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By Stephen Winham

 Guest Columnist

Is President Trump’s promise to make America great again as empty as the promises made by “patent” medicine purveyors a century ago?

Hood’s Sarsaparilla was touted in 1918 as capable of “purifying the blood” and curing a variety of disorders including, heart diseases, dropsy, rheumatism and scrofula [TB?].  Traveling medicine shows hawked a variety of such cure-alls for many years, including the 1940s Louisiana-based  “Hadacol Goodwill Caravan” promoting the marvelous elixir sold by four-term Louisiana State Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc – “Get that Wonderful Hadacol Feeling.”  These shows offered great entertainment, but not much else.

Patent medicines made people feel good primarily because their active ingredients were alcohol and/or drugs that are illicit today.  Some included poisons.  A temporary euphoria was the typical effect, masking the underlying problems.  They were not always as addictive as today’s opioids, but could be more insidious because of their patently (no pun intended) false advertising.

Donald J. Trump won the electoral college vote after he convinced enough people in enough places he was good for what ails our overall society – or, at the least, better than Hillary Clinton.  He was elected President of the United States promising all manner of miracle cures.  He would “Make America Great Again.”  MAGA has become the war cry of many conservative bloggers.

I find it very hard to pinpoint when America was greater prior to Trump’s campaign.  Was it when the pilgrims were starving and had to be rescued by native Americans who were subsequently relegated to the human scrap pile?  Was it when our economy was largely based on slavery and we slaughtered one another in a brutal civil war from which we have never really recovered?  When robber barons controlled commerce and viewed workers as ciphers and consumers as dupes?  When pollution was completely ignored? During devastating world wars and other foreign military conflicts in which thousands of lives were lost and during which the country was sharply divided?  Again, when?

The greatest thing about our country is its resilience.  The continuing effort to hold to the principles on which it was founded, even as our society evolves, is what keeps us great.  Our values brought us the respect of the world.  We must guard against losing them or it.

So, what does MAGA really mean?  I believe MAGA is a matter of personal interpretation. It is a modern euphemism for “the good old days” that never actually existed.  It is a magical concept with no basis or grounding in time.  Hence, it exists only in the mind of each person conceptualizing it, but it has inspired loyalty in a large segment of Trump’s hard-core base that any politician or huckster can admire.

For me, America was at its greatest in the 1950s.  I lived in a stable, middle-class home with two parents and a mother who stayed home.  The world was at peace as far as I knew, and we were optimistic about the future of our country and the world.  It was a brief period of childhood innocence and I consider myself very fortunate to have lived it.

But, was my mother truly happy as a subservient housewife?  Was my father content as an independent merchant in an unpredictable economy moving steadily toward domination by chain stores?  Were our African American neighbors experiencing anything close to the same reality as ours?

I believe America is as great as it ever was, and probably greater, but it is also increasingly stressful. The world has become so complex it confounds even the most brilliant minds – and solutions to our problems are increasingly difficult.  For those who bought into it, the simple concept of MAGA brought hope for a better life.  If is for them to judge whether that hope is being justified.

No doubt some people looking for a cure from patent medicines believed they got one – or at least got some relief from their miseries.  Some people whose lives weren’t bad before are obviously better off because of the Trump presidency.  Others continue to hope the cure will come and believe Trump just hasn’t had enough time and unfettered opportunities to turn things around.

My best hope is that his opportunities for further change will become more limited.  I have no faith in his ability to effectively unify and lead this country.  Worse, I do not believe he is interested in doing so. He may have gotten a few things right, but far too few, and not necessarily for the right reasons.

I believe President Trump is a modern-day Hadacol salesman.  Way too many people ignore harmful things for which they should hold him accountable with blind hope he can bring back their “good old days.”   I don’t want to relive the past. I want to keep America at least as great as it is now and live to see it become even greater.

(Stephen Winham is the retired Director of the Louisiana Executive Budget Office, having service in that office since 1979 and as Director from 1988 to 200.)

