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Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

Bobby Jindal and former Director of the Louisiana Office of Workers Compensation (OWC) Wes Hataway are gone but a court decision late last month could represent a legal smack down of the way workers’ compensation claims have been handled since July 13, 2011, Jindal’s third year in the governor’s office.

The ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Don Johnson takes direct aim at a law pushed through the Louisiana Legislature and which set up new medical treatment guidelines for injured workers which plaintiffs said violated the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

In his WRITTEN REASONS FOR JUDGMENT, Judge Johnson struck down provisions which:

  • Stipulated that when a carrier/self-insured employer fails to return LWC forms within the five business days it is deemed to have denied such request for authorization;
  • Provided an automatic “tacit denial” of medical treatment;
  • Allowed OWC to enforce variances from medical treatment guidelines;
  • Denied treatment not covered by medical treatment guidelines;
  • Allowed the OWC a workers compensation carrier to arbitrarily submit—and the OWC medical director to accept—any information it desires without notifying the injured worker of the “evidence.”

The suit was brought against the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) in 2013 by attorney Janice Hebert Barber and several physicians and injured workers who were denied benefits under the new law. Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith III represented each of the plaintiffs. Also named as defendants were LWC Secretary Curt Eysink, Hataway, and former OWC Medical Director Dr. Christopher Rich.

Barber said the regulations also discriminate against injured workers in that:

  • Medical benefits were denied to injured workers because their physicians could not return calls from Rich’s staff as quickly as they liked;
  • One request for medical treatment was denied because the injured worker’s attorney submitted too many pages of records to Rich;
  • Another request for treatment was denied because the case itself was 12 years old;
  • Numerous requests for treatment were denied because Rich claimed they were submitted by “bad doctors” who were “bad” only because they were too favorable to their patients, in Rich’s opinion;
  • Requests for medical procedures were denied on the basis of who owned the medical equipment which would be utilized for the procedure;
  • As of December 2012, Medical Director Rich had approved only 14 percent of all requests for medical treatment of injured workers in cases where compensability had already been determined;
  • Rich had denied requests for medical treatment in cases in which he never even spoke to the claimants;
  • Hataway repeatedly engaged in ex parte communications with attorneys and others representing workers compensation insurance carriers and self-insured employers;
  • Hataway and his staff repeatedly expressed the Jindal administration’s “positions” on issues to be litigated by workers compensation judges to the judges themselves.

Barber said in her lawsuit that the new regulations had “enriched workers’ compensation insurance carriers and has harmed injured workers in Louisiana.” She claimed that under the new regulations, the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation (LWCC), the state’s largest workers’ compensation carrier, more than doubled premium dividend payments to Louisiana employers than were paid the year before the new law went into effect.

When Jindal named his four nominees to the University Medical Center Management Corp. Board back in March of 2010, he not only was looking after some of his more generous campaign contributors, but he also placed one of them in a position of potential conflict of interest.

At the time of his appointment as medical director, Dr. Christopher Rich of Alexandria currently held three separate contracts with the state totaling more than $3.3 million and he had already run into ethical problems with one of those contracts.

Rich also was named by Jindal as one of four nominees for the proposed billion-dollar University Medical Center that was to serve as a replacement for the 70-year-old facility that was closed after its basement was flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Like many of Jindal’s high-profile appointees, Rich, his wife Vickie and business partner Dr. Mark Dodson, also of Alexandria, combined to contribute $9,500 to Jindal’s campaigns in 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Rich had a $516,646 contract to serve as Medical Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) Administration that called on him to approve or disapprove medical treatments and procedures for the Office of Workers’ Compensation.

That contract is actually to Chrickie Investments, a company owned by him and his wife.

In 2009, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law which changed the process for determining whether or not medical treatment was “medically necessary.” If a workers’ comp insurance company denies a treatment request, the denial is referred to the OWC medical director, in this case, Rich.

Though the law was passed in 2009, problems with implementing the rules to enforce the new law delayed the actual enactment date of the law until July 13, 2011.

Rich testified before the House Labor Committee that he was “denying 80 percent” of all treatment requested.

At the same time he was contracted to be the sole determiner of all medical treatment for Louisiana’s injured workers, he and Dodson were partners in Louisiana Ortho Services which held a $2.3 million contract to provide orthopedic services for the state, specifically Huey P. Long Medical Center.

