Archive for December, 2010

By John Sachs

From everything we are hearing, Louisiana faces a terrific budget deficit in the upcoming 2011 fiscal year. The number heard most often is $1.6 billion. It makes a bigger impression when you see it numerically. So here it is. $1,600,000,000. Whew! Kinda takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

A $1.6 billion shortfall would pose quite a dilemma for most states. Most states would 1) quit spending multi-millions on state-owned golf courses, 2) reduce the number of football and basketball coaches at the junior high school through university level to something less than one coach for every player, 3) stop imprisoning for life people caught with so much as a whiff of marijuana residue in their pockets, 4) quit providing legislators with luxury housing for a pittance in rent while at the same time paying them a luxurious per diem, 5) and the list goes on ad nauseum.

Most states would look for reductions by addressing the list above before saying perfunctorily that education and health care will have to shoulder almost all of the cuts. They might, just might, even consider—are you ready for this?—restoring taxes that when cut were the primary cause for the deficit. No new taxes mind you, but just going back to tax rates previously in place that resulted in balanced, deficit-free budgets. Makes one wonder about the validity of supply side, trickle down, Reaganomics.

Cutting education and health care are the fiscal management tactics espoused by our governor. Makes me wonder if rather than majoring in some real world discipline at Oxford, he didn’t study pre-Renaissance fables and lore. I guess that explains why most legislation that he proposes begins “Once upon a time…” and ends with “… lived happily ever after.”

The time has now arrived for me to share with you some serious ciphering that I’ve done regarding this problem. Hang in there now. It ain’t too difficult.

The population of Louisiana, per the 2010 census, was 4,533,372 give or take an illegal Mexican or two rebuilding New Orleans or processing chickens in Farmerville. Therefore, the $1.6 billion deficit equates to $353 per every man, woman and child. And since the governor and legislature won’t dare even consider raising taxes or reducing expenditures on such voter-important matters as football and golf courses, the only way for us to protect our school and medical care programs is to do what we always do in Louisiana when times get rough. Have a bake sale. That’s right, a statewide bake sale. This time we will be selling Pralines and Jambalaya. And once again, Ruston will take the lead in this important endeavor.

Let me explain.

No one makes pralines better than Erma Hudson, and no one prepares better jambalaya than Bill Cox. So it will be these two “saviors” to whom the entire state will turn to bring us over our economic Rubicon. We will give Erma and Bill each a sales goal of $800 million. For Bill, this will equate to 160 million servings at $5 each. When those 160 million servings are divided among all 4,533,000 citizens, it works out to 35 servings per year each. That’s doable. It’s even doable if we exclude babies and Yankees. With them out of the mix, we can still sell enough to reach our goal if everyone will buy just one serving per week all year long.

Now, as to Erma and her goal. If Erma sells her pralines for $1 each, she will need to sell 800 million. However, we already have a problem with a large percentage—say 20%– of our population who suffer with type 2 diabetes and/or morbid obesity. We will excuse them from buying pralines. That leaves about 3,625,000 of us to buy the 800 million pralines. So if each of those folks buys 220 pralines per year, Erma can reach her goal.

I figure that both Bill and Erma will incur a cost for the ingredients of about $50 million each. But in the tradition of all bake sales, the providers of the goodies pay for the ingredients. I know these two folks. $50 million each for Erma and Bill is certainly doable. They are old school and have saved for just such rainy days.

Now I know there will be those who will want to exempt everyone making over $250 thousand per year and the top 2% making over $1 million per year from having to buy their fair share of pralines and jambalaya as they are the ones to whom the rest of us poor schmucks owe our very existence. The typical Louisiana voter will likely be duped into believing this is the case. Our recently elected moral high road U.S. Senator will see to that. But even if we exempt the wealthiest of the wealthy from purchasing their fair share of pralines and jambalaya, I think the rest of us can cover for them.

