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Republican members of the Louisiana Legislature are pretty smug about their ability to block any proposed legislation or budget put forward by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Witness the antics of Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) as he danced to puppeteer/House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) in rejecting the findings of the Revenue Estimating Conference, effectively killing any chance Edwards had of implementing badly needed pay raises for Louisiana’s public school teachers.

But do Henry and Barras, members in good standing of the “Caucus of No,” give a damn about teachers or, for that matter, the state as a whole?

You can check that box No.

And the same can be said for Attorney General Jeff Landry, who would far rather take pot shots at the governor than do his job.

The only thing—and I stress the only thing—important to them is winning. Defeating any proposal of the governor in an effort to cast him in a bad light as the 2019 election approaches is considered a victory for them.

It’s a damned shame that grown-ass men put their own interests and the interests of their precious political party (be they Republican or Democrat) over the good of the citizens of this state. They would rather point fingers of blame for failures and grab credit for successes than come together to try and lead this state out of the backwater world of financial, educational, environmental, and cultural existence for which it has become notorious.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the number of legislative sessions we’ve had over the past three years:

  • 2016: 4 (one was the organization session held ever four years, so realistically, we shouldn’t count that one).
  • 2017: 3—Regular session and two special sessions—just to try and pass a state budget.
  • 2018: 4—Regular session and three special sessions—same problem.

Legislators Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) and Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) put their fingers on the problem in 2017 when they dubbed the philosophy of putting corporate interests above individual taxpayers as ”OBSTRUCTIONIST POLITICS.”

And therein lies the problem. The big moneyed interests—big oil, big Pharma, banks, payday lending, nursing homes, communications companies, and insurance companies—all working together under the umbrella of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Chemical Association and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, pour money into legislators’ campaign funds, forevermore buying the undying loyalty of their lapdogs who, by pushing a red or green button mounted on their desks, control the fate of four million Louisiana citizens.

When it comes to you,  with your $25 donation, having your complaint about high cable TV bills, high drug prices, or unfair lending practices going up against their hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, legislative parties, meals at Sullivan’s and Ruth’s Chris, and the occasional “companionship” during a deep-sea fishing trip, just who do you think is going to be heard?

Again: don’t believe me? Then attend a legislative committee hearing on a bill in which you have an interest. Sign the card to speak for or against the bill. If your position is contrary to the committee members’ positions that have already been bought and paid for, just watch their eyes glaze over as you testify. Or, they might even get up and leave the committee room to take an “important” phone call or just get a cup of coffee. The point is, they ain’t listening to you.

Having said all that, I now bring to the witness stand the latest findings of 24/7 Wall Street, that private research firm that publishes dozens of lists and ranks each day, from the best wines or automobiles to companies projected to downsize to the most obese state, poorest state, state with the biggest gap in gender pay to today’s published results:

The BEST and WORST RUN STATES in AMERICA.

The survey is based on many metrics, including, but not limited to:

  • The ability to attract new residents (new money and new demand for goods and services);
  • The strength of the job market;
  • Diversity of economy;
  • Per capita GDP;
  • Crime rate

Do you want to even hazard a guess as to where Louisiana ranked?

You got it.

Dead last. 50th. Anchor position.

The top three, in order were Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Utah’s state minimum wage is $7.25 but Washington has the nation’s highest at $11.50 and Oregon is fourth-highest at $10.75

The bottom five, in order, are West Virginia, Mississippi, Alaska, New Mexico, and….

Louisiana

We have the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), the second lowest GDP growth, and the third highest poverty rate (19.7 percent).

Alaska’s minimum wage is $9.84 per hour and in New Mexico and West Virginia it is $8.25. In Mississippi and Louisiana, however, the minimum wage is still $7.25 even though the LIVING WAGE CALCULATOR says the living wage for a single adult in Louisiana ranges from a low of $9.46 per hour in Avoyelles Parish to $11.40 for several parishes in the New Orleans area. Here is the living hourly wage for a single adult in the following Louisiana parishes:

