Archive for the ‘House, Senate’ Category

The election in the hotly contested 5th District congressional race between State Sen. Neil Riser and Vance McAllister is less than 36 hours away and as Riser ramps up his negative campaigning, LouisianaVoice has come up with a bit more history on Riser the public servant.

We have already seen how he loves to spend campaign funds for personal expenses but his betrayal of landowners in his district and a list of campaign contributors to his previous state senate campaigns reveals a lot about Riser the man.

Less than a year ago, a group of unhappy landowners approached State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) for assistance with a problem involving the fencing of 55,000 acres of land in the parishes of Winn, LaSalle and Caldwell.

The eight-foot fence, the landowners complained, essentially barred them of their hunting rights because an obscure law making it illegal to hunt on any land area of less than 300 acres that is surrounded by a game fence. The fence erected by former Wildlife and Fisheries Commission Chairman Bill Busbice surrounds the landowner’s homes and provides only ingress and egress to their property. They also claim that the local eco system has been damaged.

The land purchase and fence erection were financed by an $87.86 million federal grant contained in former Gov. Mike Foster’s executive budget during his final year in office

“We contacted Neil Riser to see if there was anything that could be done,” said Gary Hatten of Olla. He said Riser researched and printed a number of laws he told them Busbice had violated and promised to help. “After a while, he (Riser) stopped taking our calls and no longer returned our calls.”

Riser likewise never returned calls by LouisianaVoice.

Today, Riser’s congressional campaign flyers adorn the fences around the 55,000 acres.

“How can we as sportsmen trust Neil Riser to represent us in Washington when he can’t and won’t represent us here?” Hatten asked.

Now let’s take a look at some of his campaign contributions during his two state senate campaign, the last of which he ran unopposed.

Between 2009 and 2012, Riser received nearly 100 political action committee (PAC) contributions from more than 70 PACs (some were credited with multiple contributions).

And we all know that PACs only contribute to campaigns in the interest of good, honest government with no quid pro quo expected, right?

Among the PACs ponying up money for Riser’s campaign:

Louisiana Bankers Association PAC, Hospital Political Committee, Louisiana Nursing Home PAC, AGRIPAC, Louisiana Medical PAC, Louisiana Homebuilders Association PAC, Louisiana Manufacturers PAC, Louisiana Optometry PAC, LSIPP (Louisiana Society of Interventional Pain Physicians) Pain Pac, CRPPA (Crescent River Port Pilots Association) PAC, International Paper PAC, Ryan Texas PAC, Louisiana Dealers Election Action Committee, Louisiana Orthopaedic PAC, ENPAC (Entergy) Louisiana, Spectra Energy Corp. DCP PAC, TINPAC & Committee for Responsible Government, Future PAC, Log PAC, Political Action Committee, Louisiana Realtors PAC, Louisiana Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ PAC, Sugar PAC, Baker Donelson Louisiana PAC, United Employees PAC, Adams & Reese Political Action Committee, Louisiana CPA Political Action Committee, NORPAC, NORTHPAC North, KB PAC, Common Sense Now PAC, ABC Pelican PAC, Louisiana Dental Political Action Committee, Louisiana Life & Health Insurance PAC, Louisiana Oil & Gas PAC, Louisiana Oil Marketers Association PAC, Louisiana Association of Wholesalers PAC, Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association PAC, Energy Transfer Partners Texas PAC, LASFAA PAC, Wal*PAC (Walmart), KCS Rail PAC, Louisiana LUPAC PAC, Health Agents PAC, AT&T Louisiana PAC, Allstate Insurance PAC, Delta PAC, IIA of Louisiana PAC, American Electric Power PAC.

Whew! That’s a pretty impressive list of special interests.

But wait! There’s more.