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By Morgan Statt, Guest Columnist

It’s 2005, and the National All Schedules Prescription Reporting Act (HR 1132) is on President George W. Bush’s desk ready to sign. With one fell swoop he signs the bill into law, and it grants all states $100 million in funding to aid prescription drug monitoring services. Shortly after, former Louisiana representative Billy Tauzin abandons his post in the House of Representatives and accepts a job as President and CEO of PhRMA, a major lobbying group for pharmaceutical companies. Instead of celebrating the bill being signed into law, Tauzin finds a way to dismantle the allocation of funding.

Now, let’s bring it back to present day. Today, there is an almost daily snippet of news on America’s opioid epidemic, one that has ravaged nearly every area of the country. In 2016, more than 63,600 opioid overdose deaths were reported, the highest number ever, and new reports show that the crisis is lowering the average American life expectancy.

What’s being done to combat the crisis that either directly or indirectly affects millions of Americans?

For one, states are strengthening their prescription monitoring programs, the very thing Rep. Tauzin dismantled funding for in 2005. Although these programs have been in place for a number of years, only a limited number of providers have taken advantage of their ability to detect and deter abuse. Additionally, cities and states across the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the crisis.

And Louisiana is one of them.

In September 2017, the Louisiana Department of Health filed a lawsuit against 16 drug manufacturers, among them OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, at the 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge. The suit claims that the named companies used aggressive marketing tactics and encouraged physicians to prescribe opioids under the guise that they were not addictive.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has said that “Louisiana is one of eight states that has more opioid prescriptions than residents.” Despite the fact that Big Pharma played a role in the opioid epidemic, will these lawsuits actually make a difference? Even if there was an astronomical payout, will these lawsuits help to end the crisis and prevent future epidemics?

The short answer is: no.

Big Pharma is like that rich, popular kid in high school we all knew. They used their money and status to manipulate peers and played off students’ desires to be a part of their inner circle.

Similarly, Big Pharma uses status and influence to get what it wants. Its targets for manipulation span multiple areas of the industry, which include the current regulations in place and clinical trials.

Before we can even have a sliver of hope that a hefty payout will change its ways, we have to tackle the pharmaceutical industry’s influence head-on to see any real impact on its actions. We can start by addressing these two areas of influence.

Drug companies have the ability to fund clinical trials.

Imagine you come out of surgery and are placed on a blood thinner to prevent any clotting from happening once you’re off the operating table. You’ve been told of the internal bleeding side effects, but there just so happens to be no known antidote on the market yet to serve as treatment if such complications arise.

This was the case for the anticoagulant Pradaxa. In 2010, the medication was met with FDA approval and put on the market without an antidote. But then severe internal bleeding incidents took place, and over 1,000 people died as a result of being prescribed the medication. Since then, manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim has had a slew of Pradaxa lawsuits filed against it for its role in patient harm.

I bring up Pradaxa as an example because it points to issues with the clinical trial process that exist today. In a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, clinical trial funding that has been traditionally provided by the National Institute of Health has fallen dramatically over the years. To supplement the lack of funding, pharmaceutical companies sponsor the trials. But, this presents the opportunity for companies with financial interest in the trial outcomes to favor positive results over any negative side effects that could occur.

In the case of Pradaxa, its industry-funded clinical trial RE-LY was met with criticism from drug safety groups for generalizing the medication’s potential population and failing to be carried out as a double-blind study. Skewed trial results led to hasty FDA approval and ultimately the creation of a $650 million settlement fund in 2014 that Boehringer Ingelheim used to settle over 4,000 claims.

Laws & regulations favor Big Pharma.

Despite legislators’ best attempts to protect consumers, certain laws & regulations currently in place often aid pharmaceutical companies’ business ventures, rather than prioritizing patient safety. One such law that has faced criticism in recent years is the 21st Century Cures Act, which loosened regulations on the drug and medical device approval process.

