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Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

High school civics classes taught us about the checks and balances of government. You know, the three branches: the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative, each of which is supposed to serve as a safeguard against abuses by the other two.

In addition to those, at the state level at least, we have the Office of Inspector General, the Legislative Auditor, and the Attorney General—except that the Constitutional Convention of 1974, thanks to the muscle-flexing of the district attorneys, hamstrung the attorney general from intruding on the turf of the DA’s unless specifically invited to do so.

Another little-known fact about the attorney general is that the office is set up to defend, not prosecute, state agency heads who run afoul of the law. That’s why you see enormous expenditures on the part of the Louisiana Office of Risk Management when an agency head is sued for, say, failure to provide public records when requested or even when an agency head is accused of criminal wrongdoing. ORM, the state’s insurance agency, pays defense attorneys who are contracted by the attorney general’s office. Thus, as long as someone else is footing the bill, the incentive is for the public official to duke it out in court.

So, with all these safeguards in place, how is it that a quiet amendment was sneaked through the legislature 11 years ago that gives legislators control over the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars most folks, including the Legislative Auditor’s Office and those whose job it was to draft bill amendments, didn’t even know existed?

Well, we gave you the answer when we said “sneaked.” These types of bills are done very quietly, with zero fanfare but with laser-like efficiency.

Here’s the wording of that amendment:

R.S. 24:39(D) is amended and reenacted to expand the uses of the monies in the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund to include supporting all other operations and activities consistent with the authorized mission of the Legislative Budgetary Control Council. This provision is effective June 7, 2012.” (Emphasis ours.)

The Legislative Capitol WHAT fund?!!!?

Legislative Budgetary Control Council?!!?

What is the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund and who are the members of this Legislative Budgetary Control Council?

The members of the Budgetary Control Council are:

  • Sen. John Alario, Co-chair;
  • Rep. Taylor Barras, Co-chair;
  • Rep. Michael Danahay;
  • Rep. Cameron Henry;
  • Rep. Walt Leger, III;
  • Rep. Gregory Miller;
  • Sen. Eric LaFleur;
  • Sen. Gerald Long;
  • Sen. Karen Carter Peterson;
  • Sen. Gregory Tarver.

We also found the 2008 act that created the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund which gives legislators a helluva lot of discretion over funds no one knew existed—especially with the slipping in of that 2012 amendment that gives them carte blanche control over a helluva lot of money.

Here is the wording of R.S. 24:39, including the key Section D:

RS 24:39     

Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund

  1.  There is hereby created in the state treasury, as a special fund, the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund, hereinafter referred to as the “fund”.
  2.  The state treasurer is hereby authorized and directed to transfer ten million dollars from the state general fund to the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund on June 30, 2008, and on July first of each fiscal year beginning July 1, 2009.  The legislature may appropriate, allocate, or transfer additional monies to the fund if it deems necessary to accomplish the purposes of the fund.
  3.  Monies in the fund shall be invested by the treasurer in the same manner as monies in the state general fund and any interest earned on the investment of monies in the fund shall be credited to the fund.  All unexpended and unencumbered monies in the fund at the end of the fiscal year shall remain in the fund.
  4.  Monies in the fund shall be available for appropriation to and use by the Legislative Budgetary Control Council, hereinafter referred to as the “council”.  Such appropriations shall be used by the council solely to fund construction, improvements, maintenance, renovations, repairs, and necessary additions to the House chamber, Senate chamber, legislative committee meeting rooms, and other legislative rooms, offices, and areas in the Capitol Complex for audio-visual upgrades and technology enhancements and for supporting all other operations and activities consistent with the authorized mission of the council.

In 2010, Clifford Williams, who said he worked as a legislative staffer in the Legislature’s Amendment Room where his job was to draft amendments to bills, said, “I was not even aware of this provision until I was asked to do an amendment involving this provision one day.”

He said a legislator came in that day and requested the transfer of $5 million to some other long-forgotten project. “To tell the truth, I not only don’t remember what he said he wanted the money for, I don’t even recall the legislator’s name. But this was the first time I ever heard of this fund, which is nothing more than a slush fund for legislators’ use with virtually no oversight. It’s money that exists outside the regular legislative budget,” he said.

