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Archive for January, 2011

The former state budget director says little has changed in the Louisiana Legislature’s spending mentality in the decade since he retired.

Stephen R. Winham, who served as the state’s budget director from 1988 to 2000 and as a budget analyst for the Department of Corrections budget, is also a vocal critic of the proliferation of professional service contracts.

“Back when the State Budget Office actually had some clout, budget analysts did a common sense review of professional services contracts,” he said. “But then Governor (Dave) Treen decided that the budget office had too much power and that no one should be questioning things his cabinet appointees did.”

Winham said after that, central oversight of state agency expenditures began to decline “and now nobody routinely second-guesses the need for professional services contracts above the agency level.”

The State of Louisiana Annual Report for 2008-2009, the latest report available, shows that the state issued more than $5 billion in contracts, fully 20 percent of the state budget. That figure is somewhat misleading because 1,083 contracts for $2.9 billion, nearly 60 percent, were in the form of cooperative endeavor agreements with other public agencies; $213.4 million was for interagency contracts, and $79.4 million was for intergovernmental contracts.

Still, the report showed there were 1,275 consulting contracts in the amount of $1.4 billion; 1,292 professional contracts totaled $178 million, 160 personal contracts came to another $7.4 million, and 1,531 contracts for social services came to $288.9 million.

Winham said during his tenure, his office presented an annual budget to the Legislature that cut funding to programs “below the line” of available funds. He said that list was a best effort at a fair representation of what people want and need from state government. “Every year the program ranked dead last on our list was funded,” he said. The program consistently ranked last by his office was an appropriation of about $3,000 for CODOSPAN (the Council for the Development of Spanish). It was the Spanish equivalent of CODOFIL (the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana),” he said. “Always last on our priority list and always funded.”

He said there were other local subsidies (now called Non Governmental Organizations, or NGOs) that were always funded, like basketball tournaments and festivals.

He said his worst experience was coming to realization that “when it comes down to a choice of politics and what makes the most sense, politics always wins. In a political environment, you can’t avoid that but when politics always supersedes everything else, it’s always frustrating.” His best accomplishment, he said, was getting the budgetary process automated and available on line. “We made the budget more accessible to the citizens.”

Given a choice, he said he would make a different career choice. “I felt I was spinning my wheels,” he said. “I would not do it over. I felt I was accomplishing things early on but I became less and less effective. The Joint Legislative Committee on Appropriations just started ignoring my presentations. Everything was just a formality,” he said.

“They say all politics are local, and they’re right,” he said. “That’s why (Gov. Bobby) Jindal goes all over the state handing out those little checks to local governments. It’s the same reason legislators want to protect their turf with those local appropriations and it’s also the reason Jindal won’t veto any of those appropriations.

“Jindal is always thinking about the next thing,” Winham said. “We need a governor who will think about the now.”

He said government is not a business. “When a candidate says he is going to make government operate like business, it’s just rhetoric. Government and business do not exist for the same purpose; government exists to serve the people and business exists to make a profit.”

Still, he expressed concerned about the Legislature’s apparent inability to rein in pork spending. He said he agrees with State Treasurer John Kennedy’s assessment that until individual legislators, working together in large numbers, begin to take their responsibility seriously, funding decisions will remain irrational, irresponsible, and reckless.

Winham said former Gov. Buddy Roemer was a strong fiscal conservative but where he cut in some areas, he added in others, so he never got credit for any cuts.

“I was surprised once when I did an analysis and found the least budget growth occurred during one of Edwin Edwards’s terms, his third term, I believe,” he said.

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State Rep. James R. “Jim” Fannin (D-Jonesboro) says he is opposed to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to sell state buildings as a means of raising needed one-time revenue in an attempt to offset a projected $1.6 billion state budget deficit this year.

At the same time, Fannin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said he is not averse to some other plans floated by Jindal, among them the sale of two state prison facilities in Winn and Allen parishes. Both facilities are state-owned but are privately managed by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) of Nashville, TN., and the GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida, respectively.

“I am willing to discuss the selling of the two prisons because they have been operating of a cost of $8 million to $9 million less than what it would cost the state to run them,” Fannin said. He added that if similar cost savings could be duplicated, he would be willing to consider similar actions with other state prison facilities.

He said selling state buildings would amount to the state’s having to pay for them twice. “We would have to pay off the bonded indebtedness on the buildings and the tenants, state agencies, would have to continue paying rent to the new owners,” he said. “That would put the state in the position of paying for the buildings twice for the benefit of receiving one-time money.”