  • ACADIA: $9.62
  • ALLEN: $10.20
  • ASCENSION: $10.89
  • ASSUMPTION: $10.13
  • AVOYELLES: $9.46
  • BEAUREGARD: $10.20
  • BIENVILLE: $10.20
  • BOSSIER: $10.98
  • CADDO: $10.98
  • CALCASIEU: $10.20
  • CALDWELL: $10.20
  • CAMERON: $10.20
  • CATAHOULA: $10.20
  • CLAIBORNE: $9.88
  • CONCORDIA: $9.88
  • DESOTO: $10.98
  • EAST BATON ROUGE: $10.89
  • EAST CARROLL: $9.96
  • EAST FELICIANA: $10.89
  • EVANGELINE: $9.88
  • FRANKLIN: $9.88
  • GRANT: $10.83
  • IBERIA: $10.31
  • IBERVILLE: $10.02
  • JACKSON: $9.88
  • JEFFERSON DAVIS: $10.20
  • JEFFERSON: $11.40
  • LAFAYETTE: $10.79
  • LAFOURCHE: $11.27
  • LASALLE: $9.92
  • LINCOLN: $10.69
  • LIVINGSTON: $10.89
  • MADISON: $9.88
  • MOREHOUSE: $10.20
  • NATCHITOCHES: $10.25
  • ORLEANS: $11.40
  • OUACHITA: $11.01
  • PLAQUEMINES: $11.40
  • POINTE COUPEE: $10.89
  • RAPIDES: $10.83
  • RED RIVER: $10.34
  • RICHLAND: $9.88
  • SABINE: $10.14
  • BERNARD: $11.40
  • CHARLES: $11.40
  • HELENA: $10.89
  • JAMES: $9.73
  • JOHN THE BAPTIST: $11.40
  • LANDRY: $9.54
  • MARTIN: $10.79
  • MARY: $10.32
  • TAMMANY: $11.40
  • TANGIPAHOA: $10.90
  • TENSAS: $9.88
  • TERREBONNE: $11.27
  • UNION: $11.01
  • VERMILION: $9.79
  • VERNON: $10.77
  • WASHINGTON: $9.90
  • WEBSTER: $9.78
  • WEST BATON ROUGE: $10.89
  • WEST CARROLL: $9.88
  • WEST FELICIANA: $10.89
  • WINN: $10.20

No living wage for a single adult in any of the 64 parishes was given at $7.25, so how the hell do our LABI-bought, packaged, and owned legislators think a single mom and two or three kids can subsist on $7.25 an hour?

We have the nation’s fifth highest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), the second lowest GDP growth, and the third highest poverty rate (19.7 percent).

Ah, but the 2019 regular session convenes at noon on April 8. The booze will flow again, sumptuous food will abound in Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants and deals can be made.

Of course, campaign contributions may not be made during the session, but not to worry; all that will be taken care well in advance of the fall of the gavel to open the session.

It’s Louisiana and we’re number by-gawd 50 and we worked hard to get there.

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A state district court last week knocked down action taken by the Vermilion Parish School Board for violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law. In what must surely be a first, I find myself in agreement with Attorney General Jeff Landry on the whole affair.

Suffice it to say, however, that Landry waited until there was a judicial ruling to take his courageous stand, a ruling 10 months in the making, while LouisianaVoice took a similar position on the removal of a teacher from a board meeting immediately.

For that matter, why the hell did it take 15th Judicial District Court Judge David Smith 10 months to issue a ruling on a matter that is supposed to be fast-tracked: the issue of public meetings of governmental bodies? To take 10 months to decide what was obviously a violation of state law is somewhat ludicrous.

Be that as it may, Smith not only ruled the school board violated the Open Meetings Law by having a teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, a Kaplan middle school English teacher, arrested and removed from the meeting because she questioned the board action of awarding Superintendent Jerome Puyau a $30,000 raise, from $110,190 to $140,188, while teachers have gone years without a pay increase.

Puyau, in an interview with a Lafayette television station, said, “By the time the teacher stood up in the audience to the time she was at the door, it was 53 seconds. During that 53 seconds, she was asked to sit multiple times, the gavel struck multiple times.”

Yes, she was asked to sit and yes, the gavel was struck multiple times in a desperate effort to keep Hargrave from further publicly embarrassing the board and Puyau. When the raise for Puyau came up on the agenda, Hargrave, the parish’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year, attempted to ask how the board could award Puyau a raise “when you’re basically taking from the teachers.”