In 2012, just four short years after the initial $10 million appropriation, the fund had a balance of more than $32 million. Here is an analysis of the fund for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012:

FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS

The Council’s net assets increased by $20,161,763. This resulted primarily from significant increases in appropriations in the current year for the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund and the State Capitol HVAC Replacement and Renovations project, as well as decreases in expenditures due to the completion of various projects.

 The general revenues of the Council were $32,749,917, which is an increase of $16,741,476 from the prior year. The significant increase is a result of additional appropriations received in the current year for projects and renovations. Prior year revenues did not include appropriations for the Technology Enhancement projects and Capitol renovations.

The total expenditures/expenses of the Council were $11,577,183, which is a decrease of $7,173,036 from the prior year. The decrease is a result of capital outlay expenditures for the Technology Enhancement projects and Capitol renovations decreasing due to project completions in the current year.

The other financing uses of the Council were $1,010,971, which is an increase of $283,007.

So, as the state struggles with budgetary shortfalls, looming deficits and near-certain budget cutbacks, it’s comforting to know the Legislature has solidified its financial future through legislation sneaked through the process with such skill that even Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera was caught unaware Monday when asked about the fund.

Just another way, folks, that your legislators continue to look out for their own interests (parties, fine dining, campaign cash) while leaving you and your concerns choking in the dust.

As the late C.B. Forgotston would’ve said, you can’t make this stuff up.

And the party goes on.

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How well did the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement vet the application of Louisiana Fire Marshal Fire Chief Brant Lamar Thompson’s application for a training waiver that qualifies him as a certified homicide investigator for the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (SFM)?

The answer, according to the commission’s Law Enforcement Training Manager Bob Wertz, is it didn’t.

That’s because the only thing the commission goes by is the application submitted by Thompson and signed off on by his supervisor, in this case State Fire Marshal Butch Browning.

While Thompson’s qualifications for certification as a homicide investigator are iffy at best, a little trickeration and massaging of the rules may have slipped him past requirements put in place to ensure qualified personnel occupied top administrative posts at the Office of SFM.

Thompson has worked for the fire marshal’s Office since June 20, 2011, first as Deputy Chief of Investigations until his promotion to Fire Chief on June 16 of last year. Along with his promotion went a 31 percent pay increase, from $95,500 to his current salary of $125,000 (Browning, at the same time, received a 32 percent pay bump, from $104,000 to his current salary of $137,500, without benefit of a promotion.)

Around that same time (June 27), former State Rep. Bryan Adams, a former Terrytown fire chief, left the legislature and began work at the fire marshal’s office for $120,000 per year, an indication of how SFM administrators received pay increases and high salaries while rank and file employees have gone for years without raises. Adams later resigned.

He worked for the Louisiana Department of Revenue (DOR) from February 7, 2005, until June 3, 2011. From January 30, 2006, until August 15, 2010, and from November 23, 2010 until June 3, 2011, as Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). For the three months between stints at that position, he worked as Assistant Secretary of DOR.

Brant Thompson:

Begin Date End Date Agency Job Title Biweekly Pay Rate
06/16/16 Present DPS-Office of State Fire Marshal Fire Chief $4807.70 (6/16/16 to present)
6/20/11 6/15/16 DPS-Office of State Fire Marshal Deputy Chief-Investigations $3672.00 (7/1/15 to 6/15/16)

$3530.40 (10/1/13 to 6/30/15)

$3394.40 (6/20/11 to 9/30/13)

6/4/11 6/19/11 RESIGNATION
11/23/10 6/3/11  

DOR-Office of Revenue

ATC Deputy Commissioner $3394.40 (11/23/10 to 6/3/11)
8/16/10 11/22/10  

DOR-Office of Revenue

Assistant Secretary $4148.00 (8/16/10 to 11/22/10)
1/30/06 8/15/10  

DOR-Office of Revenue

ATC Deputy Commissioner $3394.40 (8/7/09 to 8/15/10)

$3264.00 (8/7/08 to 8/6/09)

$3138.40 (8/7/07 to 8/6/08)

$3017.60 (7/1/07 to 8/6/07)

$2960.00 (8/7/06 to 6/30/07)

$2846.40 (1/30/06 to 8/6/06)

2/7/05 1/29/06  

DOR-Office of Revenue

Executive Management Officer 2 $2640.80 (8/7/05 to 1/29/06)

$2538.80 (2/7/05 to 8/6/05)

In none of those positions did he ever conduct a homicide investigation.