Jindal has estimated the sale of the buildings, all built during former Gov. Mike Foster’s administration, would bring the stat approximately $400 million in one-time revenue.

Fannin also serves as Chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and is a member of the House Executive Committee, the Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Outlay, the Legislative Budgetary Control Council, and the State Bond Commission.

A resident of Jonesboro, his district includes all or parts of the parishes of Jackson, Bienville, Winn, and Ouachita.

Other proposals that he said he is willing to consider include privatizing the state’s PPO health care plan and borrowing from future proceeds (securitization) of the state lottery. He said news accounts that quoted him as saying he would support the use of $100 million of one-time money to help plug the anticipated budget deficit were inaccurate. “I am willing to use as much one-time revenue as the Revenue Estimating Committee sees in growth for Fiscal Year 2012-13,” he said.

“The state is projected to have $400 million in growth this year,” he said. “Even with a budget deficit, there is projected growth but that’s a far cry from making up a $1.6 billion deficit. The state has just come through what we call in business a flat year. But in business, when you have a flat year, you don’t simply close the business, you adjust. I wish we didn’t have to be where we are but the process (economy) has brought us to this point. I hope there will continue to be future growth so that we won’t have to keep kicking this can down the road.”

Fannin said Louisiana has been compared to Alabama because of the similarity in population. “Alabama has far fewer state employees than Louisiana,” he said. While acknowledging that Louisiana has a state-run charity hospital system and Alabama does not and many of Louisiana’s state workers are employed by that system, he said, “Maybe Alabama has managed to address its health-care needs without the necessity of a charity hospital system.”

He said one of his biggest concerns is in the area of professional contracts awarded by the state, particularly by the Department of Education. “It’s absurd to have so many professional service contracts out there,” he said. “Kennedy (Treasury Secretary John Kennedy) has been raising this as an issue. Many agencies get around the requirement to obtain approval of contracts of $50,000 or more by awarding a lot of contracts for just under the required reporting level. There’s a tremendous amount of waste in those contracts. I understand (Sen. Ben) Nevers (D-Bogalusa) has been critical of state contracts, too,” he said.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, has responded to recent articles about contracts awarded by that agency.

Education Department spokesperson Rene’ Greer said the printout of department contracts provided by Kennedy was misleading because many of the contracts were multi-year contracts. One, for example was a five-year contract for $193,000 for a warehouse lease but when listed it appeared to be the amount for a single year instead of being spread over five years.

Moreover, she explained, many of the contracts were federal dollars and were contracts required by the federal government. Others were paid with moneys that went to local school districts and were not direct expenditures of the department. Still others, she said, were inter-agency transfers. “By the time you calculate salaries, expenditures for the Recovery School District, and other mandated expenditures, there was really very little left in the way of discretionary funds for the department to spend,” she said.

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The Alabama firm that threatened to fire its employees who provide security for 15 Baton Rouge state office buildings for complaining about their bounced or non-existent paychecks has itself been fired.

Former security provider, Inter Parish Security Corp. (IPSC) of nearby Hammond was brought back in to complete the remainder of the contract term of JAT Bureau of Protective Services.

JAT, of Montgomery, Alabama, said in a December 6 memorandum to employees that complaints “will not be tolerated.” It said that any employee “found to be in violation of this police will be given a written warning,” and that “further violations would result in termination.”

Instead, JAT has been terminated and replaced by the company it replaced on Oct. 1 when it was awarded a million dollar contract after bid openings last August. JAT’s contract was to have run through June 30 of this year with unarmed guards receiving a minimum of $8.50 per hour and armed guards getting a dollar more per hour. Supervisors were to have received a minimum of $12 per hour under JAT’s contract.

JAT employed 74 guards in 15 Baton Rouge state office buildings, plus employees in other state buildings scattered across the state.

IPSC held the state contract for three years before being underbid by JAT.

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The Louisiana Department of Education has responded to recent criticism and news reports of what has been perceived to be a glut of professional service contracts, claiming that it was unfair to use outdated contract lists as a basis of that criticism or to include federally-required contractual spending.

Department public information officer René Greer responded to a news story by LouisianaVoice that cited contracts such as one for $94,000 for a contractor to teach children how to play at recess and dozens of contracts to church organizations to take care of children after school.