So, relax. Thanks to my sophisticated grasp of economic realities and my advanced ciphering skills, I, along with Erma and Bill, have this deficit mess pretty much covered.

You’re welcome. I do what I can.


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Sometimes the answer is so obvious it would seem absurd to even ask.

But ask he did.

Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), he of the $345 per month Pentagon Barracks apartment (Nov. 29 post), has been thwarted by the Louisiana Ethics Board in his effort to bid on contract work with the Louisiana Recovery School District.

Appel requested a determination as to whether his company may bid on work with the Recovery School District.

The Recovery School District was established by R.S. 17:1990 “to provide an appropriate education for children attending any public elementary or secondary school.” The district is funded with state and federal funds and is administered by the Louisiana Department of Education, subject to approval of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

The Louisiana Legislature, of which Appel is a member, passed R.S. 17:1990 and also appropriates funding for the Department of Education, BESE, and the Recovery School District.

In A Dec. 20 opinion, ethics board attorney Tracy Barker informed Appel that “the Code of Governmental Ethics would prohibit your company, if you own an interest greater than five percent, from bidding on or entering into a contract with the Louisiana Recovery School District.”

Barker added that state statute “prohibits a legislator and any person who has been certified by the secretary of state as elected to the legislature or the spouse of such person (or) any legal entity of (such) person from entering into any contract with state government.” (Emphasis ours.)

State government, Barker said, is defined as any branch, agency, department, or institution of state government. “The Louisiana Recovery School District was created by the legislature under the administration of the Department of Education, subject to the approval of BESE,” she said. “As such, the Louisiana Recovery School District is an agency of the Department of Education.”

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By John Sachs

Oh golly. What to write about? It seems unfair to ask a novice writer to come up with a commentary for publication on Christmas Eve. All the good, not so good, and just plain awful Christmas theme stories have, for the most part, already been written. At least those that any publication would dare to run. Hopefully Louisiana Voice will tolerate one more kinda off-the-wall version. Mine.

As some of you have gleaned by now, I often think about and view subjects from a somewhat different perspective than many. And the Christmas story for me is no different. I wonder why God chose when, where, how, and yes, even why He sent his son to Earth. This is my take on the matter.

First, I think God is alive in heaven seated on the 50 yard line in the plush seats reserved for college presidents, politicians, or franchise owners which gives Him a really grand view of the game being played on Earth. And He is frustrated. No, actually He is ticked-off. Things are just not going according to plan.

God is watching us on Earth playing the game and darned few of us appear to understand the rules that He gave us to play by, and even fewer are following those rules. And God mutters:

Just look at ‘em. How can they make such a mess of the few simple rules I gave them to play by? Not only that, but I told them what the rules were in every way I knew how to do it. I told them the rules in their native language—and they didn’t pay attention.

Then I got Moses to tell them in spectacular fashion what I wanted them to do. No, not just spectacular fashion, but in miraculous ways. I spoke to Moses through a burning bush that was not consumed by the fire. When Moses told folks that and used a few miracles I gave him to use for emphasis, even that didn’t seem to impress them.

Then again through Moses I gave them 10 important rules to follow that I etched in rock tablets with my own finger—and they didn’t pay attention. By this time I was getting really frustrated, even angry at them. I thought what a bunch of insensitive dolts I’ve created. Maybe the word dumb better describes them.

Then I pulled out all the stops. I went for what I just knew would get their attention. I miraculously sent my own Son to tell them what I expected of them. I named Him Jesus. His name means Salvation and I named Him that so that everyone would understand that to gain salvation they had to do as my boy Jesus instructed. I made His birth itself a miracle.

I raised Him among the very people that He was to teach so that they would feel that He really understood them and could relate to them. I told Him what to say. I taught Him to speak directly and firmly like when He confronted the money changers in the temple. I taught Him to use parables to try and get Our message across. I gave Him some really neat miracles to perform that were sure to give Him credibility at best and at least help Him draw a good crowd at His next show. Maybe I should say … at His next appearance. Whatever.