Also kicking in were such noteworthy patrons as Bobby Jindal (oh, wow, what a coincidence—the man who pulled all the strings, a maneuver intended to allow Riser to inherit Rodney Alexander’s old job until McAllister threw a monkey wrench into the works), Rodney Alexander (oh, wow again), Bill Cassidy, Jimmy Faircloth (starting to sound like a modern day version of the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club), PHRMA, Pfizer, Chesapeake Energy Corp. (can you say “fracking”?), Corrections Corp. of America (thar’s money in them thar private prisons), Check Into Cash of Louisiana, Inc. and Advance America (think backbreaking interest payday loans), and the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Alliance (you know, that outfit that 1) is prohibited by law from contributing to political campaigns because it is a public, non-profit organization even though it also gave Jindal $11,000, and 2) had its former president sentenced to 46 months in prison for rigging an association election).

The only question left unanswered is whether Riser, with his NRA membership in hand, has been granted hunting privileges on that 55,000-acre game preserve by Busbice for all that assistance he gave the disgruntled adjacent landowners.

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When last we left Ray Griffin, that Republican State Central Committee member who purportedly doubles as a political pundit, he was lamenting the fact that 5th Congressional District candidate Vance McAllister, a “wealthy, self-funding political novice,” was (gasp) using his own money to bankroll his campaign against Bobby Jindal-anointed State Sen. Neil Riser.

That’s right. McAllister’s biggest sin, according to Griffin, was using his own money for political campaign purposes.

Strangely enough, Griffin, whom we still question as the real author of that post on The Hayride, managed to skirt entirely the issue of using political campaign funds for personal uses.

Well, call us nitpickers, but we at LouisianaVoice choose not to look the other way on such matters. In our perverted, warped minds, we look upon private use of campaign funds as a bit more egregious than spending one’s personal funds for political campaigns.

And apparently state campaign finance laws agree with us.

Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1505.2 (I) says it quite succinctly: “Campaign funds may not be used for any personal use unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of public office.”

Further down, in R.S. 18:1505.2 (J) 1(1), the law says it again, in a slightly different way: “…contributions received by a candidate or a political committee may be expended for any lawful purpose, but such funds shall not be used, loaned, or pledged by any person for any personal use unrelated to a political campaign, the holding of a public office, or party position (emphasis ours).

That should be clear enough.

But wait. Apparently it was not quite so clear for Riser.

From January through December of 2012, Riser made 12 monthly payments of $678.20 to Ford Credit in Dallas. The notation on the expenditure was “Truck Note.”

That represents a total of $8,138.84 he spent from his campaign funds in 2012 on his personal vehicle.

And it would be quite a stretch to claim he was using the vehicle for campaign purposes. The most recent election was in October of 2011—and he was unopposed for re-election.

Perhaps he was campaigning already for Congress. If he was, it would make him, Jindal and Rodney Alexander all liars; they claim there was no collusion in Alexander’s sudden “retirement” in favor of a $130,000-a-year job as head of the Louisiana Office of Veterans’ Affairs—a development that conveniently opened the door for Riser.

There were some other questionable “campaign” expenditures as well.

During 2012, Riser made 11 payments to T.A. Roberts Oil in Grayson for “fuel for campaign.” Those 11 fuel purchases totaled $6,656.86, or $605.17 per payment. Either he has a huge gas tank on that truck, or he was running a tab at Roberts Oil.

Riser also made two payments of $502.86 each ($1,005.72 total) on June 1 and Dec. 5 to Farm Bureau Insurance for insurance coverage on his truck

So, in 2012, Riser spent a grand total of $15,801.42 from his campaign funds on his personal vehicle.

But, hey, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Riser, who like his mentor Jindal, actively courts the religious right as the beacon of all things pure and righteous (he made numerous $25 contributions to protestant churches all over his district), is apparently almost as generous with OPM (other people’s money) when it comes to hiring staff members.

During 2012, he paid $13,550 to Annette McGuffee of Columbia ($5,250), Mason Dupree of Baton Rouge ($6,000), and Nicholas Walts of Columbia ($2,300) for “campaign work” even though there was no campaign in 2012 and Riser had won re-election unopposed the year before.