Huey P. Long Medical Center (HLMC) at the time was one of 10 state hospitals that made up the LSU Health Care System which is administered by the LSU Board of Supervisors which also oversees the University Medical Center Management Board on which Rich sits. HLMC was subsequently shut down by the Jindal administration.

Because he also owned an interest in Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital which also provided medical treatment to injured workers, the question of his eligibility to make decisions on medical treatment which could financially impact the hospital as well as Mid-State came before the Louisiana Board of Governmental Ethics on separate occasions.

In March 2011, the ethics board ruled that Rich was prohibited, in his capacity as Medical Director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation, from participation in any matter involving Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital.

In January 2012, however, a second opinion said there was no conflict since he had terminated his relationship with Mid-State—only six months since the state had awarded Louisiana Ortho, that $2.3 million contract. Though he no longer is affiliated with Mid-State, he remains a partner in Louisiana Ortho with Dodson who in turn remains as a partner with Mid-State. The timing and the connections, to say the least, are curious.

Rich and Dodson also were partners in a company called ACTIVEMED, Inc., which held a $523,000 contract to provide orthopedic medical services to Northwestern State University student athletes.

Activemed also provided secondary insurance, also known as a preferred provider network (PPN) for two Louisiana university college sports teams and athletes. Basically, the athletes’ primary health insurance is the first payor for sports-related injuries. Then, if the student treats with an Activemed provider and they are enrolled with Activemed, then Activemed picks up the tab for the remainder of the treatment.

This means that Drs. Rich and Dodson had direct control over which doctors Activemed refers injured students to and if those same doctors happen to treat any Louisiana workers’ compensation patients, there existed a potential conflict of interest for Rich.

Activemed’s internet web page contains no list of medical providers, nor is Activemed listed under the Louisiana Department of Insurance either as an insurance company, a third party administrator (TPA), or an adjusting company.

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It must be nice when you can get the rules written just for you.

There must come a time when even the most disinterested, blasé, apolitical person living has to look up from whatever else occupies his interest and say, “Wait a damned minute. This just ain’t right and we’re not gonna do it.”

Or, as Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the classic movie Network would say: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Just when you think you heard the last of Mike Edmonson, the erstwhile Superintendent of State Police, he comes back to haunt us and taunt us.

Remember way back in 2014 when LouisianaVoice first made you aware of SB 294, signed into law by Bobby Jindal as ACT 859? The bill, authored by Sen. Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D-New Orleans),  appeared only to deal with procedures for formal, written complaints made against police officers.

But thanks to a little back room deal between Edmonson Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy and State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia and an announced candidate for State Treasurer), a last-minute amendment was tacked onto that bill that, contrary to verbal assurances to legislators that the bill would cause no financial impact, would have actually given Edmonson an additional $50,000 or so in retirement income.

Thanks to a timely anonymous letter informing us of the amendment, we were able to break the story and the resulting furor over that was such that State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) filed suit in 19th Judicial District Court to block the raise that Edmonson was already being forced to disavow. District Court Judge Janice Clark threw out the law.

Why?

Because Edmonson voluntarily and of his own free will chose some years earlier to lock his retirement in at $76,000 by entering into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) while he was still at the rank of captain. That decision, which is considered irrevocable, locked in his retirement at a rate based on his captain’s pay while netting him a higher salary at the time.

But now he’s back and because of a rather complicated quirk in the law—applicable, apparently, only to State Police—it appears he will get that extra retirement income after all—not $76,000 as dictated by his decision to enter DROP way back when, but $128,559, according to Jim Mustian’s Baton Rouge ADVOCATE online story.

Here is the way Retirement says it’s calculated, according to one retired Trooper:

Act 1160 relative to the re-computation of the pre-DROP benefit and the pre-DROP final average compensation applies to you if (1) you participated in DROP on or before June 30, 2001, 2) continued in state police employment after participation in DROP without a break in service, and (3) remained in such continuous employment on or after July 1, 2001. These special provisions do not apply to members who retired on or before July 1, 2001.

If You Entered DROP With 25 Years or More of Hard State Trooper Service:

Pre-DROP Benefit – If you meet the criteria set forth in (1), (2), and (3) above, and you entered DROP with 25 years or more of hard state trooper service, you are eligible for a re-computation of your pre-DROP benefit at 3 1/3% multiplied by the number of years of service to your credit prior to your effective date of participation in DROP, and further multiplied by your final average salary as computed when you entered DROP.