Although put in place to encourage innovation and quicken the ability for life-saving drugs to get to market, critics argue that the real winners of the bill were the drug companies. As part of the “loosening” of regulations, Big Pharma can now get away with using only “data summaries” instead of conducting full clinical trials to get drug approval. They’re also now able to promote off-label uses for their medications, enabling them to expand their markets – and their profits.

Ironically enough, drug companies aggressively promoted the off-label use of opioids and contributed to the rise in addictions across the country. Look no further than Insys Therapeutics’ push for non-cancer patients to take Subsys, a “powerful, fentanyl-based liquid” originally marketed for cancer patients with pain that couldn’t be treated with any other option.

As much as we’d like to pretend that lawsuits against Big Pharma can play a role in solving the opioid crisis, this isn’t the case. Drug companies’ influence stretches far and wide, and it may be time to strip that influence away little by little.

Let’s scrutinize the laws and regulations in place that give Big Pharma the upper hand. Let’s consider alternative funding sources for clinical trials that would allow little room for bias. But most importantly, let’s find a way to ensure that lawmakers, lobbyists, and other government officials are committed to doing what’s best for the American public rather than chasing that dollar sign.

(Morgan Statt is a Health & Safety Investigator for Consumersafety.org, a consumer information organization which strives to provide information about recalls and safety-related news about drugs, medical devices, food, and consumer products.)

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Editor’s note: The following first-person account was submitted to LouisianaVoice for publication. The writer’s name is being withheld because she is still employed at the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal and she fears for her job, her safety and that of her family. Several employees of the fire marshal’s office have already been fired or forced to resign because management suspected them of talking to LouisianaVoice. This post is certain to prompt a new round of interrogations and intimidation tactics to ferret out the new mole. But Fire Marshal Butch Browning may want to be very careful: if he finds and punishes or fires this individual, she will have no compunction about going public and naming names. She’s very angry and this is a bit more serious than decorating your uniform with military medals you never earned.

To her story, we would only add this question of Gov. John Bel Edwards: What are you going to do about this situation that this woman says is even now occurring on your watch?

I want to get right into my discussion, as recent news from around the country and world has allowed me the opportunity to tell my story.

I am a female employee at the Office of State Fire Marshal, Baton Rouge/Headquarters Office.

Over the past several years, upper management and the high-ranking deputies of this agency have sexually harassed me on numerous occasions—making inappropriate comments and sexual advances towards me. I have witnessed first-hand these advances being made towards others, as well.

I started my career with DPS a number of years ago and have been the victim of several comments and suggestions and subject to jokes about homosexuality and bestiality.

Several years ago, I was approached by a top supervisor about a special project to handle. While in his presence, he made it quite known that to “advance” in the agency, I would have to subject myself to him. I did not file a complaint, as I heard this was common amongst his bosses at Louisiana State Police.

I rejected those advances and went about my business. A few weeks later, another individual in my capacity told me about a similar situation she was involved in with another supervisor. The advances were brushed off and I continued to work at SFM. Several months later, a new employee with ties to the DPS compound (relative to higher-ups) was brought in the agency to handle similar clerical type jobs. I witnessed her being subjected to advances from several upper management heads until her abrupt departure shortly after. I was told she was just a temporary assignment anyway, and I moved on.

About two years ago, I was approached by the newest member of the executive staff. I heard from several sources in his previous agency that he was a man who knew what he wanted and just how to get it. It didn’t matter what kind of car he drove or uniform he wore, but he did things his own way. I was told that to move up in this agency, I was to kiss the feet of the new “Prince” himself. He was, in fact, related to a powerful politician. I soon recognized that this wasn’t just a made for TV movie about a corrupt southern town where the boss gets what he wants because he was related to the power brokers; I was actually living in a nightmare in real time.