Prior to going to work for DOR, he did work for the Attorney General’s office during the investigation of the Baton Rouge serial killings, an investigation that led to the arrest of Derrick Todd Lee.

Thompson, however, was not the lead investigator for that case. That distinction was held by the late Danny Nixon.

Yet, on his waiver application, he answered “Yes” when asked if he’d worked on a homicide investigation and he entered “20 years” when asked how long he had worked as a homicide investigator.

And while the accuracy of those answers is something of a stretch, the answer to the next question is dubious at best. To the question, “…approximately how many homicide investigations has the officer worked as an investigator,” he indicated more than 100.

On question 4, “Has the above officer worked as the LEAD investigator in a homicide case?” Thompson answered “Yes.”

On the next question, “…how long has the officer worked as a LEAD homicide investigator?” Thompson indicated more than 20 years.

Finally, in pushing the envelope, he again indicated more than 100 as “Lead and/or Supv.” to the question, “…approximately how many homicide investigations has the officer been assign as LEAD investigator?”

He’s has conducted more homicide investigations than Columbo and Kojak combined.

The application was initialed by Butch Browning on December 13, 2016.

BRANT THOMPSON WAIVER REQUEST

Besides the veracity of his answers on the waiver request, Thompson barely qualifies for his position as Browning’s second in command and then only by the process of selective appointment and promotion.

R.S. 40:1561 lists the requirements to hold the position of Fire Marshal, among which are:

A college degree or a minimum of 10 years’ experience in the fire service with five of those years as a district chief or higher position or chief of a fire prevention bureau or equivalent experience;

At least two years’ experience in management and personnel supervision;

Have been continuously engaged in the fire protection field for at least five years.

R.S. 1562 says the fire marshal may appoint a first assistant who “shall have the same qualifications as are required of the state fire marshal.” (Emphasis added.)

While Thompson does not have 10 years in the fire service, he does have a college degree and Browning may have gotten around the requirement of being engaged “in the fire protection field for at least five years” by first appointing Thompson as Deputy Chief-Investigations for (ahem) five years before elevating him to the second highest position at SFM.

But the cold hard facts are he has never worked a homicide. A source at the attorney general’s office said he was assigned only to review cold cases, which is a far cry from investigating a homicide. Nor has he ever even been the lead investigator of a fire, much less a homicide. In fact, he has never worked a fire or testified in court about a fire.

While he may be certified as a fire “investigator,” all that is required for that designation is to sit through a short class presented by the National Association of Fire Investigators and to pass a Certified Fire Investigator exam.

And, of course, there remains that application for the homicide waiver signed by Browning, who by signing, was attesting to the truthfulness of Thompson’s answers…

Governor, are you paying attention? Do you really desire a repeat of the Edmonson debacle? Better yet, can you afford that?

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The regular meeting of the Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (LPAARMCSBCSLC) was over and physically exhausted members exited the back room of John Wayne Culpepper’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que House and Used Lightbulb Emporium after a mind-numbing near-record session of 11 minutes and headed home.

As they filtered out the front door, LPAARMCSBCSLC President Harley Purvis and I retired to his reserved booth in the back in the corner in the dark to discuss the day’s latest news.

Harley likes to keep track of the legislature and to make pointed observations about some of its actions and today was no exception.

“I see the governor signed HOUSE BILL 231 by Rep. Major Thibaut,” he said.

Thibaut, a New Roads Democrat, authored the bill which allows the immediate family member of a mayor or any other member of the governing authority of a municipality with a population of five thousand or less or a legal entity in which the family member has an interest to enter into a transaction with the municipality subject, of course, to “certain conditions.”

“One of those ‘conditions,’” Harley said, his disgust readily apparent, “is that permission be obtained from the State Board of Ethics.

“After what that idiot Bobby Jindal did to the Ethics Board and state ethics laws back in 2008, a governmental entity could probably bring back public floggings in the town square if they go about it the right way,” he said.

