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Three book signings have be set for my latest book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession.

Our first book signing will be this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs’ Antique Village. It’s the same store where I held my first book signing for my first book, Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll.

Also on hand for this Saturday’s signing will be Del Hahn, author of Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal. Hahn is the retired FBI agent who successfully pursued Seal. I had a small hand in the book as editor.

Before we go any further, it might be worthwhile to point out that my book about Jindal is not a powderpuff book in the mold of the two books by Jindal which probably resulted in his dislocating his shoulder from repeatedly patting himself on the back.

Please know that this book was undertaken and written in its entirety with zero collaboration or cooperation from anyone in the Jindal camp.

It’s the kind of book that result in my being removed from Jindal’s Christmas card list—had we ever been on that list, which we certainly were not.

This 294-page book is an examination that addresses several issues:

  • How did Jindal become a multi-millionaire after only three years in Congress?
  • Jindal’s claims of a new high standard of ethics are debunked by his own actions as governor.
  • Jindal’s claim of transparency is also belied by his penchant for secrecy.
  • His vindictive nature in firing or demoting anyone and everyone who dared disagree with him.
  • His awarding of prestigious board and commission memberships to big contributors.
  • His sorry record in protecting the state’s environment and the state’s coastline.
  • His mysterious deal to sell state hospitals via a contract containing 50 blank pages.
  • His single-handed destruction of higher education and health care.
  • His near-comical, yet pathetic candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

There is much, much more, of course, but you will have to get the book to read it.

Here is the current schedule for upcoming book signings:

  • Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs: Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m.
  • The Winn Parish Library in Winnfield: Thursday, May 19, at 2 p.m.
  • Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Mandeville, Saturday, June 18, from 2 to 4 p.m.

This schedule will be updated as additional signings are scheduled.

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As it turns out, that quote was attributed to Einstein in error but the fact that he never said it doesn’t alter the accuracy of the definition.

And for at least three decades, Louisiana along with the rest of the South, has insisted on following the same outdated industrial inducement policies first warned about in a 1986 report by MDC, Inc. (Manpower Development Corp.) of Durham, N.C.

One of the members of the MDC Panel on Rural Economic Development which produced the 16-page report Shadows in the Sunbelt was Dr. Norman Francis, then President of Xavier University and Chairman of Liberty Bank in New Orleans. https://gri.unc.edu/files/2011/10/Shadows-in-the-Sunbelt-86.pdf

That 1986 report was followed up in 2002 when MDC published a 44-page report entitled The State of the South. http://mdcinc.org/sites/default/files/resources/MDC_StateOfTheSouth_2014.pdf

Both reports said much the same thing: that the market had dried up. There were, the reports said, 15,000 industrial inducement committees in the South chasing 1500 industries—and if they relocated at all, it would be whether inducements in the form of tax incentives were offered or not. “At best, the states have assisted businesses in doing what they wanted to do anyway,” the ’86 report said.

“The factors which once made the rural South attractive (to industry) are now losing relevance,” it said. That’s because the South, which once boasted an abundance of low-cost labor, can no longer complete in the global market. Where American apparel workers would earn $6.52 an hour (remember, this was in 1986, but the numbers are still comparable), their counterparts in Korea and Taiwan earned $1 and $1.43, respectively, and Chinese workers made about 26 cents per hour.

Shadows in the Sunbelt called southern states’ tax incentives to lure business and industry a “buffalo hunt,” an analogy to the great buffalo hunts of the 19th century which nearly wiped out the North American bison population. “Yet the hunters (states) continue in their pursuit, hoping to bag one of the remaining hides,” the report said.

The stampede actually started in Mississippi 80 years ago through a program called “Balance Agriculture with Industry” whereby the state used municipal bonds to finance construction of new plants. That practice evolved into tax breaks offered to prospective industries as states began forfeiting property tax revenues to lure new jobs.