Sure enough, the “Prince” approached me. It was just the two of us in the room, and he made his move. It began innocently enough about work. Then came the jokes about our personal lives. Then sexually suggestive comments that made me quite uncomfortable. I excused myself and we didn’t speak of it for the rest of the day. Sure enough, it returned. When I was again alone with him in the office, the story repeated itself. As a married mother, I brushed it off and changed the topic. But predictably, he brought the conversation around to just how well my career could/would be advanced had I given him what he wanted—ME. I was a young, dumb clerk who decided my family was important, and more important than me.

I decided to play his games.

When he made comments about my breasts, I joked and flirted back. When he said my rear end looked good, I joked and made suggestive comments again. Surely enough, he was falling for it. That’s when I decided to use this to my advantage and work myself to a better/higher position in this agency.

I asked him for favors and filed training requests to attend certain courses where I would be out of the office more. I asked to be assigned to another division where my work load would be decreased. I asked for a certain vehicle, and sure enough, it was mine—just like everyone said it would be.

It ended there. I made sure that it he knew that after I got what I wanted (and he got what he wanted), that was it. He was told that this would end it, and it did.

I am ashamed of what I did, but it was for my family and my career.

This man sexually harassed me, forcing me in uncomfortable situations to further my career.

Butch Browning knew about this but never did a thing about it.

Several, if not all upper management at SFM know about this, but are afraid to speak of it because of the fear they have for upper management and the highly-placed politicians who protect them.

I remain anonymous because I am still an employee with this agency, but I am very well aware of LouisianaVoice‘s articles about this office.

I am a proud mother and wife and I am truly ashamed for allowing myself to be harassed, but I know this story must be shared—now more than ever. This hasn’t ended. This happens every day, yet claims aren’t filed because of the fear of this man. Complaints can’t be made for fear of having them fall on deaf ears at the top—and for fear of the reprisals that would certainly follow.

To this day, I hear jokes about homosexuality and bestiality being made by upper management—comments about homosexual employees and our SFM K-9 dogs. To this day, I hear a joke about a woman’s vagina or a man’s penis size. To this day, I hear about management’s sexual conquests with deputies’ wives. To this day, I am told stories about affairs being carried on by upper management with clerks and deputies. To this day, I am truly embarrassed for what I put myself through. But I need to tell my story.

This is my story.

And I want it told.

It took incredible courage for this woman to come forward. Any other employee(s) with similar stories of sexual or racial discrimination at the State Fire Marshal’s Office is/are encouraged to come forward. Your identity will be protected above all else.

—Tom Aswell, publisher

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By Stephen Winham, Guest Columnist

A Year After North Louisiana Flooded, seven Months after South Louisiana flooded, and while many are still trying to sort out their FEMA claims and other flood-related issues, we see the following headline about the much-touted “Restore Louisiana” program intended to bring additional aid the victims:

Louisiana scraps bids for flood recovery contract; governor’s office says redo shouldn’t cause delay [The Advocate, 3/18/2017]

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_a8f924c6-0b38-11e7-ad7b-3b13d83a0953.html

The day before, we saw much the same reported in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report Daily Report PM.

 https://www.businessreport.com/article/state-cancels-250m-contract-award-flood-relief-program-will-restart-contract-procurement-process?utm_campaign=dr_pm-2017_Mar_17-15_16&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dr_pm

 Reading these reports and remembering that the first state program for flood victims, “Shelter at Home”, ended with decidedly mixed reviews, we might well ask what my headline does.

In addition to our governor, our congressional delegation has fought long and hard for the approximately $1.7 billion in federal support secured for our state’s “Restore Louisiana” program.  And, the governor is seeking even more federal funding for the program, despite the fact no money has yet been distributed.

The Restore Louisiana Task Force was created by executive order of the governor on September 2, 2016, to provide the program’s framework.  That was a good start, coming only 3 weeks after the south Louisiana Flood.  This 21-member panel held its first meeting in mid-September and our congressional delegation was able to get a commitment of some $500 million right away, something many considered remarkable.