He looked away briefly before turning back to me. “I thought we had made progress when we started prohibiting elected officials’ family members from doing business with the agency they represent. Now we’re right back where we were 70 years ago.”

“And there’s HOUSE BILL 162 by Rep. Rob Shadoin.”

Shadoin is a Republican from my home town of Ruston. “What about it?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing. It just prohibits the filing of a false lien against state officers and state employees. Why ain’t that already against the law? But what I’d really like to know is what precipitated Shadoin’s filing of this bill in the first place that brought the need for such a law to his attention? I know almost every year there’s a bill filed against local speed traps and it’s only because some legislator got hisself a ticket. I betcha there’s a story behind Shadoin’s bill that we don’t know about.”

Just as suddenly, Harley turned his attention to national events.

“Mitch McConnell really is the face of the Repugnantcans. I mean, look at his health care bill.

“It’s one thing that he is so desperate to do away with Obamacare that he’s willing to throw anything up against the wall to see if it’ll stick. I’m not happy with Obamacare because it needs to be tweaked. But damn it, if it needs tweaking, tweak it, don’t just eradicate it. You don’t roll your car over a cliff because the air conditioning goes out; you repair the AC and move on. But the mentality of the Repugnantcans is ‘We gotta do away with Obamacare, even if we do rip health care away from 23 million people. We have to abolish Obamacare even if we do reduce Medicaid benefits. We must erase all vestiges of Obamacare even if premiums do go up, and it’s essential to repeal Obamacare especially even if it means nice tax breaks to the rich.’

“It’s pretty obvious that the mindset of McConnell and his Repugnantcan co-conspirators is not to do what’s best for the country, but to do whatever they can to undermine America’s middle class and low-income citizens to the benefit of the great 1 percent. And it’s pretty disgusting to think that’s who is representing the citizens of this country.”

Harley had a lot on his mind today, so he continued:

“And it’s a shame about the shooting of Rep. Scalise. I don’t agree to his politics but I sure don’t agree with some nutcase being able to obtain guns—especially high-powered semi-automatic weapons—and trying to make some kind of insane political statement.

“But what really burns my butt is attempts by Repugnantcans to tag Bernie Sanders with this just because the crazy guy was a Bernie supporter. Hell, I was a Bernie supporter but I would never even think of owning an automatic weapon, much less using against anyone.

“What’s worse, though, is you got some Repugnantcans like Rep. Chris Collins, and the ultra-conservative MEDIA trying to blame Democrats’ political RHETORIC for the shooting. That’s just about the stupidest thing I ever heard. There’re others, like Rep. RODNEY DAVIS and even DONALD TRUMP JR who somehow saw the attack as the fault of Democrats.

“And wasn’t The Donald himself, when he was running for president, who encouraged his supporters to physically ATTACK protesters? I seem to remember he even offered to pay their legal bills if they did so. They all apparently forgot that Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords was also shot by a deranged maniac in 2011 and she’s a Democrat. But weren’t the Repugnantcans strangely quiet about that shooting?

“If you want to blame rhetoric, then maybe the Repugnantcans should be asking if their support of open carry laws and their support of semi-automatic weapons—bought and paid for by the NRA—might be a contributing factor to insane acts like this one. Perhaps the Repugnantcans should be questioning whether their fanatical support of weapons designed to kill people—and that’s the only purpose for those weapons—might be the problem.”

He drained his mug of stale coffee before going on. “Every time there’s a mass shooting with these killing machines, it’s awfully coincidental how the NRA rushes to the microphones to defend their sale and the Repugnantcans in Congress kill any efforts at banning them.

“And after each shooting, those same Repugnantcans run and hide behind the NRA which in turn, keeps their campaign contribution pipeline flowing wide open.”

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By Stephen Winham

Guest Columnist

The 2017-18 budget was enacted in a ball of confusion that allowed an escalation of the blame game.  There was less back-slapping than usual when the latest unnecessary special legislative session ended, but perhaps more back-stabbing.

I heard Gov. Edwards on the radio blaming the legislature for not using recommendations of the latest blue-ribbon committee (Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy) to formulate a plan for resolving the “fiscal cliff” facing us in 2018-19?  I was surprised nobody asked him, “Well, governor, why didn’t you?”