Today, Louisiana gives up about $3 billion each year in tax breaks and credits doled out in various programs, all of which are designed ostensibly to attract industry and raise the standard of living through more and better jobs but which in reality, do little of either.

What we’ve received instead are tax breaks for duck hunters, chicken plucking plants, Wal-Mart stores, fast food franchises and for industries that either (a) get the tax incentives but which soon shut down operations (Nucor Steel, General Motors) or (b) claim the creation of great numbers of new jobs but which actually are far fewer than announced.

In fact, the ’86 report said, a long-term study of job promises in South Carolina revealed that only 52 percent of the jobs promised actually materialized. In Louisiana, when Bobby Jindal ran for re-election in 2011, he claimed in TV ads that the Louisiana Department of Economic Development during his first term handed out incentives that brought 25,425 new jobs to Louisiana. The actual number, however, was only 6,729. That’s only 26.5 percent of the jobs promised. https://louisianavoice.com/2011/09/29/jindal-plays-fast-and-loose-with-jobs-claim-tv-campaign-ad/

The ’86 report said as much. “The costs of inducements offered to attract industry are also heavy—and in some cases counterproductive,” it said. Evidence showed that tax breaks did not significantly affect plant location decisions but states nevertheless open up the state treasury for companies to loot even though the benefits do not offset the costs. “Whatever the effectiveness of industrial recruiting in the past, current trends clearly indicate that its value as a tool for economic development is declining,” it said.

That was 30 years ago and we’re still giving away the store by adhering to a faulty ALEC-backed policy of favoring corporations over citizens.

As an alternative, the report recommended that in lieu of spending millions to attract out-of-state industries, states should implement programs to support local development and to encourage entrepreneurship.

The 2002 report, State of the South, only reiterated the recommendations of the study of 16 years earlier. It also should have sent a clear message to the Louisiana Legislature and to Bobby Jindal six years before he came to power. The latter report’s recommendations included:

  • Refocus state agencies responsible for economic development to pursue a broader, more strategic approach;
  • State governments should not measure success simply by the number of new jobs, but also in terms of higher incomes for people and improved competitiveness of regions within the states;
  • Modernize tax systems so that states have the fiscal capacity to provide excellent educatin, widely accessible job training, necessary infrastructure, and community amenities that enrich the soil for economic development;
  • Tighten performance criteria for industrial incentives—and encourage associations of Southern governors and legislators to reexamine the one-dimensional, incentives-driven recruitment strategy in favor of a comprehensive economic development strategy;
  • Dramatically expand efforts to erase serious deficits along the entire education continuum in the South, and bolster the education, health and well-being of children;
  • Draw on universities and community colleges to act as catalysts for state and regional economic advancement.

The 2002 report said high-poverty, sparsely-populated areas are last to get telecommunications infrastructure. More than 60 percent of the zip codes in the Delta areas of Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have no broadband internet provider which further widens the competitive gap for these areas. Yet Jindal rejected an $80 million federal grant to install broadband in Louisiana’s rural areas. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/11/80_million_grant_for_rural_bro.html

Because Louisiana, along with the rest of the South, made a commitment to low taxes, low public investment, and low education in return for jobs. That strategy trapped the state in a cycle of low-wage, low-skill industry “begetting more low-wage, low-skill industry,” and thus perpetuating the “Wal-Mart Syndrome.”

Mac Holladay, who served as head of economic development for three Southern states summed up the situation. “If we had put the vast majority of our economic development resources into incubators, small business services, export training, and existing business assistance instead of recruitment and overseas offices, it might have made a big difference.”

Tax abatements and other financial giveaways, the 2002 report said, “inevitably drain resources from schools, community colleges and universities—public investments that are crucial to long-term economic advancement. Incentives provide a better return on investment when they build a community’s infrastructure, provide workers with higher skills and attract jobs that pay markedly more than the prevailing wages.”