The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced in mid-October the imminent release of 88% of the first $500 million grant.  About that same time, Hurricane Matthew struck other southeastern states, but that crisis was not expected to delay Louisiana’s grant.  By late October it was announced the initial $438 million would come in the form of semi-flexible HUD grants to be used for housing and small business needs.

In late October, the task force delayed making recommendations due to infighting among the members on fair distribution of the first $438 million while the governor was still promising to go for a total of $4 billion.  Basically, the members couldn’t decide who should get money first and how much they should get.  Sound familiar?  Surely politics was not at play here.

By the time Gov. Edwards went back to D. C. to beg for more money in early November (one of a total of 7 times he would do so), our congressional delegation was finding support difficult in light of the fact nothing had come of the initial $438 million to address purportedly emergency needs.  U. S. Rep. Garrett Graves (R-Baton Rouge) was particularly vocal about this.

In mid-November, the task force came up with a plan for $405 million of the money with priority on needs of the poor, elderly and disabled.  They correctly projected that jumping the many bureaucratic hurdles to implementation would likely require several months before the first dollar was actually used to repair or replace flood-damaged homes.

In early December, an additional $1.2 billion in funding began to make its way through Congress.  The estimated flood damage in the state totaled $8.7 billion with damage to over 113,000 homes.  The task force published an action plan for the initial aid to HUD to be submitted the first week of January 2017.

At the end of December HUD awarded the additional $1.2 billion, bringing the total to almost $1.7 billion available for the Restore Louisiana program.  All the money came with bureaucratic strings attached.  These strings were blamed for the continued delay.

In late January, the task force met to present a breakdown of how the money would be distributed.  Many people questioned the fact that 19%, or $315 million, was allocated for administrative costs.  Pat Forbes, director of the state office of Community Development said the 19% was a cap and that administrative costs would be kept as low as possible.  He also pointed out that administrative costs associated with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 were 45% of the total.

Now, consider that paragraph again.  Are we to believe we are getting a bargain if administrative costs are only 19%.  And, how can anybody justify administrative costs of 45% attributed to Hurricane Sandy?

In early March, the state awarded a contract for $250 million (about 15%) which was $65 million less than the second-place bidder (what a coincidence that this $315 million equaled the cap in the task force report).  Then, the second-place bidder filed a protest claiming the winner did not have the commercial contractor’s license required by law.  Other losing bidders were expected to follow suit.  Oddly enough, the State Licensing Board for Contractors pointed out in its ruling that neither the first nor second place bidders had the required license at the time they made the bids.  Imagine that.

The administration claims re-bidding will not further slow the program down because it will be possible to make a new award quickly.

A quote from the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report PM on March 17 by Rep. Graves:

“This is very disappointing news,” Graves says. “This will further delay the allocation of badly needed flood relief funds that we appropriated in September. It is impossible to explain to flood victims why $1.6 billion in recovery dollars are stuck in the bureaucracy, while homes remain gutted, moldy and uninsulated.”

I’m with Congressman Graves on this one. He has been rightly critical of the failure to implement this program for months. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it is utterly ridiculous to hold up funding for over a year for some people for an EMERGENCY from which they are still suffering.  To say the people needing this assistance are long overdue is to grossly understate the situation.

We all deserve to know what will be done for the $250 million (or more) in the management contract – What, exactly, is the contractor going to do and at what hourly and other rates? Have we considered it might be cheaper for the state to do this, even if it had to hire people on a temporary basis? The state already has at least some of the things in place the contractor may charge for based on responses to the original RFP.  I realize we have all been led to believe the state is incapable of doing anything cheaper than the private sector, but I’ve not seen enough evidence to convince me.

Examining the records of the task force shows it never actually predicted the money would start to flow to the people who need it before about now.  I honestly thought the timeline was much shorter and that we were willing to pay the exorbitant costs of the management contract because we needed the swiftest action possible. I certainly did not realize nothing was going to happen before now, so I clearly was not paying enough attention.  I have to believe I was not alone.