Surely the governor does not believe we have already forgotten that the centerpiece of his tax reform proposal was the previously unheard of and dead on arrival Commercial Activity Tax?  While his proposal did incorporate some of the task force proposals, his brand-new Commercial Activity Tax constituted $832 million of his $1.3 billion proposal.

When Gov. Edwards first talked about the Commercial Activity Tax I thought, “Oh, no, here we go again with another sham like the one Jindal put up in his his one and only stab at tax reform in 2013.”  Then, when Gov. Edwards put his CAT proposal in writing and balanced it with things that made sense, I thought he was proposing something he seriously thought would work.  By the time the CAT was introduced, however, it had already been severely watered down and it was subsequently amended beyond worth before the whole package was withdrawn – In other words, just like Jindal’s ersatz proposal, it never got out of the starting gate – And I came full circle to my original take on it.

Then Representatives Cameron Henry and Lance Harris began the drumbeat we have heard now for many years – “We don’t have a revenue problem.  We have a spending problem.”  That premise was picked up by legislators representing constituencies that believe it to be true (in the absence of a credible contrary argument), and the focus shifted to cuts.  Or did it?

Most of the things everybody considered critical, like full TOPS funding, higher education, and critical needs at corrections seem to have been funded, based on press reports.  State employees were even given a modest pay increase.  Yet no taxes were raised.  Since the Governor proposed an Executive Budget that left $440 million in what he considered priority needs unfunded, how is this possible?  I am still trying to find the answer to that seemingly simple question.

As you already know, state law requires the governor to submit an Executive Budget proposal balanced to the official forecast of revenues.  The legislature is also required to pass a balanced budget.  Although the original appropriations bills are based on the governor’s proposal, the legislature is under no obligation to pass a budget that matches what the governor has proposed.  In fact, there are states where the legislature pretty much ignores the governor’s proposal and starts and ends with its own ideas.  We must never forget that the legislature holds the power to appropriate and enact the budget, not the governor.  Our governor has veto power, including the power to veto line-items, but he does not make the law.  He is responsible for administering the enacted budget in accordance with law.

So, who really is to blame for the abysmal mess in which we find ourselves: the governor, or the legislature?  That’s an easy one – both.

Although the process has become significantly perverted, there should be only one way to balance our state budget on a continuing basis – match projected recurring revenue with projected expenses.  It is possible to do this and to do it in a way that is clearly understood.  At the end of the budget process we deserve a budget we can understand and live with – I am unconvinced we have either.

Governor Edwards did present a balanced budget proposal.  But was it clear and honest in its portrayal of our needs?  The Executive Budget presentation showed a general fund (tax-funded) need of $9.910 billion versus and official revenue forecast of $9.470 billion, leaving a gap of $440 million in unfunded needs.  All constitutional requirements were fully funded.  Here’s how the Governor said he balanced the budget:

  • Carrying forward most of the cuts made in FY 2016-2007 ($120 million)
  • Cutting general fund to the Department of Health ($184 million)
  • Across-the-board cuts in general fund of 2% ($48 million)
  • No funding for inflation
  • Funding TOPS at 70%
  • No funding of deferred maintenance and other infrastructure

If we got additional revenue, the governor proposed restoration of the cuts in hospitals and the across-the-board cuts.  In addition, he recommended full funding of TOPS, pay raises for state employees, technology enhancements, additional funding for prison contracts, match funding for DOTD, a 2.75% increase in the MFP for elementary and secondary schools, and other enhancements.

Fast forward to the budget ultimately enacted last week.  No additional revenue was raised.  TOPS is fully funded.  State employee pay raises are there.  Nobody is publicly claiming devastating cuts have occurred and the governor says he is happy with the budget.  We mullets (as the late C. B. Forgotston called us) are left to scratch our heads over how this is possible.  How is it possible to go from needing $440 million in additional money for a minimally adequate budget to needing ZERO while making most people happy?  What got cut?  How will the cuts affect people and businesses?  Until somebody answers these questions, we mullet mushrooms are left in the dark – and that is apparently where our “leaders” would as soon we stay.

