U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu says Gov. Jindal “fumbled” on two grants that cost the state $140 million but in fairness to Jindal, he now has a chance to dwarf those losses by blowing an additional $390 million in FEMA money to mitigate damage caused by two major hurricanes in 2005.
The word out of Baton Rouge this week is that the state will receive an additional $389.6 million from FEMA for flood prevention of homes, levees and public buildings.
But don’t hold your breath.
The state has received $1.4 billion in hazard mitigation money already after FEMA assessed damages from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The state might yet receive the money, however, despite the loss of two earlier federal grants of $60 million and $80 million. That’s because this money was secured through the efforts of the state’s congressional delegation and was not hampered by the Jindal administration.
The additional hazard mitigation money can be used by property owners to elevate or retrofit homes with additions such as hurricane-proof windows and storm shutters and local governments may use the money to repair levees, improve drainage and strengthen school buildings and other public facilities.
Most of that money is expected to be used in the parishes of Cameron, St. Bernard and Orleans, areas especially hard-hit by Katrina and Rita in 2005.
“As we did after Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike, we are sending these dollars directly to parishes because local leaders know how to best protect our communities from future losses in the event of another natural disaster,” Jindal said.
That would represent something of a departure for the Jindal administration which has thus far fought, at least publicly, to resist federal funding but has never shied away from taking credit when he passes out checks during Sunday morning visits to north Louisiana protestant churches.
Jindal no doubt hopes the $390 million bonus will help him save face after his rumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’ performances with two other grants.
The first, $60 million in early childhood education funding was lost when the administration simply decided not to apply for the money.
The second was an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to fund a project to install 900 miles of cable to bring broadband internet connection to 21 rural parishes.
The $60 million grant would have been the third round of Race to the Top dollars and was to have been used to improve the quality of early learning and closing the achievement gap for children with high needs resulting largely from poverty.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater called U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s criticism of Jindal “disappointing.” Rainwater once worked with Landrieu but now is the mouthpiece of the administration. He said the state punted on the $60 million because the state studied the grant and decided that it would not have expanded early childhood education but rather would have targeted programs the state has already been addressing. He neglected to say what those programs were.
Rainwater also said the money would have had strings attached that would have meant more federal control over the education system.
The state, of course, is far above that. No control over local school systems by the state with this administration. Just pull funding from the public school systems and divert it into charter schools. No control there. All the local systems have to do to compensate for the lost funds is layoff teachers. What control?
Landrieu disagreed. “All the federal government is doing is offering them money with virtually no strings attached except for basic accountability,” she said.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two positions, but so what? If you borrow money from the bank, there are usually strings attached, such as for what purpose the money will be used and how it will be repaid. That’s life.
Basic accountability is something the state has found lacking in some areas, most notably with payment for the $239 million Jindal sand berms built at the governor’s insistence as an effort to stem the flow of oil from the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent blowout. That failed effort was monumental in scope. Not only did the berms wash away but so too did the heavy dredging equipment brought in to construct the berms—all swallowed up in the Gulf waters.
That was bad enough but then along came the Legislative Auditor’s office that issued a report earlier this month that the state overpaid Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure, Inc. by nearly $495,000 to build the oh-so-temporary and oh-so-useless berms.
It’s not the first time Shaw’s name has surfaced in questionable costs.
Immediately after Katrina devastated New Orleans, Shaw was awarded a no-bid contract to cover storm-damaged roofs across New Orleans with those familiar blue tarps. Each tarp covered 100 square feet, meaning the average home would require 15 tarps to fully protect its roof. There were literally tens of thousands of those homes in and around New Orleans.
Shaw’s contract called for it to receive $175 per square (one tarp, or 100 square feet). That did not include the cost of the tarps because they were provided by FEMA. The $175 was just for labor. (That, by the way, comes to about $2,600 per house—not much below what it would cost to simply re-roof the home.)
Shaw promptly hired a subcontractor to install the tarps at $75 per square. That meant Shaw would net $100 per square for doing absolutely nothing. Multiply that by 15 per house ($1,500 net per house) times the thousands of houses getting the tarps and well, you get the picture.
The subcontractor then found his own subcontractor and paid him $35 per square, leaving the first subcontractor with a neat profit of $40 per square, or roughly $600 per house for doing zilch.
The second subcontractor then found laborers who actually installed the tarps—at $2 per square. Is this what they meant by trickle-down economics?
But back to the grants.
When the Public Service Commission demanded answers it got the typical bureaucratic shuffle from Rainwater and Board of Regents President Jim Purcell.
The blame, they said, lay alternatively with the legislature which took too long to approve spending, a contractor whom they said was late with his work (the contractor denies that) and the Obama administration, which Rainwater said “wants to run the car companies, the banks, our entire health care system, and now they want to take over the broadband business.
“We won’t stand for that in Louisiana,” he sniffed.
That little bit of defiance resurrected echoes of Leander Perez in his efforts to defy the federal government’s insistence on school desegregation more than a half-century ago. At the time, Gov. Earl K. Long reminded Perez in not-so-gentle terms of the realities of the day when he bellowed to the arch-segregationist, “What you gonna do now, Leander? The feds have the A-bomb!”
Probably Jindal’s frittering away the $80 million has more to do with campaign contributors than any philosophical differences over federal influence.
The broadband project would have connected to the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI), a 1,600-mile fiber-optic network that connects Louisiana and Mississippi research universities to National LambdaRail and Internet2, which would connect 100,00 households, 15,000 businesses and 150 schools, libraries and hospitals.
A Jindal campaign contributor whom the governor appointed to the Board of Regents, Ed Antie of Carencro, was forced to resign earlier this year amid revelations during Senate confirmation hearings that he had a $531,000 contract with the Regents through one of his companies to provide fiber-optic cables to LONI, which is overseen by the Regents.
“Straight baloney,” said Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Rainwater’s contention that the broadband internet project would result in unfair competition with private providers.
“We’ve been begging the private providers to build broadband infrastructure in the rural areas of the Delta and they won’t do it,” Campbell said. “I don’t give a damn if the companies object. If they won’t do it on their own, then does that mean we should just sacrifice these poor parishes’ and people’s chance to be connected?”
Campbell said he wants the state’s major telecoms, Rainwater and Purcell to attend the next PSC meeting. “I want to know the providers who objected,” he said.
At one point in the hearings, Campbell, whose position is not appointive but elective, found it necessary to remind Rainwater, “I don’t work for you.”
That must have come as quite a shock to both Jindal and Rainwater who, without Timmy Teepell to hold their hand, were probably unable to locate a copy of the State Constitution that would verify Campbell’s unexpected revelation.