Since we are now going to start over with the award of the contract, I sincerely hope somebody will look very closely at the proposals to ensure we are paying a fair price for what we will be getting.  We’ve already wasted this much time on bureaucratic B. S. so why not spend at least a few days more before rushing into another contract.   Meeting HUD requirements would seem to be the current major holdup, so it’s not like taking a little more time now would be wasted and it could result in more money for those in need.

Note:  I must credit the excellent reports in The ADVOCATE by Elizabeth Crisp and Mark Ballard and in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report by Stephanie Riegel upon which I based most of my research for this column.

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 By Stephen Winham, Guest Columnist

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses”

Juvenal [circa 100 AD], Satire 10.77–81

“Bread and circuses” (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered “palliative“… The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the commoner.

—Wikipedia

 

Have these words of a Roman poet, written 1900 years ago, ever been more relevant to our country and state?  And, this is hardly satire.  In Louisiana’s government, we still get the circuses (the just-ended special legislative session, for example), but they are not nearly so much fun as they were in the past. They also no longer provide the level of distraction our elected officials expect.  Our leaders still provide the bread, too, though too many are left with the heels – and we are not always sure even they are distributed equitably.

Just as our country is clearly divided, our state is becoming increasingly partisan. Confronted with precisely the same problems, the two sides view them as if they exist in alternate realities.  The factions do not seek to find common ground.  They might compromise, but that is hardly the same thing.

In the most recent session of the legislature a purported compromise on how to best patch the state’s budget for the remainder of this year resulted from an agreement by the administration to accept the effect of a very questionable House Concurrent Resolution that will, if we believe the proponents, be a great “reform” and will magically free up almost a hundred million dollars in state general fund for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017 – money, mind you, that was always there for the taking, just never captured.  Sound just a little suspicious?

How does this magic work and how does it differ from past gimmicks, you might well ask?  Well, unlike some of those, it really does free up general fund, but it also cuts other constitutional and statutorily dedicated funding, notably including the Transportation Trust Fund.  The Transportation Trust Fund has already been criticized for not being used more on roads and bridges desperately in need of repair – and now we are going to take another $15-$18 million of it to pay part of our General Obligation (not highway) Debt service?  And, lest we forget, TTF funds match Federal Highway funds so the potential impact is greater than the amount diverted. Is this your concept of “reform?”  It certainly is not mine.

The Bond Security and Redemption Fund ensures our general obligation debt service will always get paid first. It is the subject of HCR1 of the special session.  Money constantly (and somewhat theoretically) flows through it on the way to the general fund from which we have typically paid general debt service. I consider the fund a practical fiction because it would only have actual effect if somebody ever pressed the “stop” button and froze it to draw the necessary amount for debt service. However, its existence enhances our bond ratings. There is a legitimate concern that messing with it in any way can jeopardize our ratings, not because it places the payment of debt service in danger, but simply because we have started messing with it at all. The fact we have recently had to borrow short-term to meet current obligations is further evidence we should leave the BSRF alone. To the extent confidence in our fiscal status is eroded, and our ratings decline, we must pay more to service our debt.

House Speaker Barras, the author of the concurrent resolution that directs this miracle reform is a banker.  He certainly knows all these things.  Let’s put the best face possible on the resolution and assume he wanted its passage to ensure the special session did not close with absolutely no action toward addressing our long-range problems – which would have been the case in its absence.  This proposal had been made before and rejected by the administration for the reasons above and others – reasons I consider valid.

Could using the resolution as a bargaining chip have been a power play more than anything else?  Barras was not JBE’s pick for Speaker of the House.  The Republicans in the house are flexing their muscles in a faint attempt to emulate the partisanship of their national counterparts. Did they rally around the speaker to get in JBE’s face with this one?  Could this distraction have also been the center ring performance in this special session – a small act in a small session with bigger acts like those in past sessions to come when the Greatest Show on Earth returns to Baton Rouge in April?