We deserve better – all of us.  None of the following are unrealistic demands.  We need to start making them of our elected officials:

  1. An Executive Budget proposal that the governor truly believes in and is willing to fully defend. If, for example, 100% funding TOPS is not a high enough priority to be included in his base recommendations, then he should stand behind continuing the FY2016-2017 level of 70%.
  2. An Executive Budget proposal and an enacted budget that avoid across-the-board cuts. Across-the-board cuts only make sense if all programs are of equal value.  That is certainly not the case.  Further, after successive years of across-the-board cuts, the result can only be greater mediocrity and ineffectiveness.
  3. An Executive Budget proposal and enacted budget that make clear, concrete cuts anybody can understand with clear explanations of exactly how services are going to be reduced or eliminated.
  4. A progressive tax system that matches recurring revenue with recurring needs after all cuts possible have been made.
  5. Elected officials willing to hold their appointees to the highest standards possible with zero tolerance for the waste and abuses reported almost daily.
  6. Elected officials willing to put partisan politics aside in furtherance of the greater good.

Governor Bobby Jindal portrayed himself on the national stage as a budget-cutter par excellence.  If he was, why did he rely on tricks to “balance” annual budgets and leave Governor Edwards (and us) with a huge budget hole?

Why has Gov. Edwards not yet offered up a balanced budget he is willing to stand behind?  Why has the legislature not enacted a budget that makes sense and is sustainable in the future?  Is it a lack of courage, or is it an unwillingness to face reality?  It must be both, plus the partisanship that has recently made a political game of everything.

The governor and the legislature have competent staffs who have clearly defined our problems for many years.  A series of blue-ribbon panels and well-paid private contractors have studied the problem and recommended solutions for decades.  It is difficult to find evidence either individuals or businesses are overtaxed in Louisiana.  It is very easy to find low rankings of our state on infrastructure and quality of life issues important to both individuals and businesses.

We are mere pawns in the blame game – but we don’t have to be.   Let’s let our elected officials know we will no longer accept being held hostage to an incompetent and unresponsive government.  We want solutions, not the cop-outs and excuses we have been getting for way too many years.

Stephen Winham spent 21 years in the Louisiana State Budget Office, the last 12 as Director. He lives in St. Francisville.

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I found my old buddy Harley Purvis sitting in his usual spot: in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark at John Wayne’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que House and Used Light Bulb Emporium in Watson, Louisiana.

But something was decidedly different. The President of the Greater Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist, Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (GLPAARMCSBCSLC) was looking at his cell phone and….smiling.

Harley never smiles.

I slid into the booth opposite him, saying nothing. Without looking up, he pushed his phone across the table at me. “You gotta see this,” he said. “You know how the folks in Baton Rouge used to call us ignorant rednecks out here in Livingston Parish? Well they can’t do that anymore ‘cause so many of ‘em have moved out here for our far superior schools. But if you want to see real country,” he said with a chuckle, “take a gander at this.”

I picked up his phone and saw he was logged onto a story about a couple in Kentucky who had run off the road and hit a utility pole, stirring up an angry hive of bees. For the young lady, clad only in a bikini, it was not a fun experience. But Harley wasn’t amused at their plight. The story had an INTERVIEW with a local resident who was interrupted from feeding and watering his chickens by the impact.

I told Harley it reminded me of the time when I attended my father’s funeral in Nashville. As we sat in the small funeral parlor, one of his step-grandsons began talking to me.

“Ah got to git mah waf’ sumpin’ fer our anneyversary an’ Ah don’ know whut to git ‘er,” he said in an almost incomprehensible Tennessee drawl. I noticed his chin was moving from side to side and in and out in an apparent effort to wrap his mouth around his words as he slurred them out. It was like some kind of caricature from the movie Deliverance.

“Why don’t you get her what I got my wife?” I asked, already feeling guilty for what I was doing.

“Whut’d yew git yer waf’?” I thought for a brief moment he’d dislocated his jaw.

“I got her a solar powered clothes dryer.”

“SO-ler pawered? Ah ain’t never hurd o’ Thet.”

“Well, we just call it a clothes line.”