Even when Mississippi granted $68 million in incentives for Nissan’s assembly plant in Canton, a small town just north of Jackson, the company’s director of human resources told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that he could not name any Canton resident likely to be hired for one of the 5,300 jobs starting at $12 per hour. He attributed that to the town’s 27 percent poverty rate, 76 percent of out-of-wedlock births and 44 percent of adults without a high school diploma.

Carley Fiorina, former chief executive for Hewlett-Packard and more recently an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination said, “Keep your incentives and highway interchanges. We will go where the highly skilled people are.”

“Not so long ago,” said the 2002 State of the South report, “the South sought to build its economy by enticing companies from afar to relocate with the bait of cheap land, low taxes, and a surplus of hardworking but undereducated workers. That old recipe no longer works to feed families and sustain communities.

“No comprehensive strategy would be complete without further efforts to bolster public schools,” the report said.

“There must be a recognition that the ultimate challenge lies in the educational and economic advancement of people who have gotten left behind,” it said. “We must get the message out to every household, every poor household, that the only road out of poverty runs by the schoolhouse.

“The line that separates the well-education from the poorly education is the harshest fault line of all.”

Yet, Louisiana’s leaders insist on doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

And we keep electing the same failed policy makers over and over and over…

Insanity.

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Bobby Jindal: the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s bad enough that colleges and universities are facing the threat of temporary closures, cancellation of summer school, and loss of accreditation. But coupled with the bad news on higher education is an equally grim outlook for health care.

A sample of the legacy left us by Jindal’s hospital privatizations and closures:

In Baton Rouge, the closure of Earl K. Long (EKL) Medical Center had a ripple effect on the low income residents of North Baton Rouge. The emergency room patient care shifted onto Baton Rouge General Regional Medical Center Mid-City became such a money loser that it closed its emergency room on March 31, 2015. That moved emergency room care 30 minutes further away to Our Lady of the Lake (OLOL) Medical Center, located in largely white South Baton Rouge. One emergency room doctor confided to the author that it was his feeling that Jindal wanted to create “a medical wasteland north of Government Street.” Government Street, which traverses Baton Rouge in an east-west direction is a roughly-defined dividing line between South and North Baton Rouge.

Mid-City was hemorrhaging $2 million a month through its emergency room because Jindal refused to expand Medicaid and rejected any idea of putting up state money to keep the facility open. With the closure of its emergency room, residents of North Baton Rouge, which is largely low-income black in its demographic makeup, had few medical choices. With Our Lady of the Lake so far away, the alternatives were two urgent care clinics operated by the partnership of LSU and Our Lady of the Lake. The clinics were located on North Foster Street and Airline Highway. The North Foster clinic has no onsite doctor and the main Airline High clinic has a doctor onsite only until 7:00 p.m.

The same emergency room doctor who related the “medical wasteland” story told of the tragic case of an elderly African-American couple. “I felt sick reading this report,” he said. He said it involved “an old black couple who were paying $40 per month on their existing medical bill” to another Baton Rouge hospital.

The report read said the decedent was found “supine on bedroom floor. His wife told EMT personnel that her husband had congestive heart failure and that fluid had been building up. He did not go to the emergency room because the couple owed money to the hospital. She said he had been short of breath through the night and when she awoke, he was not breathing. CPR and advanced cardiac life support were initiated but were terminated after no response. “If he had gone to the LSU urgent care center, likely as not, no doctor would have been on duty,” the ER doctor said.

The closure of EKL and the decision by Baton Rouge General Mid-City to close its ER necessarily imposed a heavier workload on OLOL which entered into a partnership with the state for treatment of Medicaid patients. That increased workload has understandably also produced greater pressure on doctors and staff which in turn has apparently led to lapses in quality of care.

Consider the following brief email thread:

“Please see the email below sent from one of vascular consultants to our Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. (redacted). My purpose for forwarding this email to you is not to criticize anyone nor is (it) to elicit a string of email responses. The sole purpose is to make all of us aware of the perception some of our consultants and primary care teams have of us. Increasingly of late, I am getting this type of feedback, be it real or otherwise.