The story cited data from a printout of department contracts for fiscal years 2006-2007, 2007-2008, and 2008-2009, the latest documents available. Those documents were provided by Treasury Secretary John Kennedy’s office. Kennedy has been a vocal critic of professional service contracts for several years.

State Rep. Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told LouisianaVoice that one of his biggest concerns is in the area of professional contracts awarded by the state, particularly by the Department of Education. “It’s absurd to have so many professional service contracts out there,” he said. “Kennedy has been raising this as an issue. Many agencies get around the requirement to obtain approval of contracts of $50,000 or more by awarding a lot of contracts for just under the required reporting level. There’s a tremendous amount of waste in those contracts.”

Greer said the department is equally determined to cut waste. “We’re deeply committed to the same principle expressed by Treasurer Kennedy and Representative Fannin– to ensure that every tax dollar dedicated to education is spent thoughtfully to achieve the best outcomes for our students,” she said. “But we’re disappointed by the continued focus on contracts that are no longer current and haven’t been for several years. In many cases, the criticism centers on contracts issued five or six years ago, to community organizations and churches for the federally funded afterschool programs. And the process that awards these contracts was revised by BESE and the current administration more than two years ago, as it now requires grant applicants to provide students with a high quality academic component in order to be eligible for these federal dollars, and the Department monitors and measures the effectiveness of grant recipients to ensure only successful providers are funded.”

For example, this year alone, the agency will dispense an estimated $32 million for the federal 21st Century Grant Program which funds after-school tutoring programs for at-risk students, she said. Greer says on the surface it might be tempting to label these professional service contracts as bad. But she said that until the state is successful at resolving some of the critical needs that are supported by these funds and contracts, ending these programs and services would be a setback to the education community, and most importantly to students.

“It’s oversimplifying the issue to decide the number or amount of contracts issued by the department is a gauge on our commitment to fiscal responsibility,” Greer said. “We need to put this into context. First, most of the contracts are supported by federal dollars. And federal dollars that flow to districts and communities, such as FEMA, TANF and USDOE grants must first flow to state agencies prior to being distributed through a contractual process. These dollars are based on measures of a state’s needs, which are determined by federal regulations. And while it might sound good to say we need to decrease the number of contracts and the amount of money the Department is allocating for contracts, in actuality that would mean that districts and schools would not receive critical funding for rebuilding projects, after-school programs and other very vital needs. The question we should be asking ourselves – regardless of whether the funds are local, state or federal – is whether we’re making the biggest impact we can make for students, and if not, what spending reforms should we put in place to achieve better outcomes? That’s the aim of Superintendent Pastorek and the Department.”

Greer also pointed out that the State General Fund budget for the agency’s direct activities, which is about $57 million, is shrinking.

“From Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2011, contractual allocations are expected to decrease by more than $5 million or 15 percent. The largest contractual expenditure for the agency, the testing contract, accounts for nearly half the agency’s total annual budget. So there is very little left in the way of discretionary funds for the department to spend. Regardless, total State General Fund expenditures for the agency’s direct activities have declined by $6.8 million, or 10.7%, from Fiscal Year 2008-2009 to Fiscal Year 2010-2011. In fact, the number of employees employed by the agency, including the Special School District, has drastically declined from 857 during the 2007-2008 Fiscal Year to 682 during the 2010-2011 Fiscal Year, which is a 21% decrease.”

Greer last week pledged to provide LouisianaVoice with an updated contract printout and on Tuesday did provide a partial list that contained printing and copier lease contracts. The professional service contract printout, however, was not included among those documents.

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When attempting to ferret out the hidden costs of state government, one can quickly become board, as in more than 500 boards and commissions—complete with more than 6,000 members.

Alabama, which has 250,000 more people than Louisiana, according to the 2010 Census, has only 25 boards and commissions. Texas, with five times Louisiana’s population, makes do with 110 though it, too, has a glut of education boards with 11.

But back to Louisiana where individual board and commission membership ranges from as few as two to as many as 164.

Sheer logistics makes compiling even a rough cost estimate for office space, utilities, member per diem and mileage payments, or staff salaries virtually impossible. There is, however, sufficient evidence of overlap and duplication to warrant scrutiny, especially in the face of budgetary shortfalls predicted to be as much as $1.6 billion for the coming fiscal year.

There are the usual suspects: the education and retirement boards.

Louisiana somehow has always seen fit to have several education boards:

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the LSU Board of Supervisors; the Board of Regents for Higher Education; the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors; the Southern University Board of Supervisors, and more recently, the Community and Technical Colleges Board of Supervisors.