“Snork, snork, ungh, snork. Thet’s a good ‘un. Snork, ungh, snork.” He was slinging snot all over the room in something akin to a laugh that I had never heard emanate from a human before—all as my father lay in an open casket only a few feet away.

“That’s funny,” said Harley, “but without a video, you can’t really compare it to the bee in the bikini description this guy gives us.”

He had a point, so I decided to change the subject.

“So, what’s your take on the legislature this week?” I knew the answer before I asked and he didn’t let me down.

His face instantly turned into a dark scowl. “Those idiots just took the Louisiana taxpayers for a cool $68,688 in the first three days of the special session and they didn’t do a cotton-pickin’ thing,” he said.

“How so?” I asked.

“Do the danged math. They get $159 per day. There’s 144 legislatures, which is why I refer to ‘em as gross ignorance. And they took a three-day recess as soon as John Bel called the special session. That’s 144 times $159 times three days, which is a $68,688 cost to the taxpayers and they never lifted a finger to address the budget.”

“But he wasn’t through with the lawmakers. “You can talk about deadheads on the state payroll but no one compares to the legislature,” he said. “They are paid a base salary of $16,800 per year, the $159 per diem and each members gets a $1500 monthly office allowance ($18,000 per year) $6,000 in unvouchered expenses, a state phone, and a state computer.

“Altogether, that comes to a cool $7.8 million per year in even-numbered years for the 85-day session and $7.25 million in odd-numbered years for the 60-day session. That’s an average of between $50,340 and $54,315 per year for a part-time job, depending on odd or even year salaries.

“And don’t forget they also get that per diem any time they come to Baton Rouge for committee meetings or for attending legislative-related seminars and conferences—with travel, hotel and meals also paid for by taxpayers. And they take an awful lot of trips to these conferences and seminars.

“And what do we get for our dime? A bunch of lame brains who can’t even elect a capable House speaker to lead them and a Senate president who is a Democrat of Republican, depending solely on which label will get him elected. They just wasted 60 days without coming up with a budget and when the guv calls a special session, they call a three-day recess—all while collecting their damned $159 per day. Maybe weed killer-drinkin’ John Kennedy was right. We do have a spending problem, but it’s not the spending of money on needed programs and infrastructure that bothers me. It’s the spending problem we have with too many contracts going to too many cronies and the spending problem we have when we pay legislators to sit on their backsides and pass meaningless recognitions of constituents, stupid resolutions that don’t carry the weight of law and other silly nonsense like after-hours parties and eating at Baton Rouge’s best restaurants—compliments of lobbyists and special interests—while giving short shrift to what we send ‘em to Baton Rouge for in the first place.

“I don’t want to see any more taxes imposed on the middle class of this state any more than the next guy. But for the life of me, I don’t see why we can’t ask the corporations to pull their share of the load instead of getting more and more tax breaks from the state in exchange for low-paying jobs—if they create new jobs at all. I have a friend who says if we give corporations a tax break, they will make more money and give more jobs to the citizens of the state. That sounds good in theory but we’ve got plenty of evidence that this trickle-down economics just doesn’t work. They make more money to give higher salaries to their CEOs and to help their boards of directors see big increases in their stock options. That’s all the trickle down you get.

“But these clowns let LABI pull their strings like some kind of wizard puppet master, which is exactly what that organization is—a giant puppet master pulling the strings of a bunch of brainless marionettes.”

He paused for a minute to catch his breath. “And I don’t give the governor a free pass, either. I told him right after he got elected that he oughta appoint retired executives to his cabinet posts at salaries of $1 per year. We have plenty of qualified people with the expertise to run a tight ship and I know there are those who would gladly do it on a voluntary basis. We have retired corporate CEOs, retired college presidents, and even retired rank and file people who have good, God-given common sense. But what did John Bel do? He told me. ‘I’ll think about it,’ and then promptly put people in place paying them more than Bobby Jindal was paying his people.

“And that ain’t all,” he said. “I have some figures on some other agencies and programs that I’ll be sharing with you in due time and I guarantee it’ll grill your cheese when you see the numbers.”

I’d gotten an earful so I excused myself and came home to write this while it was fresh on my mind.

Ol’ Harley’s always good for a quote or two.

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