“Doctors, we must elevate our game to meet the expectations of all our physician colleagues. I know you guys are working hard, but I am asking each of you to pay attention to the finer details.

“As Dr. (redacted) aptly said to me last night, our physician colleagues are our customers; we need to put ourselves in their shoes, be their voice, the voice of our customer.

Dr. (redacted)”

The email to which he referred read:

“I had a very irritating call last night from the ER. It bothers me that the environment around our hospital is deteriorating into a stereotypical dysfunctional training facility that we are all too familiar with and probably chose to go into private practice to avoid.

“I received a call at about 11:30 p.m. The answering service informed me who the call was about. When I called back a resident picked up and started telling me about ‘an endostent that had an endoleak with pain, transferred from Lake Charles.’ Knowing I was on city call, I figured I’d investigate this to expedite patient care. The resident told me they had already spoken to a doctor but it didn’t make sense when I couldn’t get the specifics I was asking for. At that point, I asked to speak to the attending whom (sic) was able to figure out they got the wrong guy. However, it’s a little disheartening that he didn’t readily know who the surgeon was they had spoken to that was assuming responsibility for the patient. He did mention ‘Dr. (redacted)” who is our resident (redacted)—but I’m not sure he knew it was a resident. It’s my feeling that in a patient potentially critical as this one—the attending should have his finger on the pulse a litter better than it appeared last night.

“After those 15 minutes I again informed the attending I was Dr. (redacted)…returning a page. At this point the attending gave me to ‘Dr (redacted), first year (emergency room) resident.’ The resident reports a consult on a patient with WBC (white blood cell) 19, blisters on cellulitic foot…When I ask asking info, it turns out the patient ‘has been on the board over 7 hours.’ When I ask to speak to attending who saw the patient—no longer working. At this point, I’m given back to the same attending who gave me to the first year resident he was covering. This attending was covering the resident, had taken sign-out, and expected the resident to call me and report but had never seen the patient. This reminds me of something I would get from the old ER at Mid-City, not what I would have received from OLOL in first 12 years of practice.

“I do realize we are a training facility but you and I both recognize that happens to a private practice service when run by residents. I’m sure the ER has exploded with new personal (sic) during this growth phase, but part of their responsibility is to know who the doctors are that routinely admit to this facility. To say the least, I was discouraged at the attending’s ‘finger on the pulse’ of what he was responsible for last night.

“This email is not to condemn any individual but to raise flags over the environment. Please forward to the appropriate people.”

(Sender’s name redacted)

Such is life in the aftermath of Bobby Jindal’s grand state hospital privatization scheme.

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By Stephen Winham

Every day we hear the same thing: “If we could just get rid of those dedications, we could fix the budget and not have to always hit higher education and health care so hard when times are tough. There are plenty of things we could cut without hurting anybody or anything.”

It sounds so easy. You hear, in very broad terms, how the budget has grown and how out-of-bounds spending has gotten. Our current budget totals about $25 billion, of which $10 billion is federal. I will focus on state funding in the official revenue forecast – about $10.4 Billion in the current year, with strongest emphasis on the $7.9 Billion in state general fund spending we can most readily control. The official forecast numbers for next year are $10.4 billion and $8.2 billion, respectively.

We hear about $4.3 billion in dedicated funds ($3.5 billion in the currently-proposed FY 2016-2017 budget) that could be eliminated and go a long way toward fixing our budget problems. What we rarely hear about is the additional $4 billion in the state general fund that is allocated and/or protected by the State Constitution.

For starters, almost a half billion dollars comes directly off the top of the general fund, but IS NOT APPROPRIATED. That’s right, you don’t see or hear much about this money because it is not appropriated – rather, it is a direct draw on the state’s general fund.