So now, we’re up to $29,351.42 in questionable expenditures from Riser’s campaign funds—in 2012 alone. And yes, there’s more.

How many of us would love to have a slush fund to dip into to pay for roof repairs? Well, Riser did so on two occasions in 2012. In March, he paid Home Hardware in Columbia $72.45 and in August he paid David Wilson Construction of Columbia $250. Both expenditures ($322.45 total) were listed as “Roof Repair.”

How about a couple of meals in the House Dining Hall totaling $538.46?

And $100 for membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC);

Of course, we can’t overlook those purchases from the Louisiana Senate: Shirts ($49.18), Windbreaker ($36.16), Umbrella ($26), Shirts ($47.60), T-shirt and lanyard ($15.09), lapel pins ($31.05), and $34 to the Louisiana Capital Foundation for “Ornaments”—all purchases ostensibly for “campaign purposes.”

Grand total: $30,551.41.

Now, let’s hit the high spots for the years 2009-2011:

  • Kwik Mart, Columbia—20 payments totaling $3,228.95 for fuel;
  • Mason Dupree—seven payments totaling $3,500 for “Campaign Work.” (Remember, he was unopposed in 2011.);
  • LSU Ticket Office—$2,000 for athletic tickets;
  • Riser & Son Funeral Home (Riser’s business) in Columbia—$1,013.67 reimbursement for purchase of an I-Pad (WHAT?!!);
  • William R. Hulsey, CPA, of Monroe—$370 for professional fees (probably trying to figure a way to take a business deduction on that I-Pad);
  • White Ford Co., Winnsboro—$678.20 for lease on vehicle;
  • Farm Bureau Insurance Co.—$670.10 for vehicle insurance;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$646.50 for Senate plates;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$183.33 for Senate china;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$187 for luncheon;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$337.14 for flags;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$147.60 for shirts and parade throws;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$101.90 for shirts;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$62.24 for a Senate jacket;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$108.10 for flags;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$26.32 for Senate pad folios;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$25.45 for shirts;
  • Louisiana State Senate—$18.50 for a watch;
  • Louisiana House Dining Hall—$91.41 for meal;
  • National Rifle Association—$125 for membership dues;
  • American Legislative Exchange Council—$100 for membership dues;
  • T.A. Roberts Oil, Grayson—three payments totaling $1,140.38 for fuel;
  • State of Louisiana—three payments totaling $740 for rent of Pentagon Barracks Apartment;
  • Ruston Flying Service—$100 for trip (we didn’t know you could taxi down the runway for $100);
  • Wal-Mart—$76.62 for a router;
  • Johnny’s Pizza—$30.72 donation (donation?);

So now we’re looking at a minimum of $46,000 in expenditures from Neil Riser’s campaign funds from 2009 through 2012—mostly in 2012, well after he was returned to office in 2011 with no opposition—that probably warrant a closer look by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Discounting the payments he made for “campaign work” to various individuals, there remains some $25,600 which should be counted as income. That amount includes truck payments, insurance, fuel, the router, roof repairs, LSU football tickets and of course, that I-Pad.

We have to wonder if Riser 1) claimed mileage on his income taxes and 2) if he reported the $25,600 as income. If the answers are yes to the first and no to the second, the IRS might suddenly take an interest and request a conference to go over his return.

And Neil Riser is asking voters in the 5th District to send him to Washington this Saturday so that he can join all the other Tea partiers in reining in all that wasteful governmental spending.

Wonder why Ray Griffin didn’t mention this in his column about campaign finance?

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Bobby Jindal has completely lost touch with reality.

To be perfectly blunt, he is an imbecilic moron. (For those of you who think I should apologize for that characterization: okay, I’m sorry he’s an imbecilic moron.)