So, why do LSU and Southern warrant their own separate boards? Why is there a need for both a University of Louisiana board (formerly the Board of Trustees for State Colleges and Universities) and a Board of Regents? No one has ever answered that question but each has its very own office space, board members, and staff.

But wait. While much has said about those boards, Louisiana also has the Academic Advisory Council; the Adult Learning Task Force; the Education Estimating Conference (how does one estimate education?); the Louisiana High School Redesign Commission; the Local Education Governance and Administration Task Force, and the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) Advisory Board.

Or, how about the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees; the Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees; the School Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees; the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees; the State Police Retirement Fund, and the Public Retirement Systems’ Actuarial Committee? And just what is the difference between the Louisiana Retirement Development Commission and the Commission on Public Retirement?

The legalization of gambling in Louisiana produced another whole line of boards. We have the Louisiana Gaming Control Board; the Louisiana State Lottery Corporation Board of Directors; the Louisiana State Racing Commission; the Bossier Parish Pari-Mutuel Live Racing Facility Economic Redevelopment and Gaming Control Board; the Calcasieu Parish Pari-Mutuel Live Racing Facility Economic Redevelopment and Gaming Control Board, and the St. Landry Parish Pari-Mutuel Live Racing Facility Economic Redevelopment and Gaming Control Board.

Then we have the Louisiana Children’s Cabinet; the Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board; the Children’s Cabinet Research Council; The Louisiana Children’s Trust Fund; the Child Care and Development Block Grant Advisory Council; the Louisiana Advisory Committee on Licensing of Child Care Facilities and Child Placing Agencies; the Child Death Review Panel; the Commission on Peri-natal Care and Prevention of Infant Mortality; the Governor’s Advisory Council on Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities, and the Select Committee on Women and Children.

Under the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, there are a multitude of boards and commissions. These include:

The Agriculture Finance Authority; the Agricultural Commodities Commission; the State Market Commission; the Louisiana Feed Commission; the Louisiana Fertilizer Commission; the Louisiana Forestry Commission; the Livestock Sanitary Board; the Livestock Brand Commission; The Dairy Industry Promotion Board; the Dairy Stabilization Board; the Aquaculture Coordinating Council; the Aquatic Chelonian (turtle) Research and Promotion Board; Oyster Task Force; the Oyster Lease Damage Evaluation Board; the Fur and Alligator Advisory Council; the Identity Task Force of Seafood Standards; the Catfish Promotion Board; the Louisiana Pork Promotion Board; the Sweet Potato Advertising and Development Commission; the Louisiana Egg Commission; the Rice Promotion Board, and, of course, the Rice Research Board.

And how could we ever forget the Boll Weevil Eradication Commission?

In sheer numbers, however, none can top the various levee, port, and sundry water boards and commissions. How could we ever function without them?

Check ’em out:

The Bayou DeSiard Lake Restoration Commission; the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District; the Lafourche Basin Levee District Board of Commissioners; the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation District Board of Commissioners; the Cane Waterway Commission; the Ground Water Resources Commission; the Ground Water Management Conservation District Board of Directors; the Groundwater Management Advisory Task Force; the Morehouse Parish Lake Commission; the Poverty Point Reservoir District Board of Commissioners; the West Ouachita Parish Reservoir Commission; the Allen Parish Reservoir District Board of Commissioners; the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission; the White Lake Property Advisory Board; the Bayou D’arbonne Watershed District Commission; the Sparta Groundwater Conservation District; the Amite River Basin Drainage and Water Conservation District Board of Commissioners; the Waterways Infrastructure Bank Board of Directors; the Southern Louisiana Drinking Water Study Commission; the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District Board of Commissioners; the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Board of Commissioners; the Millennium Port Authority; the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission; the Greater Ouachita Port Commission; the Krotz Springs Port Commission; the Port of Greater Baton Rouge; the Port of New Orleans Board of Commissioners; the Red River Port Commission; the Red River Compact Commission; the Red River Development Council; the Red River Waterway Commission; the Red River; Atchafalaya and Bayou Boeuf Levee District Board of Commissioners; the Red River Levee Drainage District Board of Commissioners; the Sabine River Authority Board of Commissioners; the Sabine River Compact Administration; the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East; the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority West; the Morgan City; Berwick Port Pilot Commissioners and Examiners; the River Port Review and Oversight Board; the River Port Pilot Commissioners and Examiners for Port Fouchon Board; the River Port Pilot Commissioners and Examiners Board (Calcasieu); the River Port Pilots for the Calcasieu Bar; Pass; and Main Ship Channel to Lake Charles Orange; Texas Board; the River Port Pilot Commissioners for the Port of New Orleans Board; the River Port Pilots for the Intracoastal Canal; the New Orleans and Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association; the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Examiners for the Mississippi River Board; the Lafourche Basin Levee District Board of Commissioners; the North Lafourche Conservation Levee and Drainage District; the South Lafourche Levee District Board of Commissioners; the Lafitte Area Independent Levee District; the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District Board of Commissioners; the Bossier Levee District Board of Commissioners; the North Bossier Levee District Board the Caddo Levee District Board of Commissioners; the East Jefferson Levee District Board of Commissioners; the Fifth Louisiana Levee District Board of Commissioners; the Pontchartrain Levee Board; the Board of Levee Commissioners of the Orleans Levee District; the Nineteenth Louisiana Levee District Board of Commissioners; the St. Mary Levee District Board of Commissioners; the Natchitoches Levee and Drainage District Board of Commissioners; and the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Board of Commissioners.