And I admit that Jesus did a pretty good job of getting My message and rules out there. He made much more progress than Moses did. Of course, I helped Jesus even more than I did Moses so I’m not faulting Moses and his efforts. But still, even to this day, too many folks on Earth either haven’t heard My rules, learned My rules, and certainly aren’t playing by My rules. And I don’t like that, not one bit.

I’m gonna give them a little while longer to hear, learn, and follow My rules. But if they don’t shape up, I’m going to send Jesus back, but not to praise and congratulate them like they think He is going to do. He is going to kick some—well, He is going to get their attention like never before.

All I’m asking is that they love Me with all their heart, soul, and mind and also love their neighbor as much as they love themselves. It’s that simple. Love one another. Quit killing each other. Take care of one another. Don’t be greedy. Smile. And from time-to-time thank Me for what I’ve done for you.

To me, that’s the real Christmas story. And I’m sticking to it!

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Earl Long is generally credited with the following quote:

“Don’t write anything you can phone. Don’t phone anything you can talk. Don’t talk anything you can whisper. Don’t whisper anything you can smile. Don’t smile anything you can nod. Don’t nod anything you can wink.”

And so it came to pass that one day just before the Christmas season in the year of our Lord 2010, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his Chief of Staff Little Timmy Teepell were sitting across from one another at a table heavily laden with seasonal food winking at each other.

It was the governor who, breaking political protocol, interrupted the silence first.

BJ: I’m bored.

Little TT: Bored?

BJ: Yes, bored. I’ve been stuck here in the state for three whole days now.

Little TT: What do you suggest, Governor?

BJ: A road trip.

Little TT: But governor, all the elections are over. There’s no one to campaign for. And we’ve done the book tour thing.

BJ: Well, I’m bored. What can we do?

Little TT: Well, Governor, the natives are pretty restless. They think you should remain in the state a couple of weeks and work on the budget deficit.

BJ: TWO WEEKS!!!!?? Bor-ring!

Little TT: Seriously, Governor, we need to discuss ways to raise revenue for the state to offset an anticipated $1.6 billion budget deficit next year.

BJ: Isn’t there a hurricane or an oil spill or some other disaster that can give me face time on the TV cameras so I can act governorential?

Little TT: Governorential?

BJ: Yes. You know, where I go on TV and blame the federal government for everything.

Little TT: No there isn’t anything like that right now. Let’s talk about the budget.

BJ: I know! I can take the state helicopter to a little Baptist Church up in Shongaloo and give ‘em a stimulus check.

Little TT: We can do that on Sunday. Today’s Tuesday. Let’s talk about the budget until then.

BJ: All right. But it’s boring. There’re no TV cameras.

Little TT: That’s okay. You’ll get all the TV coverage you want if you solve the budget crisis.

BJ: Really? Oh, boy! What do we have to do?

Little TT: We need to take measures to raise cash to erase next year’s budget deficit.

BJ: That should be easy. I’m a Rhodes Scholar and (laughing) you’re a Roads Scholar. Isn’t that what you said in your interviews, you’re a Roads Scholar?

Little TT: That’s right, Governor, but remember, we were both absent on pothole day.


BJ: That’s funny. A Roads Scholar. Pothole day. I get it. What does that mean?

Little TT: Don’t worry about it. It was just a joke. Now to generate some revenue, we need to sell off some state assets.

BJ: Like what?

Little TT: Well, we can sell all those new state buildings that Governor Foster built and then lease the space back. That should gives us about a hundred million or so up front.

BJ: But didn’t I read somewhere once that selling any fixed asset on a sale-leaseback basis is an act of desperation triggered by cash flow problems?

Little TT: But that’s precisely where we are: We’re desperate because we have cash flow problems.

BJ: But it would place us, the seller, in the position as a long-term lessee. Isn’t that the same as a debtor or bond obligor? That seems like a quick fix to a long-term problem. It’s just deferring a permanent resolution to a problem and not fixing the underlying problem.