There, we’ve said it. We’ve tried to take the high road in our criticism of his actions and policies in the past but when he chooses to spend $2 million that the state does not have to build a monument that it does not need to his mentor who isn’t particularly memorable other than for the fact that he imposed and inflicted Bobby Jindal on the state, we can only throw up our hands in abject exasperation.

Our college and university physical plants are in desperate need of repairs and renovations—but there’s no money for that.

Most state employees have gone four years without pay raises because there’s no money.

The various state retirement plans have gigantic unfunded liabilities mostly because the state does not live up to its obligation to pay its share into those funds.

Higher education has been cut to the bone by this administration but there’s money to house the archives of former Gov. Mike Foster.

Our roads and highways are in deplorable condition—and there’s no money fix them. But we can erect a shrine to a former governor for the first time in the state’s history.

The administration has been conducting a fire sale of state property in order to raise one-time money to meet recurring expenses in an effort to plug a gaping deficit in the state budget but somehow we seem to need a museum for a governor who likes to ride a motorcycle without a helmet (and Lyndon Johnson once said that Gerald Ford played “too much football without a helmet.”)

Nearly a half-million people are without health care but Medicaid benefits have been cut.

What the hell?

Has anyone taken a look at some Jindal’s veto messages?

  • He killed a $190,000 appropriation for support services to the elderly;
  • He slashed $500,000 for the arts;
  • Appropriations for individuals with development disabilities in Jefferson Parish ($50,000), the Florida Parishes ($200,000), Capital Area ($200,000), the Metropolitan Human Services District ($50,000), the Northeast Delta ($50,000), Acadiana ($200,000), Calcasieu ($50,000), Central Louisiana ($50,000), Northwest Louisiana ($50,000): all vetoed because of a reduction to Medicaid utilization;
  • Continued operation of the Children’s Special Health Services Clinics across the state ($794,000);
  • Prevention and Intervention Services Program for the Family Violence Program ($1.17 million);
  • A $2 million reduction in the value of state contracts;

Yes, we are aware that these vetoes were from Act 1, the General Appropriations Budget and the $2 million appropriation for the Mike Foster Shrine comes from Act 2, the Capital Outlay Budget and yes, we know these are two different buckets. We know that, but waste is waste and payback is payback and this is both.

The state is spending the money to renovate the third floor of an old elementary school in Franklin (Foster’s home town) to house the archives of Jindal’s benefactor who served as governor from 1996 to 2004.

The first two floors of the former school building presently serve as the Franklin City Hall.

There are three very good reasons why the state should not be paying for this. One we’ve already mentioned: the state is broke, as in destitute—mostly because of Jindal’s penchant for giving away the store in the form of tax incentives, tax breaks and tax exemptions to business and industry and for the Louisiana Department of Economic Development’s designation of enterprise zones to businesses and industries, which awards more tax incentives even though the designation does not always translate to jobs.

The other two reasons are:

  • Mike Foster is a very wealthy man. If he wants to immortalize himself with a trophy room, let him pay for it.
  • Bobby Jindal should pay for it personally because he owes everything he has attained in his political life to the glaring blunder of Foster back in 1996: appointing Jindal head of the Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24 when he knew even less than he knows now about how things work.

The most absurd utterance of this entire sordid affair came from Foster himself when, in saying that the project came as a surprise to him, added, “I never liked to be the center of attention.” That ranks right up there with Jindal’s “I have the job I want.”

State Sen. Bret Allain (R-Jeanerette) said he included the project in the Capital Outlay Bill because he did not want Foster’s papers to be buried among a university’s collection, whatever that meant. Maybe he wants Foster to make him a governor the way he did Jindal.

No governor in Louisiana’s history has had his own library, museum or archives building. That’s what makes Jindal’s approval of Allain’s project so absurd—and outrageous and irresponsible.