Thank goodness the state took steps to merge redundant levee boards after Hurricane Katrina.

But just for good measure, we have the:

• Aviation and Military Museum of Louisiana Board of Directors;
• Military Hall of Fame and Museum Governing Board of Directors;
• Military Museum Governing Board;
• Kenner Naval Museum Commission;
• Governor’s Military Advisory Board;
• Military Advisory Commission;
• Military Family Assistance Board;
• Veterans Affairs Commission;
• Louisiana Diabetes Advisory Council;
• Louisiana Diabetes Initiative Council;
• Joint Legislative Juvenile Justice Commission;
• Governor’s Advisory Board of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention;
• Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission;
• Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission;
• Task Force on Legal Representation in Child Protection Cases;
• Integrated Criminal Justice Information System Policy Board;
• Life Safety and Property Protection Advisory Board;
• Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice;
• Law Enforcement Executive Management Institute Board;
• Louisiana State Police Commission;
• Louisiana Sentencing Commission
• Pardon Board;
• Parole Board;
• Louisiana Commission on Uniform State Laws;
• Forensic Strategic Task Force;
• Domestic Violence Law Enforcement Training Task Force;
• Governor’s Task Force on DWI-Vehicular Homicide;
• Homeland Security Advisory Council;
• State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision;
• Louisiana Law Institute;
• National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics;
• Council on Peace Officer Standards and Training;
• Interagency Council on Prevention of Sex Offenses;
• Sexual Assault Task Force;
• Eastern New Orleans Interstate Oversight Commission;
• Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission;
• Senate Select Committee for Oversight of Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission;
• Louisiana Byways Commission;
• Manchac Parkway Commission;
• Mississippi River Parkway Commission;
• Mississippi River Road Commission;
• Mississippi River Bridge Authority;
• Crescent City Connection Oversight Commission;
• Highway 1 Task Force;
• I-49 North Extension Feasibility and Funding Task Force;
• I-49 South Project Task Force;
• Ouachita Expressway Authority;
• River Parishes Transit Authority;
• Southern Rapid Rail Transit Commission;
• Incentives for New Ventures and Economic Stimulation (INVEST) Commission;
• Louisiana Investment in Infrastructure for Economic Prosperity Commission;
• Louisiana Economic Development Corporation;
• Economic Estimating Conference;
• North Louisiana Economic Development Board;
• Louisiana Prosper Commission;
• Small Business Entrepreneurship Commission;
• Louisiana Workforce Commission;
• Louisiana Workforce Investment Council;
• Occupational Forecasting Conference;
• Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District Board of Commissioners;
• Legislative Budget Control Council
• Revenue Estimating Conference;
• Small Business Task Force;
• Small Business Compliance Advisory Panel;
• Solution to Poverty Network Council;
• Southern Growth Policies Board;
• Workforce Competitiveness Task Force;
• Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family;
• Life Management and Marriage and Relationship Skills Course Study Task Force;
• Marriage/Family Therapy Advisory Committee

All this has given me a migraine so if you will excuse me, I think I’ll go lie down now. There’s probably a board or commission or a study task force for that.

Got a news lead for Louisiana Voice to investigate? Have a suggestion for a story? Your identity will never be revealed. Just send an email to louisianavoice@cox.net

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