If you go to page 177 of the FY 2016-2017 Executive Budget, you will find Schedule 22, Non-Appropriated Requirements. This schedule allocates $496.5 million from the state general fund in the treasury, pursuant to the State Constitution, for the following:

$404.8 M – General Obligation Bond Debt Service

[IMPORTANT DIGRESSION: G. O. Debt service is increasing by over $211 million (109%) next year due to one-time savings utilized in the current year from defeasance of debt – In other words, this is part of the one-time “fix” in the current budget that has to be covered next year.]

$90.0 M – General Revenue Sharing – goes to local governments as a partial offset for local property tax revenue lost due to the State Homestead Exemption

$ 1.7 M – The Interim Emergency Board – provides emergency funds during the budget year

Now I ask you, which of these would you be willing to vote out of existence? Eliminating or changing them would require constitutional amendments and a vote of the people.

The one of these three I would not cut, for sure, is our $405 million in debt service. Defaulting on our debt would cause immediate loss of a marketable bond rating and send a message to the rest of the country that we are truly bankrupt.

Cutting the other $91.7 million in non-appropriated items would have very serious implications, particularly for local governments. Even if you think local governments shouldn’t get the revenue sharing, how do you think they would make it up, if they didn’t?

In addition to non-appropriated allocations, the State Constitution also mandates general fund spending for a number of appropriations. The state’s Minimum Foundation Program for public elementary and secondary education is required by the constitution and has a $3.4 Billion state general fund appropriation. You might be inclined to cut administration and other programs in the Department of Education, but are you willing to vote for a constitutional amendment eliminating basic state support for our public schools, or even allowing for substantially reducing it? You may not directly use public education, but you have to agree we absolutely have to have it and it should be funded at no less than its current level. The education provided by our public schools is vital and is finally improving. We can’t afford to lose the ground we’ve gained.

So, between just the General Obligation Bond debt service and the MFP requirements for next year, we have $3.8 Billion of General Fund (46% of the total) expenses it would be simply stupid to cut.

In addition to the MFP, another $600 million of our general fund expenditures are currently required by the State Constitution. State supplemental pay for local law enforcement alone is $124 million of this. Also included are salaries of statewide elected officials and the costs of elections. You might not be happy with the salaries of your statewide elected officials, but we have to pay them and I don’t think you could possibly support not having the money to hold elections. If you think locals ought to fully fund the salaries of law enforcement personnel, where do you think they might get the money to do so?

[Digressing again and focusing on local government funding for a moment, what if we decided to cut it all? Except for capital outlay projects, we indirectly fund recurring local services, so we would, in essence, be shoving our problem down to the local level – and we all live somewhere.  If local governments were unable to raise local taxes to support the services, they would be eliminated or significantly degraded.  If they were able to raise local taxes to support them, how would the taxpayers see a difference?]

What other general fund expenditures, currently considered mandated should we consider cutting? How about the $130 million in appropriated debt service (in addition to G. O. Debt)? How about the $400 million plus it costs to incarcerate adult inmates in our state prisons? Or, the $157 million we pay local sheriffs to house state inmates? The $27 million we pay in District Attorney and assistants’ salaries? How much of the $73 million legislative and $160 million judicial general fund appropriations are we and the legislature willing to cut? How much of the $848 million in general fund we consider sacrosanct because of federal mandates should we cut and what will happen if we do? How much can we realistically cut from our Medicaid program and still attempt to meet the health care needs of our citizens?

Finally, how about the elephant hiding behind the sofa, our annual payments via the state payroll system toward the Unfunded Accrued Liabilities of our state retirement systems? I’m no actuary, but using the actuarial reports generated by the Legislative Auditor, I estimate annual payments toward this liability, in state funds, is no less than $600 million and growing rapidly because of the way the amortization is structured. The State Constitution requires this debt to be liquidated by 2029.

We often hear that 67% of our general fund budget is non-discretionary. Let’s pretend we don’t have to do a lot of these things and, just for the sake of argument, say only 55% should not be touched. That still leaves only $3.7 billion of state general fund on the table subject to cut and we certainly aren’t going to cut over half of that to solve a projected $2 Billion problem next year. And, by the way, remember that any of the current year deficit not liquidated this fiscal year will, by law, have to be added to that problem.

