has effectively been eliminated.  Further, by the wording of the opinion, it appears that Williams blames the NOCC for the delay in notification to him and also criticized the NOCC for merely sending email notice rather than certified mail notice (the AG opinion states certified mail is required).  Interestingly enough, when we spoke with the NOCC staffer, he had no idea Williams had even requested the opinion, much less that one had been released by the AG’s Office.

Orleans Parish property tax appeals by Williams for 2014 are down substantially (dropping from 421 in 2013 to only 33 in 2014). LouisianaVoice delved extensively into the reason for the decline by making inquiries of numerous sources providing us with information for this article. Those sources, including the NOCC staffer, relayed that the huge decline is attributable to one at-large councilman who, sensing an opportunity to shore up New Orleans’ finances, acquiesced to Williams’ valuations for 2014 rather than the HGI, appraiser-backed valuations. Thus, Williams has essentially been left with nothing to appeal (at least for 2014) given that his valuations, in an about-face by the NOCC for 2014 vs. prior years, have largely been upheld by the NOCC.

Now, while conducting research for this article, LouisianaVoice was informed by an individual with extensive knowledge of the process that it would be “quite revealing” to seek the legal expenses of the Orleans Parish Assessor and to view copies of litigation initiated against that office over the last several years. Accordingly, we made public records requests of Williams’ office for those records, only to have him attempt to “educate” us on Public Records Laws in that, Louisiana Statutory rate of $0.25 per page notwithstanding, Williams relayed that “our rate is $1 per page.” Again, without citing a Louisiana Statute, we were informed that we’d be responsible for paying all personnel costs for redacting out “attorney-client privileged information” (including the bizarre inclusion of material stated to be in the lawsuits themselves, which are already public record for the world to see!).

We decided that, since Williams is so willing to educate us on Louisiana’s Public Records laws, we’d offer him an opportunity to educate us on a few other matters, such as whether his office attends appeals hearings and, if so, whether his office puts on any evidence in support of his office’s valuations at those hearings. Williams, apparently miffed at our line of questioning, fired off this letter dated January 5, 2015 which said our inquiries were not public records requests (we never asserted that they were but merely relayed in writing that he could feel free to further educate us) but rather “interrogatories,” to which “no answer will be forthcoming to your interrogatories.”

It appears as Jindal’s term nears its end, so too may have the HGI contract to handle Orleans Parish property tax appeals.  Our contact at NOCC said HGI’s status for 2015 is “unclear.”  When we added we’d sent public records request to their New Orleans post office box, he said, “I think you’ll find they’ve quit manning that P. O. Box.”  Another source, when told of our public records request of HGI said, “It’s probably better I not say anything.”

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