Board President ANTHONY HARGRAVE, an Abbeville attorney who should have known better, rapped his gavel while informing Hargrave she was not on the agenda and the item being discussed was the superintendent’s contract.

Hargrave was quick to point out that she was addressing the very issue the board was considering, his gavel-rapping notwithstanding. “This directly speaks to what you’re voting on,” Hargrave said as a city marshal moved in to slap handcuffs on her and lead her from the meeting.

To view the complete video, click HERE.

The video prompted a flood of outrage from throughout the country. News organizations, from the Charlotte Observer, to The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to US News & World Report, to NPR, to NBC, to the La Crosse (Wisc.) Tribune, and even the Baton Rouge Tiger Droppings picked up on the school board’s action.

Meanwhile, Fontana, referring to Hargrave as “the poor little lady,” said, “If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can’t control, out of the classroom to the principal’s office, under our policy we have the same rules.” Apparently, Fontana believed he could treat teachers as children and that getting arrested is the equivalent to being sent to the principal’s office.

And perhaps Fontana, after 25 years on the board, should have retired before deciding he was the final authority on open meetings and freedom of speech First Amendment rights.

And while Judge Smith took his time in issuing his ruling, he did take it to its ultimate conclusion in negating the school board’s approval of Puyau’s contract and his $30,000 raise—because the action was taken in what Smith said was a meeting held in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Puyau, obviously feeling he had been grievously wronged by the ruling (never mind the manner in which the board treated Hargrave—one of its teachers, no less), told Lafayette TV station KATC reporter Chris Wetly that he would appeal the decision.

“It has ruined myself and my family,” he sniffed. “It has broken me personally. It has changed me as a person…to understand that politics is ugly and they (whoever “they” is) will do anything they can to get rid of me as Superintendent.”

Hey, Puyau, trying getting arrested, being handcuffed, and led out a public meeting—for simply exercising your First Amendment right of free speech. Then you can talk about your life being “ruined” and your life “changed.”

And of course, there is Landry, always ready and willing to pick the low-hanging fruit. Here’s the headline from his news release on Monday:

Vermilion Ruling A Victory for Teachers, Public Declares Jeff Landry
AG Landry Pledges Continued Enforcement of Open Meetings Law 

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry said of the ruling, adding that Hargrave and her fellow teachers, “who have not received a pay increase in many years despite growing class sizes, should have absolutely been heard.”

Of course, that was an easy call to make for Landry, ever the politician on the prowl for votes wherever and whenever he can find them. “And I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law,” he said.

That’s a curious “pledge” for him to make. The Louisiana Constitution prohibits his intervention in parish affairs unless specifically requested to do so by the local district attorney. And as attorney general, he represents state boards, commissions, and agencies, meaning he is mandated to protect their interest, not ours. That means that in litigation over open meetings or public records, rather than enforcing the law, he defends state boards, commissions and agencies.

As ample illustration of that important distinction, observant readers will note that while LouisianaVoice WEIGHED IN on the controversy immediately, Landry, once a ruling had been made, had an opportunity to characteristically grab the spotlight with his news release. Prior to Judge Smith’s ruling, however, he had absolutely zero to say about the matter.

Nothing.

Nil.

Zilch.

So much for “diligent enforcement.”

 

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H24/7 WALL STREET, that independent service that publishes a multitude of surveys each day, has published a list of 38 metropolitan areas in the U.S. which have the highest poverty rates.

Four Louisiana metro areas made the list, ranging from 10th to 37th poorest.

New Orleans was not on the list, most likely because the affluent parishes of Jefferson and St. Tammany are included in the greater metropolitan area of the Crescent City.

The rankings are based on latest data released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau, the 24/7 Wall Street survey noted. And while poverty is on a general decline in the U.S. with 13.4 percent of Americans living below the poverty line, all four of the Louisiana metropolitan areas included in the list had poverty rates that exceeded 20 percent, as did 38 of the 382 metro areas reviewed in the U.S.

Seventeen of those 38 areas were in Texas and Georgia (5 metro areas each), Louisiana (4) and West Virginia (3). Texas had three cities ranked as the worst areas with McAllen, Texas ranked worst in the nation with a poverty rate of 30 percent, an unemployment rate in the highest 10 percent at 7.4 percent and a median household income of $37,106, also among the worst 10 percent.