Take a look at John Bel Edwards’ first Executive Budget. It is balanced to the official revenue forecast of general fund revenue. Look at what is cut and where. Look closely.

http://www.doa.la.gov/opb/pub/FY17/FY17_Executive_Budget.pdf

For more details, look at the supporting document:

http://www.doa.la.gov/Pages/opb/pub/FY17/FY17ExecBudget.aspx

Now, finally, let’s get back to those dedicated funds. The Legislative Auditor has just released a comprehensive document detailing these dedications. He points out there were 370 dedicated funds in Fiscal Year 2013-2014 (the last year for which complete documentation is available), 344 statutory and 26 constitutional. Let’s see which ones of these we want to eliminate.

How about the $1.4 Billion Transportation Trust Fund? Our roads are in great shape, right? Plus, we blow part of this on public safety rather than roads and public safety certainly isn’t important, is it?

How about the $159 million in Lottery proceeds? Surely we can find a better use than education for that money. The $184 million in the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly? We only have to change a statute to cut the old folks off. The Oil Spill Contingency Fund at $52.7 million? We never have oil spills, do we? And, why should we share $39 million of our severance taxes with the parishes where the minerals are severed? TOPS is draining us dry, so let’s free up that money and spend it elsewhere.

I’m being facetious, but, seriously, don’t you think there is a constituency for every one of those 370 dedications (except maybe the 21 that have no revenue or expenditures)? How many times have dedications been studied and how many have been eliminated so far? The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget has reviewed 25% of these dedications every other year since 2009, but has made no recommendations for modifying or eliminating any of them.

Whatever we do with dedicated funds can’t and shouldn’t be done overnight. Many of them support local governments, but the Transportation Trust Fund is the largest of them all and, in addition to the Department of Transportation, other state departments and agencies derive substantial operating funds from dedications, most notably the Public Service Commission, the departments of Environmental Quality, Wildlife and Fisheries, Economic Development, Agriculture and Forestry, Natural Resources and Public Safety Services.

Shouldn’t we look at each dedicated fund in depth to determine it source, its purpose, and the extent to which collections exceed needs? Isn’t this just what the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget should have done? Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to examine the historical inflows and outflows of each of these dedicated funds before creating a $442 million Overcollections Fund from their balances in FY 2014? This was yet another statutory dedication and a big reason statutory dedications spending rose so much. Worse, we then used the Overcollections Fund to pay for recurring expenses elsewhere – a significant part of why we are in our current mess.

Obviously, some collections in excess of needs should revert to the general fund. Others, justifiably, should not. In many cases, these funds are created from fees people pay for which they expect certain services. Some dedications to locals are used to service bonds.

Should we continue to look at potential modifications or eliminations of statutory dedication as a partial solution to our problems? Absolutely, but given our history and the realities of today, should we place an inordinate amount of blame for our current problems on them, or expect a miraculous cure to emerge from further study? I frankly don’t see why we would.

I urge you to look at the Legislative Auditor’s report here:

http://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/0/13D9277344A19B9086257F560076E83A/$FILE/0000CAA1.pdf

It will give you a much better understanding of the dedications and is formatted in such a way as to drill down from a relatively high level to a very detailed level, so you can stop where you’d like and still gain valuable insight.

Let’s face it, as Gov. Edwards has said, if it is so easy to cut the budget, why has it not been cut to size long before now? This is particularly true in light of the fact we had a governor who travelled the United States for the past 8 years professing to be a budget cutter extraordinaire. If he actually cut expenditures to meet revenues and wrought such an economic miracle why do we find ourselves so out of whack? No, Virginia, it’s not just oil prices.

State Treasurer John Kennedy and others point to things the administration should do to eliminate fraud, abuse, and waste in state government. Who can disagree? To the extent these occur, we are all losers – the biggest are the intended beneficiaries of the services.