Most Louisiana governors simply turn their papers over to the Secretary of State’s office where they are stored in the State Archives but Foster sent only those records involving state boards and commissions. Supposedly, everything else was taken to Franklin in a U-Haul towed by Foster on a Harley-Davidson 1450 cc V-twin (yeah, we had to Google that).

Of course with Jindal’s obsession with secrecy and the “deliberative process,” there won’t be a need for a museum or a library; any papers and records that he leaves behind can probably be stored in a cabinet beneath the bathroom sink—with room to spare.

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So what, precisely, is Alfred “Butch” Speer trying to hide?

And why?

Whatever he is hiding and the reasons behind his actions constitute déjà vu all over again.

Speer, clerk of the Louisiana House of Representatives, has refused to disclose the one-page application forms which all recipients of legislative scholarships to Tulane University must complete.

The New Orleans Advocate, WWL-TV and New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche requested copies of hundreds of the documents to see if the legislators were awarding the scholarships to relatives of fellow politicians.

A 130-year-old program allows each of Louisiana’s legislators to give one student per year a one-year scholarship—worth $43,000 annually—to Tulane. The mayor of New Orleans is allowed to give out five four-year scholarships per year.

It’s a trade-off dating back to Act 43 of 1884 that benefits Tulane financially. The school has to eat more than $6 million per year in free tuition but receives sales and property tax exemptions worth more than $23 million a year, according to one source. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm


Ostensibly, the scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in the respective legislator’s district—not to legislators’ family members—but that system fell into widespread abuse and news coverage in the 1990s created a public outcry that prompted some reforms to the much-coveted legislative perk. To no one’s surprise the House in 1996 killed a bill designed to abolish both the scholarship program and the Tulane tax breaks.

Victoria Reggie, widow of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and the daughter of Crowley judge Edmund Reggie, along with her five siblings were awarded 27 years’ worth of scholarships by the late Rep. John N. John and in 1993 then-New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy gave a four-year scholarship to his son. Former New Orleans Mayor Ernest Morial likewise gave his son and daughter and the daughter of a top aide and the children of two judges scholarships and former Mayor Moon Landrieu gave a scholarship to his nephew Gary Landrieu.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune went to court—and won—in its attempts to obtain Tulane records that showed other recipients of the scholarships included the children of Sens. John Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston and U.S. Reps. Bob Livingston, Jimmy Hayes and Richard Baker.

But in 1983, Capitol News Service, operated by LouisianaVoice, broke a story that State Sen. Dan Richie of Ferriday had awarded his scholarship to a relative of State Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport and that Lynn had given his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The single-page document being sought by WWL, the New Orleans Advocate and attorney Goyeneche contains two statements: “I am related to an elected official,” and “I am not related to an elected official.” Each recipient is required to check the box next to the appropriate statement and if the student checks that he or she is related to an elected official, the student must list the official’s name and explain the relationship.

Simple enough.

Except that Speer is trying to keep nosy reporters from taking a peek at those records.

To illustrate to what length he is willing to go to protect those records, he first responded to the requests by claiming that the forms belonged to Tulane and were not in his possession.

But then Tulane officials promptly provided the forms to the legislative bodies, leaving Speer in a quandary. No problem, Deftly sidestepping state public records laws Speer, claiming to be speaking for Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp, said he had determined the records are not public and thus, he is not required to provide them.

He even promoted himself to a judgeship on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal which ruled in the 1990s legal battle that “All records related to the contract and the giving of scholarships fall within the broad definition of public records” when he said the application forms do not come under that definition because he was told the forms are only shown to legislators who request to see them.

“Therefore, only those forms Tulane University provided to a legislator for use in awarding a scholarship are public records,” Speer said in his letter.

Wow. What a legal mind.

So, is public servant Speer protecting the public’s right to know?

You can check that box “No.”

Public servant Butch Speer is in the business of protecting legislators from public embarrassment and by all measures, he does his job quite well.