Post-DROP Benefit – Your post-DROP benefit will be calculated at 31/3% multiplied by the number of years of service to your credit after DROP participation, and further multiplied by your final average compensation. The final average compensation used will be the average determined at the beginning of DROP, or, a new current final average if you worked for an additional 12 or 36 months (based on your hire date).

If You Entered DROP With Less Than 25 Years of Hard State Trooper Service:

Pre-DROP Benefit – If you meet the requirements stated above and you entered DROP with less than 25 years of hard state trooper service, you may also be eligible for a re-computation of your final average compensation based on your hard 25th year of trooper service (or your highest 12-month average if you have not reached your 25th year) for the purpose of determining your new pre-DROP benefit. This re-computation of the final average salary will be based on any 12-month period of service (but limited to the first 25 years) while a member of LSPRS regardless of hire date.

Post-DROP Benefit – Your Post-DROP benefit will be calculated at 3 1/3% multiplied by the number of years of service to your credit after DROP participation, and further multiplied by the greater of 1) your final average salary as determined when we recomputed your pre-DROP benefit, or 2) your current final average compensation based on a 12-month average regardless of hire date.

The sum of any re-computed pre and post DROP retirement benefit shall not exceed 100% of your current final average compensation.

For purposes of determining the average compensation based on the first 25 years, (1) “state trooper service” does not include military service purchased, actuarially transferred service, or reciprocally recognized service, or any form of purchase of service credit, and (2) “average salary” does not include overtime, expenses, clothing allowances, or any remuneration resulting from military service.

If you are eligible for a re-computation under Act 1160, this does not change the amounts credited to your DROP account. The re-computation is for the monthly benefit amount you receive upon retirement only.

Got it?

Didn’t think so.

But the overriding question that’s impossible shake is this: If this rule existed, why was it necessary back in 2014 to try and sneak the benefit increase through the legislature as an amendment to an otherwise harmless bill?

Something doesn’t pass the smell test here and when you take a look at the makeup of the State Police Retirement System’s Board of TRUSTEES, six of whom are either active or retired State Troopers, the odor doesn’t get any better.

The bottom line here is this:

Whether or not special provisions are in place for State Troopers to circumvent the irrevocable provisions of DROP, if the State Police Retirement System’s Board of Trustees goes forward with giving Edmonson this $128,559, every single state employee who ever opted to enter DROP at any time should retain legal counsel and go after the additional retirement funds to which he or she is entitled.

 

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A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

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Louisiana State Police (LSP) captains were called in to headquarters in Baton Rouge on Monday to hear the news that had already leaked out across the state that Superintendent Mike Edmonson was stepping down but officially, the head of LSP’s public information office said he knew nothing of reports that he said were “above my pay grade.”

But truth be told, after the way LouisianaVoice has latched onto the sorry story at LSP, had I been in Doug Cain’s position, I probably would’ve done the same thing. I hold no ill will toward him because he was in an unenviable position. On the one hand, his job is to inform the public but on the other, he had a boss to whom he answered. I’m old enough to grasp the realities of the situation.

That boss, while defiantly denying he would resign as late as last Friday when LouisianaVoice first said he was on his way out (and we did say it first), ended his 36-year career at State Police with a whimper today with his announcement that he would resign his position as the longest-tenured superintendent in LSP history.

Today’s online edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate carried the STORY of Edmonson’s announced retirement and in so doing, tied his decision to the “widening controversy” surrounding that San Diego trip taken by Edmonson and 15 subordinates to see him receive a national award.

But that trip, including the side trip taken to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon by four troopers in a state vehicle en route to San Diego, is not the story of what is really wrong at LSP. As one veteran observer of law enforcement noted, the San Diego trip is a mere symptom of a much larger problem festering in the bowels of State Police headquarters. It was never the story.

This was a story of a State Police Superintendent who once told a group of sheriffs at a roundtable meeting at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Baton Rouge that when it came to choosing between State Police and the sheriffs, his loyalty was with the sheriffs.

There are the ever-persistent rumors of parties, too many parties being held in conjunction with official functions. They simply did not coalesce with what the image of law enforcement is supposed to be about.

There are reports, growing in number even as this is being written, of junkets to New York in private jets paid for by a police uniform vendor, to the Washington Mardi Gras celebration paid for by a local contractor, to Cancun on the private jet of a north Louisiana supporter, and of trips to gaming conferences in the company of the owner of video poker machines (Edmonson is ex-officio member of the State Gaming Commission).