It is important that citizens believe their tax dollars and fees are being spent as wisely as possible or, at the minimum, that somebody is consistently and comprehensively trying to ensure this is the case. In my opinion, the accountability for this lies with the administration, not the legislative auditor or anybody else.

The administration has not yet provided specifics or even examples of what it plans to do about specific contracts that make no sense, bureaucratic structures that may be bloated, and more effective and efficient delivery of health care services. Gov. Edwards has said he will do something about these things, but he is yet to provide even anecdotal evidence like Kennedy and others to support his claim.

The executive branch needs to hold its appointed officials to the highest standards and demand they investigate dedications and everything else in the departments they are paid well to manage toward doing everything they possibly can to make our government as efficient and responsive as it can be. The public needs to know this is being done. They should not have to see an increasing succession of negative findings by the Legislative Auditor or, worse, disturbing reports of mismanagement and abuse in the media and elsewhere that go largely unanswered.

But, all that said, can these efforts bear fruit overnight? Can they come close to eliminating the gap? Look deeper than the rhetoric and you have to answer “no” and “no.”

One more link is below – an excellent presentation by the Louisiana House Fiscal Division done just a month ago. Check it out:

http://house.louisiana.gov/housefiscal/0112_16_OS_FiscalBriefing2.pdf

There is a lot of really good information out there from a variety of sources inside and outside government. Our decision-makers need to use it.

 

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True to form, some legislators are already diving for cover or accusing higher education officials of crying wolf over the state’s lack of support for state colleges and universities. Either way, it all amounts to a shameless attempt to shift the blame as a means of deflecting attention from their pitiful performance over the past eight years

Some of those doing the loudest protesting might want to look inward to examine the hypocrisy of their current positions on funding higher education.

Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), for example. Appel opined in a Senate Education Committee meeting on Monday that he just didn’t think it is fair that education leaders are getting the public all worked up with scare tactics and doomsday propheteering—not to be confused with his own profiteering, of course.

“This is the first day of the process and the news media is flashing all this stuff up and getting the people all worked up,” Appel said in accusing higher ed leaders of sensationalizing the real impact of budget cuts and of creating what he termed “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Of course, Appel is not one to pass up a good opportunity when he gets the chance. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee two years ago, he was in a unique position to know of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in time to sink between $5,000 and $24,999 into Discovery Communications stock just in time to make a killing. APPEL REPORT PDF

Senate Education Chairman Appel purchases Discovery stock week before company enters into state Techbook agreement

Since 2003, former and current members of the Louisiana House and Senate have used more than $710,000 of their personal campaign funds to purchase tickets to LSU athletic events. This despite the existence of several opinions issued by the State Board of Ethics specifically prohibiting the purchase of athletic tickets “for any personal use unrelated to a campaign or the holding of public office.” (Emphasis ours) http://ethics.la.gov/EthicsOpinion/DocView.aspx?id=7169&searchid=1e6d42e0-0081-4d47-b252-2473624ce865&dbid=0

LSU SPORTS PAYMENTS FROM CAMPAIGN FUNDS

So now we have legislators like State Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) criticizing taking higher education officials to task for suggesting that schools might close and TOPS may be ended because of a mere $970 million budgetary shortfall this fiscal year and a pending $2 billion budget hole for next fiscal year.

Walsworth, it should be noted, used $4,210 of his campaign funds in 2013 and 2014 on LSU athletic events.

But that pales in comparison to State Sen. Norbert Chabert (R-Houma) who went ballistic over a report that his alma mater Nicholls State University in Thibodaux might be forced to close temporarily. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/2016/02/15/even-best-case-nicholls-close-temporarily/80403372/

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. “I think it’s unnecessary and a bad call. Are you telling me that the university in the fifth largest market in Louisiana that serves 6,300 students is going to close? This isn’t going to happen.”