Take our own experience with Speer in July of 2012. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/09/11/deliberative-process-defense-used-to-protect-alec-records-in-texas-reminiscent-of-2012-louisianavoice-experience/

Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) is the state chairman for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and in July of 2012 he sent out a letter on state letterhead soliciting contributions of $1,000 each to help defray the expenses of “over thirty” state legislators to attend a national conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Salt Lake City on July 25-28.

Harrison (R-Gray) mailed out a form letter on July 2 that opened by saying, “As State Chair and National Board Member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, I would like to solicit your financial support to our ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund.”

The letter was printed on state letterhead, which would make the document a public record so LouisianaVoice immediately made a public records request of Harrison to provide:

  • A complete list of the recipients of his letter;
  • A list of the “over thirty” Louisiana legislators who are members of ALEC.

ALEC membership, of course, is a closely-guarded secret but once the letter was printed on state letterhead—presumably composed on a state computer in Harrison’s state-funded office, printed on a state-purchased printer and mailed using state-purchased postage—the request for a list of members was included in the request for recipients of the letter.

Harrison never responded to the request despite state law that requires responses to all such requests.

LouisianaVoice then contacted Alfred “Butch” Speer to enlist his assistance in obtaining the records and last Thursday, July 12, Speer responded: “I have looked further into your records request.” (Notice he omitted the word “public” as in “public records.”) “Rep. Harrison composed the letter of which you possess a copy. Rep. Harrison sent that one letter to a single recipient,” Speer said. “If that letter was distributed to a larger audience, such distribution did not create a public record.

“R.S. 44:1 defines a public record as: ‘…having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state…’

“My opinion is that the solicitation of donations for ALEC does not create a public record. The courts have been clear in providing that the purpose of the record is determinative of its public nature, not the record’s origin.”

It seems a stretch to contend that the letter went out to only recipient soliciting a single $1,000 contribution to cover the expenses of “over thirty” legislators to attend the conference.

Still, Speer persisted, saying, “…it is my responsibility to consult with Representatives and make the determinations as to what records are or are not public in nature.”

No, it is apparently Speer’s responsibility to cover the backsides of wayward legislators.

“…The contents of (Harrison’s) letter speak for itself….The origin of a document is not the determining factor as to its nature as a public record. The purpose of the record is the only determining factor. Whether the letter was or was not ‘composed on state letterhead, on a state computer, printed on a state-owned printer and mailed in state-issued envelope(s) does not, per force, create a public record. If the letter were concerning ‘any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state,’ then such a letter is a public nature,” he said.

Speer then offered a most incredulous interpretation of the public records statute when he said, “The fact that an official may be traveling does not place the travel or its mode of payment or the source of the resources used to travel ipso facto within the public records law. The purpose of the travel is the determining factor.”

You can tell Speer is a lawyer. They love to use ipso facto whenever they can. It appears to be their way of slipping in the Latin phrase which apparently means, “I’m way smarter than you.”

“What Rep. Harrison was attempting is of no moment unless he was attempting some business of the House or pursuing some course mandated by law,” he said. “Anyone’s attempt to raise money for a private entity is not the business of the House nor is it an activity mandated by law.

“Your personal interpretation of the law is not determinative of the actual scope of the law,” he told LouisianaVoice.

Speer apparently was overlooking the fact that the House and Senate combined to pay 34 current and former members of the two chambers more than $70,000 in travel, lodging and registration fees for attending ALEC functions in New Orleans, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Austin between 2008 and 2011.

Of that amount, almost $30,000 was paid in per diem of $142, $145, $152 or $159 per day, depending on the year, for attending the conferences. The per diem rates corresponded to the rates paid legislators for attending legislative sessions and committee meetings.

That would seem to make the ALEC meeting House business and thus, public record.

ALEC advertises in pre-conference brochures sent to its members that it picks up the tab for legislators attending its conferences. That would also raise the question of why legislators were paid by the House and Senate for travel, lodging and registration costs if ALEC also pays these costs via its ALEC Louisiana Scholarship Fund.