Let’s face it.  Nobody has done anything that comes close to solving our overall budget problem.  Our roads and other infrastructure are crumbling, our state services are becoming increasingly mediocre and, in the case of some life-and-death situations, dangerously ineffective.  Worse, most everybody seems to be ignoring the fact that we face a $1.2 billion (gee, why does that number sound so familiar?) gap in Fiscal Year 2018-2019 when the temporary sales taxes used to bandage the budget the last time we hit the wall expire.

The latest of literally dozens of past blue ribbon groups tasked with providing options for fixing the state’s fiscal problems, the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, issued its final report, to little fanfare, on January 27, 2017.  Some of the best minds in our state participated in this study and it provides solid recommendations based on current information.  Our leaders need only choose among them.  I commend its reading to you.  Why has this report not become part of the circus yet – Is it too dull to have entertainment value?  Do our leaders believe we cannot be convinced by (or even understand) facts?  Do they believe illusion, misdirection and confusion are always better and that we are easily fooled?

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne was a key participant in the task force.  When the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 executive budget was presented, the governor and Commissioner Dardenne declined to say what they might ultimately suggest as the solution to our problem.  They also said, as they have in the past, this is not the budget they want to see implemented.  Well, if it isn’t, what is?

If the cuts presented in the governor’s proposed budget, most notably to TOPS, are not realistic – not something we can all live with – what cuts are?  We don’t know because, despite protestations to the contrary, we have not seen a truly honest budget in many years – one that says, “Okay, Louisiana, you don’t want to pay more taxes, here are the things we are going to permanently cut and we are going to stand behind them to the end.”  This is very different from: “Well, shucks, here’s some things that will balance the budget, but we don’t want to do them and neither do you, so what have you got to offer as an alternative?”

Representative John Schroder has taken the position the governor should present a realistic plan he is willing to stand behind to provide the legislature with a realistic starting point.  The governor seems to be saying no such plan exists.  So, if the governor doesn’t have a plan and neither does the legislature, where does that leave us?

Our governor has greater control over the budget than is the case in some other states.  Representative Schroder has a point, but the simple fact is the legislature, not the governor, holds the power of appropriation and many, including me, consider it to be its greatest power. The governor can recommend things all day long, but he cannot enact appropriations or taxes.

Speaking of taxes, why are so many of our citizens convinced they already pay too much in taxes for what they get from the government?  Look no further than LouisianaVoice, The ADVOCATE, nola.com, almost any television or radio station and what do you read, see, and hear?

Every day we are bombarded with tales of waste, corruption, theft, etc. in our state departments.  Are you going to tell me nothing can be done about this?  Am I to believe lightening would strike JBE and our other elected officials dead if they dared expect the people they appoint to run these programs as effectively and efficiently as possible and to demand accountability for their failures?  I’m not talking about the simple act of firing those who are doing a poor job.  That doesn’t accomplish anything if the replacement continues the practices of the predecessor. I am talking about expecting officials to have integrity and to know enough about the operations of their departments to stop these things from happening in the first place.

I honestly and truly believe people are willing to pay for things from which they see benefits and that they believe are providing maximum value – the marketplace proves this.  Every effort must be made to instill confidence in our government’s ability to manage our resources in the best way possible.  Sure, its goals are different – government exists to provide services, not make a profit, but that is no excuse for not performing to the highest standards possible.

I don’t know about you, but I am finding the circus less than entertaining and I can provide my own bread for the most part.  Others have given up on the circus, but need help from its owners.  It is past time those owners accept their responsibilities – and it is up to us to lean on them to do so every chance we get – beginning right now and continuing in earnest during the next legislative session.  Our leaders need to all look at what is happening to the real Ringling Brothers Circus and realize it could happen to them – and, much worse, to us.

 

 

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