Of course not, Norby. And Merrill Lynch, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and a few hundred banks weren’t going to bite the dust starting back in 2008 either, were they? And shoot, Bernie Madoff was a man to be trusted with our investments, right? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bank_failures_in_the_United_States_(2008%E2%80%93present)

While while we ponder the wisdom of Chabert’s assurances, it might be worth noting that since 2009, he spent a cool $35,750 on tickets to LSU athletic events. It seems it’s okay to plow OPM (other people’s money—and that’s what campaign funds really are) into athletics, but don’t let university come crying about the shortage of funding for academics or the deplorable conditions of university infrastructure.

It would also be timely to point out here that athletics are not the only expenditure items for legislators’ campaign funds. There are the expensive meals, the leasing of luxury automobiles, Saints and Pelicans tickets, payments of ethics fines for campaign violations (expressly prohibited but done with impunity), and in at least one case, one legislator paying his personal federal income taxes with campaign money. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/05/11/hidden-in-plain-sight-campaign-funds-provide-opulent-lifestyle-of-meals-game-tickets-and-travel-for-legislators/

But because the focus for the moment is on higher education, we will limit our examination of campaign expenditures to LSU sports.

Here are some of the more flagrant cases we found:

  • Senate President John Alario, one of those who signed off on Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge, spent more than $19,000 on LSU tickets;
  • Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville): $11,500 since 2008;
  • Rep. John Berthelot (R-Gonzales): $19,280 since 2011;
  • Rep. Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport): $21,660 since 2010;
  • Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero): $24,540 since 2008;
  • Rep. Michael Danahay (D-Sulphur): $17,600 since 2008;
  • Former Rep. Noble Ellington (recently appointed as legislative director for Gov. Edwards): $46,500 since 2002);
  • Sen. Dale Erdy (R-Livingston): $24,000 since 2003;
  • Former legislator and former Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert: $13,700 since 2009);
  • Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe): $22,700 since 2009;
  • Former House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles): $31,900 since 2008;
  • Rep. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte): $18,400 since 2009;
  • Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Metairie): $13,800 since 2002;
  • Sen. Jonathan Perry (R-Kaplan): $21,000 since 2009;
  • Former Rep. Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge): $18,700;
  • Former Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette): $23,600 since 2004;
  • Sen. Gary Smith (D-Norco): $33,800 since 2002;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi): $15,100 since 2010;
  • Former Sen. Sherri Buffington (R-Shreveport): $23,800 since 2009.

Buffington, then Sherri Cheek, is the same legislator who, in January 2004 traveled to New Orleans to attend the NCAA national championship football game between LSU and Oklahoma but forgot his tickets. No problem. She simply called State Police and arranged for a Pony Express-type relay by state troopers from Shreveport to New Orleans to deliver the six tickets. When word of the special deliver leaked out, she expressed her regret (don’t they always feel just awful—after they’re caught?) and said she would repay State Police $448.50, based on her computation of 12 hours of trooper pay. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1060246/posts

So while certain members of the legislature grandstand over the current and projected budgetary issues, it is important to remember they are a large part of the problem.

And higher ed is by no means the only fiscal issues before the legislature during the current special session.

There are grave cuts being proposed for health care which will be covered in greater detail in future posts here.

But a quick overview shows drastic cuts to programs serving the elderly, those on dialysis, the developmentally disadvantaged, hospice, and, of course, the disastrous venture into privatizing state hospitals.

It’s going to be difficult for legislators to rail against those with real needs to help keep them alive or well. To do so would truly expose the hypocrisy of those who claim to represent their constituencies.

As we said in an earlier post, this is the one chance lawmakers have to get it right. Rhetoric will not save the day. Denial will not solve the problems. Continuing the same fiscally irresponsible practices will not plug the gaping hole in the state budget.

And this is not the time to be point fingers or scolding administrators.

The time is now and the place is here to come together and to do what must be done to solve the state’s multitude of problems.

Anything less and wholesale recalls should be initiated immediately as soon as this session is over.

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