There were seemingly endless reports documented and posted by LouisianaVoice of inconsistent discipline of State Troopers, depending on whether or not the trooper was in the inner circle of the Edmonson clique.

A trooper with multiple prescriptions for a controlled narcotic, instead of being disciplined for showing up to work impaired, was promoted and made commander of Troop D in Lake Charles.

A married lieutenant who, along with a few buddies and a couple of single female “bartenders,” took a borrowed limo to a Vicksburg casino. At the casino, he took one of the girls, who was underage, onto the floor of the casino to play blackjack. He was apprehended by Mississippi gaming officials and tried to negotiate his way out of the situation by proclaiming he was a Louisiana State Police lieutenant and “can’t we work something out?” He was fined $600 by Mississippi officials and promoted to commander of Troop F by Edmonson.

A trooper who twice had sex with a female while on duty (once in his patrol car, no less), was barely disciplined at all.

Troopers at Troop D were given days off for making a minimum number of DWI arrests, no matter if the driver was actually drinking. Just make the arrest and let the district attorney dismiss the case—you’ll still get credit for the stop—that was the unwritten policy.

Another trooper at Troop D owned a daytime construction company. So, instead of working a full shift at night, he would work a couple of hours and then go home to sleep the rest of the night so he could work his private job during the day. This was allowed to go on for an extended period of time until LouisianaVoice revealed what was taking place.

Department of Public Safety (DPS) Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux was allowed to take a buyout for early retirement but stayed retired only a single day before coming back with a promotion and about $55,000 in early buyout money which she was ordered to return—but did not. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/24/edmonson-not-the-first-in-dps-to-try-state-ripoff-subterfuge-undersecretary-retiresre-hires-keeps-46k-incentive-payout/

When she finally retired for good, Edmonson, appearing before a compliant State Police Commission stacked with his supporters, pushed through the creation of a new lieutenant colonel position to take over her duties. In pitching the position, he told the commission that it would create no additional cost and that it was not being designed specifically for Maj. Jason Starnes.

Guess what? Starnes got the job, the promotion, and a $25,000 raise. Now he administers Management and Finance for LSP despite having no accounting degree or background. When member Lloyd Grafton asked about Edmonson’s promise of no additional expense, no one on the commission seemed to remember.

It was Grafton who first used the term “money laundering” when discussing how the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) funneled LSTA funds through the personal checking account of its executive director David Young so that political contributions could be made to key political candidates. Young subsequently submitted expense reports for reimbursement of the campaign contributions. Grafton should know a little about money laundering: he is a retired ATF agent.

The LSTA did refuse Edmonson’s request that the association pen a letter to Governor-elect John Bel Edwards recommending that Edmonson be reappointed superintendent. Edwards reappointed him anyway.

And, going back to 2014, there was that surreptitious amendment inserted onto an otherwise benign bill in the closing minutes of the regular legislative session. State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) did the honors in introducing the amendment. Passed overwhelmingly over the promise that it would have no financial impact on the state budget, it instantly awarded Edmonson a healthy bump in retirement income.

Edmonson had, years earlier, entered what was referred to as DROP, a special retirement plan that was said to be “irrevocable” which at the time locked in his retirement at about $76,000. At the time the amendment was approved, it would have meant an additional $55,000 to his retirement but with the recent pay increases pushing his salary to its current level of $177,400, it would have meant a retirement increase of a whopping $101,000.

LouisianaVoice was notified of the amendment via an anonymous letter. That was when Mike Edmonson first appeared on our radar.

Then State Rep. John Bel Edwards, who unwittingly voted for the amendment, subsequently called for House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to investigate the maneuver but the invertebrate Kleckley refused.

State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) then filed suit in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge and a district court judge struck down the amendment.

Edmonson, true to form, at first denied any knowledge of the amendment but later admitted that one of “his people” came up with the idea and he gave the approval.

That was pretty much in line with the blaming of his secretary for using a signature stamp to approve overtime pay for that San Diego trip and his decision to throw the four who drove to San Diego under the bus for taking an unauthorized detour—even though it has since been learned by LouisianaVoice that he knew the route the four were taking and was in touch by text and phone the entire trip.

That’s the Edmonson persona. He has consistently shirked responsibility for actions that could cast him in a bad light and basked in the glow when things went well. He even is said to have told a retiring trooper—a veteran of two tours in the Mideast wars, no less—that he was a coward and a disgrace to his uniform in a late-night telephone conversation.