We have to wonder if Speer hangs out with Superintendent of Education John White to share strategy for shielding public records from the public.

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If public humility is your thing, all you have to do is appear before a state legislative committee or state commission unprepared to provide answers to even the most basic of questions.

That’s what happened last Friday in two separate legislative committee rooms during meetings of the State Bond Commission and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) during discussions of capital outlay projects and BA-7 requests, respectively.

BA-7s are budget request forms used to make changes in revenues and/or expenditure line items during the year. Agencies submit them to the Division of Administration (DOA) Budget Office and if approved there, they are placed on the monthly agenda of the JLCB for consideration.

Bond Commission Chairman State Treasurer John Kennedy was particularly rankled over the shifting of construction projects to be replaced by $5 million in capital improvements to the LSU Health Sciences Building in Shreveport which is being taken over by Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF).

After Mark Moses of State Facility Planning and Control submitted changes to the commission, Kennedy said, “In July, you said the list was top priority and shovel ready. Now you’re saying they are not. What changed?”

“Cash flow needs have changed,” Moses said. “We’re shifting money. Eighteen projects are complete and on 76 others, there has been no activity and if the need is not there, we shift the dollars.”

“Why did you say in July that they were top priority?” Kennedy asked again. “The problem is if we replace them with something else, the original projects go to the back of the line. We’re shutting 90 projects down even though we have already spent money on some of them and now we’re sending those projects to the back of the line.”

Kennedy then launched into his ongoing criticism of the privatization of the Louisiana Medical Center at Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. “We’re making $5 million in capital improvements to the Health Science Center. Who’s going to own that?”

Liz Murrill, DOA chief legal counsel, said, “We own the building. They (BRF) are leasing it.”

“We’re spending $4.8 million on scanner clinical and research imaging equipment for Biomedical Research Foundation…”

“This is a non-state entity. The dollars are being used for a public purpose,” Murrill said.

“Like an NGO (non-government organization)? We’re just giving it to them?”

“We’re providing money for this piece of equipment,” she said.

“Do we require them to file quarterly reports?”

“It’s contemplated it will be used for a public purpose,” she said, failing to answer his question.

Kennedy then asked if the legislative auditor would be able to audit the expenditure of the funds to which Murrill said, “I assume so, just as with any capital outlay projects.”

“One of the conditions of the agreement is there would be no public record,” Kennedy said, referring to a clause in the certificate of agreement between the LSU Board of Stuporvisors and BRF which says, “Financial and other records created by, for or otherwise belonging to BRF or BRFHH (BRF Hospital Holdings) shall remain in the possession, custody and control of BRF and BRFHH, respectively,” and that “such records shall be clearly marked as confidential and/or proprietary,” and thus protected from Louisiana public records laws.

“A public record is a public record,” Murrill said somewhat tentatively. “We have procedures to decide what is public record.”

“Who decides what’s public?” Kennedy asked.

“It depends on who gets the request.”

“Do you have a problem adding a condition to these purchases on the legislative auditor’s being able to audit the purchases?”

“I think that’s the case now,” Murrill said.

“Why are we buying this for the Biomedical Center instead of LSU?” Kennedy asked.

Mimi Hedgecock of the LSU School of Medicine—and formerly Jindal’s policy advisor—said the purchase was part of the partnership with BRF prior to the certificate of agreement between LSU and BRF.

“Is it accurate to say we have not picked an operator of the hospital yet?” Kennedy asked. “The testimony before the Louisiana Joint Budget Committee was they (BRF) were going to pick an operator. We’re entering a 99-year lease and don’t know who is even going to run the facility. The legislature has no say. How can we audit if we don’t know who’s running it? We can’t audit HCA (Hospital Corp. of America).