Little TT: Governor, you’ve been reading your old campaign literature again, haven’t you? You need to eighty-six that. Drop the rhetoric; you won the election.

BJ: Oops, I forgot.

Little TT: We can also sell a couple of state prisons—those in Winn and Allen parishes. That should bring in about $64 million or so.

BJ: Won’t the buyer just work the mortgage payments back into what he charges the state to house state prisoners?

Little TT: Governor, have you been talking to legislators and not telling me?

BJ: Sorry.

Little TT: Governor, you’ve got to stop that. Legislators aren’t your friends. Now focus. We can also draw against future lottery revenue to get another infusion of cash.

BJ: But what if somebody living in a trailer park wins the lottery? I don’t want him knocking on the front door of the governor’s mansion asking for his money.

Little TT: Don’t worry about that. Listen to me. These are all short-term solutions. It will give us one-time money to cover recurring expenditures but it doesn’t matter. By the time those people in north Louisiana who elected you figure it out, you’ll be well on your way to running for president.

BJ: And you’ll be my little Karl Rove. TT, I see where you’re going with this and I like it. Hell….I mean heck, we can sell the state police cars and put them on bicycles. That should work. When I was in Oxford doing my Rhodes Scholar bit, they had Bobbies on foot. We can call ‘em Bobbies on bicycles. Voters will love that.

Little TT: That would be pretty drastic. The state police would probably need cars….

BJ: How ’bout if I just sold my soul?

Little TT: You already did that to get elected.

BJ: How about selling some of the state golf courses?

Little TT: That’d probably look pretty bad. We just bought the Tournament Players Club in New Orleans and took over the Poverty Point club up in Delhi and we’re in the process of building a couple of others. How could we explain the sudden change? Those golf courses are viable investments. Even as we speak, we’re in the process of taking bids on the construction of a miniature golf course at City Park in New Orleans. What I’m saying, Governor, is we’re committed on these expenditures.

BJ: How about selling the Pentagon Barracks?

Little TT: Can’t do that, either. We have legislators living in them and the new owners might raise their rent from the $300 they’re paying now to a level comparable to other apartments. The legislature is already mad enough. We can’t risk that.

BJ: How about cutting higher education and health care benefits then?

Little TT: Now you’re thinking like the governor I know and respect. Let’s sing some nice Christmas carols:

Jindal Bells, Jindal Bells,
Jindal all the way;
Oh how sad
Is his wishy-washy way—HEY!

Jindal Bells, Jindal Bells,
On another flight
Oh how nice we all do feel
When he is out of si–ight.

Away at a fund raiser
No one does he dread;
Not running for president,
At least that’s what he said.

But from afar
We know what they say,
Move over Obama,
Jindal’s on his way.

Oh, little state of Louzian
How sorry is your plight;
With Bobby selling all our jails,
Citizens now feel pure fright.

While in our dark streets linger
A refracted gleam of light;
From guns and knives will lives
Be lost in thee tonight.

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The United States has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in America. Ergo, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world, according to a report by the U.S. Justice Department.

On the other hand, more than 17,000 of Louisiana’s 40,000 prison inmates are being held in parish prisons and the local sheriffs who receive $24.39 per prisoner per day love the arrangement. The total cost of local housing of adult offenders is a staggering $158.4 million with the state’s adult release program costing an additional $20.2 million, according to budget figures contained in HB-1 of this year’s legislative session.

The $158.4 million includes $152.6 million for actual housing, $3.7 million for inmate medical payments, $1.6 million for law enforcement district debt retirement in Morehouse and Natchitoches parishes, and $600,000 for additional payments of $3 per day per inmate for the Intensive Supervision Program.

The 17,000 state prisoners housed in parish jails in Louisiana is more than double the next two highest number—the 7,900 state prisoners held in county jails in Tennessee and 7,300 Kentucky prisoners held in county facilities.