While other media have only recently joined in the investigation of LSP and Edmonson (and make no mistake, it was heartening to see them doing solid investigative work), LouisianaVoice has been there all along. This was not a sprint to LouisianaVoice, it was a marathon. And if this sounds a little vain and boastful…well, it is.

And it isn’t over. LouisianaVoice has pending numerous public records requests with LSP on other matters within the agency. We do not intend to let Edmonson’s resignation diminish our ongoing examination of why one man was allowed to bring a great department into such disrepute and disgrace.

The rank and file Louisiana State Troopers deserve better.

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By Steve Winham, guest columnist

I have a regular monthly breakfast with venerable politician and retired state fire marshal, V. J. Bella.  As a legislator, V. J.  never shied away from taking bold actions (think cabbages inside motorcycle helmets hit with baseball bats) and his background and devotion to the cause made him uniquely qualified as fire marshal.  He is also a good friend.

Among other topics, we always have lengthy discussions about Gov. Edwards.  At our most recent breakfast last week, V. J. said he believes Gov. Edwards is running for re-election too early.  He may have a strong point and, based on recent press reports, the game is already afoot to discredit him every way possible by at least one Republican PAC (America Rising). It has already launched a website to gather negatives about Edwards.  The plan, of course, is to stress his failures, including those dealing with our budget, economy, infrastructure, education, etc.

If the governor attempts to please as many people as possible over the remainder of this term in hope of being re-elected, how can he possibly recommend the very difficult and unpopular solutions necessary to begin to move us up from dead last among the states by most measures.  In an ideal world, making those hard choices would endear him to the public and ensure his re-election.  Unfortunately, the real world is not the political world.

If, in my dreams, I was Gov. Edwards, I would announce today that I am not running for re-election as governor, nor running for anything else.  I would then make dramatic changes unilaterally and push a legislative agenda that would move our state forward without a care for my personal political future.

As a bonus, taking bold, but politically unpopular actions would allow legislators to blame everything their constituents didn’t like on me.  That worked well for legislators even in the good times, so it could work even better now  –  “I put that rodeo arena in the capital outlay bill, but the governor vetoed it.  Vote for me and I’ll get it in there when we get rid of him next election.”

There is no question our budget is seriously broken.  Nor is there any question that is our major problem.  Our infrastructure is crumbling.  Our educational system continues to decline – Both strongly contribute to our stagnant economy and enhance a basic distrust of our government.  Businesses cannot reasonably plan because they have no idea how they will be taxed over time.  People dependent on state services have no assurances for the future.

All state services not completely protected continue a steady march toward total breakdown.  At the same time, we see almost daily news reports of waste, fraud, and corruption within government.  The public has lost faith in the ability of government to do anything right.

The first thing I would do is call my cabinet together and tell them I am tired of seeing news reports about things they should have been paying enough attention to catch and fix.  It’s not that hard to get a handle on these things.  It is a simple matter of working down the chain of command and holding people accountable at every level.   More on this later.

I would use the excellent January 2017 report of the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy and other information to put together a firm proposal of both expenditure cuts and revenue measures to permanently fix the gap of $1.2 billion that will result from expiration of sales taxes in July 2018.  Further cuts are unlikely to be popular, but they will be much more popular than additional taxes.

Since people are fed up with government, and because I believe it is needed now more than ever, I would do something I recommended in 1990.  I would take existing staff from the budget and accounting sections of the Division of Administration to create a small entity called the Office of Effectiveness and Efficiency.  I would send this team to every department, beginning with the most troublesome one and working down. They would take a common-sense look at how things are being done and recommend changes to make them better.  I would expect full cooperation from my cabinet secretaries.

Restoring the public’s faith in government is a daunting task, but it should be of highest priority.  Until people begin to have this faith, they will never believe anybody in government cares about waste or providing the best services possible and they will certainly not enthusiastically support sacrifices to support such a system.  It is simply not possible to begin to restore faith in government if political commitments override all other concerns.

We desperately need stability to achieve anything in this state.  Pandering to popular beliefs not supported by facts to win elections clearly does not work for the greater good.  An objective look at what has happened since our most recent presidential election should tell you that.

So, I would challenge Gov. Edwards to take the bold step of not seeking re-election and to announce it immediately so he can be free to fight the battles necessary to set us straight.  If he did, he might just find people begging him to change his mind and run again after all – And, if that happened, it would put a whole new, and ironic, spin on V. J.’s view.

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