All four Louisiana metropolitan areas—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, Hammond, and Alexandria—had unemployment rates that ranked among the highest 25 percent and three—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, and Alexandria—had median household incomes ranked among the worst 10 percent.

Monroe was the 10th poorest metro area in the nation, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (11th), Hammond (30th), and Alexandria (37th).

While the national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in 2017, Monroe had a jobless rate of 5.3 percent, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (5.5 percent) and Alexandria and Hammond (5.7 percent).

To review the complete list, go HERE.

Louisiana followed the trend of having a high poverty rate that coincides with low educational attainment and a large share of available jobs in low-paying sectors.

It’s a familiar story for the state that seems to have become locked into an unbreakable pattern of low positives and high negatives. Elected officials, meanwhile, continue to ignore the factors that keep its citizens among the lowest paid, unhealthiest, and worst educated in the nation.

And whenever efforts are exerted toward reversing the trend, there are always certain self-serving or bought-and-paid-for legislators standing by to block those efforts and lobbyists with different agendas who will wine and dine the lawmakers.

Even more disheartening, we continue to re-elect them.

Whoever said we get the government we deserve…..nailed it.

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LouisianaVoice has expressed concerns about the industrial tax incentives, aka giveaway programs, for years. It has been our contention that while welfare cheats are an easy target for criticism, the money lost to fraudulent welfare and Medicaid recipients is eclipsed by the billions of dollars stolen from taxpayers in the form of industrial tax exemptions, incentives, and credits.

Of course, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry would never concede that fact. Instead, they use the stage magician’s tactic of misdirection by claiming runaway lawsuits, organized labor, higher wages (they are especially terrified of an increase in the $7.25 minimum wage) and poor public education performance are to blame for Louisiana’s economic and social ills.

Never (not once) will one hear LABI point to poverty as a cause of the state’s low ranking in everything good and high ranking in everything bad. Never (not once) will one hear LABI, the local chambers of commerce, or the Louisiana Office of Economic Development call attention to the billions of dollars in relief given businesses and industry—from Wal Mart to Exxon—in the form of corporate welfare—leaving it to working Louisianans to pick up the check.

And all you have to do to understand how this has occurred is to follow the money in the form of campaign contributions to legislators and governors and visit the State Capitol during a legislative session and try—just try—to count the lobbyists. Better yet, you may do better by counting lobbyists and legislators following adjournment each night as they gather for steaks, lobster and adult beverages at Sullivan’s or Ruth’s Chris—compliments of lobbyists’ expense accounts.

And while LouisianaVoice has attempted to call attention to this piracy, an outfit called Together Louisiana has put together a 15-minute video presentation that brings the picture into sharp, stark focus. The contrast between two separate economies living side by side is stunning.

Stephen Winham, retired director of Louisiana’s Executive Budget Office called the video “a super good presentation of facts our decision-makers choose to ignore as they have for many, many decades.”

Winham went a step further in saying, “Our leaders seem to think we are all too dumb to understand this—and that’s a positive assessment. A more jaundiced view would be that they don’t want us to understand it.

“All we can do is keep on keeping on with our individual attempts to communicate this and let our elected officials know that we do understand and that we hold them responsible and accountable. Unfortunately, when I attempt to talk about this with individuals and groups, their eyes glaze over within minutes. I’m not going to stop trying, though, and neither should anybody else.

“I am happy to have this information in such a tight presentation,” Winham said.

So, with that, here is that video:

 

And if that’s not enough to convince you, THIS STORY was posted late Friday.

 

 

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Serious consideration should be given by our legislature to changing the official state motto from “Union, Justice, Confidence” to something more realistic representation of our state—like, say… “At Least We Ain’t Mississippi” (or Arkansas or West Virginia).

On the other hand, West Virginia’s motto “Let Us be Grateful to God” seems a little misplaced as regards this story. the Arkansas motto “The People Rule” just has to be some kind of cruel joke and I still don’t know what our neighbors in Mississippi meant when they adopted “By Valor and Arms” as their calling card.

I write all this because 24/7 Wall Street, that online research service that publishes all those state, city and national surveys of the best and worst of just about anything, has just released another one that puts us right near the bottom but for Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia.