Local sheriffs relish the opportunity to house state prison inmates because it infuses needed cash into the local coffers. One state official said the actual cost to sheriffs to house the state prisoners is only a fraction of the $24.39 daily income per prisoner. “It’s a big bonus for the sheriffs,” he said.

Nineteen parishes and four municipalities have contracts with the state to house state prisoners while others are paid under interagency agreements. Regardless, the pay to the local law enforcement agencies is the same and some sheriffs also operate work release facilities and pre-release/re-entry programs.

Work release reimbursement rates differ, depending on certain factors and rates range from $12.25 to $16.39 per prisoner per day and prisoners pay part of their salaries to the sheriffs to further offset the cost of the program.

Last July, a panel of judges, attorneys, and law enforcement officials convened to study why Louisiana sends more people to prison than any other state. They might have asked state legislators and saved themselves the trouble of a protracted study.

Each legislative session, dozens of bills are introduced by Louisiana lawmakers to either create new criminal statutes or to increase penalties for existing laws. Only rarely does a bill attempt to reduce penalties for crimes. In the 2010 regular session alone, for example, 68 of 93 bills addressing criminal procedure and crime, called for jail time for new crimes or longer sentences for existing laws. Those included crimes ranging from “unlawfully wearing clothing which exposes undergarments or certain body parts” to cyberbullying, and terrorist acts.

“Legislators wonder why the budget for the Department of Corrections is so large,” said one state employee who is familiar with the department. “As long as they keep trying to criminalize everything they find personally offensive in the name of law and order for the benefit of the folks back home, the budget is going to keep growing.”

Legislators last week criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tentative proposal to sell prison facilities in Winn and Allen parishes to raise revenue to help cut a projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall next year.

The state currently pays Corrections Corp. of America of Nashville and GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida, $18 million per year each to manage the Winn and Allen facilities, respectively. Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said selling the facilities could net the state about $64 million.

Some members of the Senate Finance Committee said they feared that new prison owners would include the mortgage costs in what they would charge the state to feed, clothe, and tend to the prisoners. Sen. John Alario (R-Westwego) said new owners would increase the operating costs charged the state in order to absorb the cost of purchasing the prisons, thereby resulting in the state’s paying for the prisons twice.

Current housing contracts with local parishes and municipalities and the contract amounts include:

• LaSalle Parish ($1,246,329);
• Morehouse Parish ($1,099,905.60)
• St. Charles Parish ($2,136,564);
• St. Mary Parish ($1,789,470);
• East Feliciana Parish ($335,343.75);
• Claiborne Parish ($1,424,376);
• Town of Jonesboro (Jackson Parish) ($1,780,470);
• Town of Richwood (Ouachita Parish) ($1,424,376);
• Town of Wisner (Franklin Parish) ($1,780,470);
• Village of Epps (West Carroll Parish) ($1,281938.40);
• West Feliciana Parish ($268,275);
• Bossier Parish ($1,958,517);
• Catahoula Parish ($1,246,329);
• Concordia Parish (two contracts: $1,780,470 and $500,000);
• Iberia Parish ($478,423.75);
• Madison Parish (two contracts: $1,139,500.80 and $4,780,561.95);
• Natchitoches Parish ($1,145,735);
• Rapides Parish (three contracts: $1,246,329; $603,618.75, and $491,837.50);
• Sabine Parish ($1,068,282);
• St. Tammany Parish ($389,637.50);
• Vernon Parish ($1,068,282);
• Webster Parish ($1,228,524.30);
• West Baton Rouge Parish ($827,181.25)
Parish contracts for work release, pre-release services, and offender re-entry services and contract amounts include:
• Lafourche Parish (inmate work release: $968,527.50);
• Caddo Parish (pre-release services: $550,000);
• Madison Parish (female offender re-entry: $431,550)
• Orleans Parish (re-entry services: $366,667).

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