“This makes a mockery of the capital outlay procedure,” Kennedy said. “You’re supposed to be building a priority of projects. In July, you cam to us and said these projects were absolutely top priority and (were) shovel ready. Now they’re not shovel ready or top priority. Now we have new projects and these projects are going to the back of the line. I don’t think this is a good way to do business.”

Joint Budget Committee

Things got even testier at the Joint Budget Committee, thanks to the amateurish performance of witnesses appearing on behalf of the Recovery School District (RSD), just another ongoing embarrassment for the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The fun began when committee member Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), who also serves as House Appropriations Committee chairman, questioned RSD’s claim to having $34 million in self-generated funds for the projects it was submitting.

“Explain how you self-generated $34 million,” he said. “It’s unusual for RSD to self-generate that many dollars.

The breakdown given was $27.13 million in new market tax credits, $3.37 million from insurance proceeds and $4.05 million from Harris Capital funding for construction of Wheatly and McDonough 42 schools.

Fannin responded that the way the budget was presented was “confusing.” He said he was seeing too many “other” expenditures on the BA-7 submitted by RSD. “You have legal expenses of $800,000,” he said. “I never saw legal expenses of $800,000 to rebuild two schools.”

“Those legal fees pay for 82 schools—the entire master plan,” said RSD spokesperson Annie Cambre.

But it was Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans) who peppered the RSD types with a barrage of withering questions—withering because the RSD representatives were woefully ill-prepared with answers much as State Superintendent John White has been since his appointment in January of 2012.

Murray asked about the expenditure of $375,000 in funds for engineering and architectural costs before RSD had authority to spend the money. “Are we using any of this $375,000 to pay them already?” he asked.

“Most were paid from multiple fund sources,” responded a young, unidentified red-headed RSD representative who more resembled a high school FBLA member than a public education professional.

“Let me ask my question again,” Murray said. “Are we using any of this $375,000 to pay them already?”

“For some of them, yes. Some are eligible from FEMA, some not,” said Red.

“Then why are we just now getting this request if we’re already using the money?”

“We already had some authority but we just realized we need additional authority.”

Murray, beginning to show his exasperation, then asked, “How much of the $375,000 have we spent so far?”

“I don’t know,” said Red. “I can get that for you.”

“It disturbs me that we’re spending money without authority to do so,” Murray said. “Let’s go to the legal expense of $800,000. How much of that have we spent?”

“Again, I don’t have that exact number,” said Red. “I can get that for you.”

“Mr. Chairman,” Murray said to committee Chairman Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), “can we get them to come back next month when they have answers?”

“That would seem appropriate,” said Donahue. “There’re a lot more questions than answers.”

Bordelon, in a last-ditch effort to salvage the request said, “It’s important that everyone understand the timing of the Wheatly-McDonough projects. There will be several thousand students affected by any delay. The New Market tax programs and closing times are specific. Timing is of the essence.”

“We’d like to help you guys,” Donahue said, “but when you come here you don’t have sufficient information to answer questions. I don’t know how you think we can approve something when you can’t answer questions about the money you’re asking for that you’ve already spent and how many dollars are involved.”

“We were utilizing previously granted authority,” Bordelon said.

“I appreciate that,” Bordelon said, “but on the other hand, you’re already spending it and didn’t come for authority to do that until you started spending the money. And when members ask how many dollars have already been spent, and you can’t answer, that’s a problem.”

“It was my understanding we were operating under previously granted authority,” Bordelon persisted.

“That’s not what was said,” Bordelon said. “That was not the testimony. The testimony was you were already spending that money but you don’t know how many dollars were spent.”

Murray’s motion to defer action until next month passed unanimously and Murray then had one last word of advice to Bordelon.

“You say this is going to affect ‘several thousand students.’ I’m pretty familiar with Wheatly and McDonough 42. You don’t have several thousand students in those two schools. We want you, when you come before this committee, to tell us accurate information.”

Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) added, “When you come back, be prepared to discuss the oddly round legal expenses and issues related to that.”

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