The ranking referred to in this case is “America’s Most and Least Educated States” and it has to be embarrassing to have Alabama and Kentucky looking down their noses at us. Yet, there was Alabama ranked as the seventh worst educated state with Kentucky just two notches better at the fifth-least educated.

And then there was Louisiana, sitting at 47th best, or to put it more bluntly, fourth-worst educated state in the country.

We should be so proud.

Yes, college tuition has more than doubled over the past three decades and in Louisiana, thanks to Bobby Jindal, who now plies his trade as an op-ed columnist for the Wall Street Journal (because he has so much good government advice to share based on his stellar job as governor), who slashed funding for higher education by about 70 percent.

Louisiana has TOPS, which was originally set up to help students in need but which now is spread across the landscape for all students who maintain a 2.5 GPA while enrolled. Of course, what has gone virtually unsaid is that TOPS has resulted in an explosion of new housing construction on college campuses, underwritten by the universities but constructed by private investors in an elaborate scheme that allows universities to avoid having to go hat in hand to the State Bond Commission for permission to build the new units.

Some schools even require all unmarried, non-local students (that’s all students, as in freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors) to live on campus so as to fill those new housing units. Unsaid is a requirement that all such students purchase meal tickets.

That’s because, according to a former Aramark food manager at a state university, the schools have contracts with food service companies to provide a predetermined number of meals. If, say, Grambling University has a contract with Aramark to provide three meals per day for 3,000 students, Grambling will do all in its power to fill the housing units (thus committing students to pay for the accompanying meal tickets). Should the school fall short and end up with only 2,000 students living in university housing, the school is still on the hook to Aramark for 9,000 meals per day.

Still, the share of Americans (in other states, apparently, but not here) with college degrees continues to increase. Latest figures show that 32 percent of all U.S. adults 25 and over have at least a bachelor’s degree, nearly double the 17 percent of 1980.

In Louisiana, that figure is 23.8 percent, 4th lowest in the U.S.

“Many of the state-level disparities in educational attainment parallel disparities in income, as well as socioeconomic factors such as unemployment, industry composition, and population growth,” the report said.

Accordingly, in Louisiana, the median household income was 4th lowest at $46,145 and the state’s unemployment rate of 5.1 percent was 4th highest in the nation. If you’re one to play hunches, you might remember the number 4 when you go to the racetrack or fill out your Mega Millions and Power Ball tickets.

Arkansas (23.4 percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree), Mississippi (21.9 percent) and West Virginia (20.2 percent), ranked 48th, 49th and 50th, respectively followed the pattern with Arkansas’s $45,869 median household income being the 3rd lowest, Mississippi’s $43,529 the 2nd lowest and West Virginia’s $43,296 the lowest. Do you see a trend here?

By contrast, Massachusetts topped the list with 43.4 percent of its adults holding at least a bachelor’s degree while the state’s median household income of $77,385 was 4th highest.

To review the entire list, state-by-state, GO HERE.

But hey, the news isn’t all bad.

Yet another survey, also by 24/7 Wall Street, that lists the 30 COLLEGES THAT PRODUCE the BEST NFL PLAYERS, actually has LSU ranked higher than Alabama even though the Crimson Tide did have two more all-time NFL players than did the Tigers.

LSU was ranked number 7, four rungs higher than ‘Bama, which came in at number 11. Alabama has 352 all-time NFL players to LSU’s 350. But LSU has 116 Pro Bowl players to 104 for the Tide. ‘Bama, on the other hand, has 8 alumni in the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame, to 3 for LSU. Notre Dame, as might be expected, ranked first, with 567 former players going on to the NFL and the Fighting Irish also led the pack with 182 Pro Bowl selections and 13 alumni in the Hall of Fame.

But here’s the caveat: “No college has produced more current NFL players than LSU and Florida,” the survey says. “The Tigers and Gators are tied with 56. There were eight Tigers drafted in 2017, including three first-round selections.

So, with all that gridiron success by LSU, who needs college degrees anyway?

If the Tigers can just somehow beat Nick Saban’s bunch, median income figures are for the politicians.

If LSU wins a national championship, nobody will care about unemployment rates.

We have our priorities in Louisiana.

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