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Archive for the ‘LSU’ Category

An updated variation of the infamous Mike Edmonson Amendment has made its way into the 2017 legislative session in an effort to help yet another public official scratch out a little more money from the public fisc.*

*fisc (fisk) noun: The public treasury of Rome.

It’s really amazing how these legislators can work so diligently on behalf of certain connected individuals while ignoring much larger problems facing the state.

As much as LouisianaVoice criticized Bobby Jindal during his eight years of misrule, it was the legislature that allowed him to do what he did. It was the legislature that brought about the state’s fiscal problems by refusing to stand up to his ill-advised “reforms,” and it’s the legislature that has steadfastly refused to address those problems with anything approaching realistic solutions.

But when there’s a chance to help one of their own: stand back, there’s work to be done.

Rep. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) has introduced House Bill 207 aimed specifically at benefiting U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Louisiana, it seems, has this pesky little dual office holding/dual employment law that might otherwise prove a hindrance to Cassidy’s ability to moonlight by teaching at the LSU Health Science Center while serving in the U.S. Senate.

Carter wants to remedy and if you don’t think this bill was written specifically for Cassidy, here’s the particulars of the bill:

“To enact R.S. 42:66(E), relative to dual officeholding and dual employment; to allow a healthcare provider who is a member of the faculty or staff of a public higher education institution to also hold elective office in the government of the United States…”

The bill would provide an exception to the current law which prohibits “certain specific combinations of public office and employment, including a prohibition against a person holding at the same time an elective or appointive office or employment in state government and an elective office, appointive office, or employment in the U.S. government.”

We could be wrong, but it just seems to us that serving in the U.S. Senate is a full-time job that demands the full attention of whomever happens to be representing Louisiana in that august body.

It was just such an amendment in 2014 that helped prove the eventual undoing of Edmonson’s career and his political aspirations. The word was that Edmonson planned to seek the state’s second-highest office in 2015—and was considered a fairly viable candidate.

LouisianaVoice broke the story of State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and his tacking an amendment onto an otherwise benign bill that would have given Edmonson between $50,000 and $100,000 per year in additional retirement income. Because of the resulting furor over that amendment, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) successfully sued to block the increase in Baton Rouge district court.

A veteran political observer recently told us, “If you hadn’t broken that story, Mike Edmonson would be lieutenant governor today.” (We don’t know about that but at least he’d be better than what we now have in that office.)

Remember in the 2014 senatorial race between then-incumbent Mary Landrieu and challenger U.S. Rep. Cassidy when Landrieu claimed Cassidy was paid for time lecturing classes not supported by his time sheets?

Jason Berry, publisher of The American Zombie Web blog said that on no fewer than 21 occasions over a 30-month span, U.S. Rep. Cassidy billed LSU Health Science Center for work supposedly performed on the same days that Congress was in session and voting on major legislation and holding crucial committee hearings on energy and the Affordable Care Act.

“On at least 17 different occasions,” Berry wrote, “he (Cassidy) spent multiple hours in LSU-HSC’s clinics on the same days in which he also participated in committee hearings and roll call votes.”

Landrieu said at the time of the revelations that Cassidy, while claiming to serve the poor, was in fact, “serving himself an extra paycheck. That’s not right. It could be illegal and it looks very much like payroll fraud.”

The arrangement apparently also troubled then-Earl K. Long Hospital Business Manager William Livings who said in an email to Internal Medicine Department Head George Karam, “We are going to really have to spell out exactly what it is he does for us for his remuneration from us. Believe me, this scenario will be a very auditable item and I feel they will really hone in on this situation to make sure we are meeting all federal and state regulations.”

In addition to Cassidy’s salary, Berry said, LSU also paid for his medical malpractice insurance, his continuing education and his licensing fees, “expenses that can easily total in the thousands.”

And now Carter wants to make it all nice and legal—but only for Cassidy. All other state employees who would like to do a little double-dipping to supplement their income can just fuggedaboutit.

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The simmering resentment between the Blue Shirts and the Gray Shirts isn’t going away anytime soon—at least as State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson continues to push for higher and higher pay for Louisiana State Police (LSP) while ignoring Department of Public Safety (DPS) police http://www.lsp.org/dps_police.html. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/09/16/two-year-old-edmonson-email-to-dps-seemed-to-promise-salary-increases-and-he-delivered-for-all-but-dps-officers/

DPS police may have a lower profile, a less public face than LSP officers. After all, DPS doesn’t detail officers to serve as bodyguards for the state’s college football coaches. That, by the way, is precisely the total qualifications of Edmonson to be Superintendent of State Police; he served as Nick Saban’s personal escort when he was LSU’s head coach.

Carrying that thought a bit further, it has always escaped me why a coach with upwards of 100 beefy, muscular jocks in protective pads and helmets surrounding him would need a bodyguard. Does anyone out there agree with me that this seems like a colossal waste of manpower, money and resources invested in training these men as law enforcement officers?

Before nabbing that plum assignment, Edmonson was the LSP Public Information Officer with precious little experience as a road trooper and zero experience in a supervisory capacity.

His appointment, for those who don’t remember, was made by Bobby Jindal soon after he became governor in 2008.

Besides the title of Superintendent of State Police, he also carries the title as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Safety. http://www.dps.louisiana.gov/deputy.html

With the latter title, Edmonson is also responsible for the well-being of the DPS officers and that would include working for better pay for them as well as for State Troopers.

Instead, we learn that instead of going to bat for DPS, he is going after DPS with a bat. We have been told there was an intensive effort to ferret out the identities of those in DPS who spoke to us about pay issues for DPS officers. The only reason to seek those identities, of course, would be for reprisals.

In an earlier post about the recent pay increase for Edmonson and his inner circle, we said the raises were approved in House Bill 1 in the 2016 legislative session.

Not so. It turns out the salary for Edmonson is set by the governor at his discretion and Edmonson took it upon himself to the increase certain subordinates’ salaries to levels that exceed the State Police pay grid.

We recently obtained a copy of the DPS pay grid and we offer both for your comparison.

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The timeliness of Tuesday’s observation about holding our public officials accountable has come into play less than 24 hours after the post went up.

Today’s (March30) Baton Rouge Advocate revealed that only two of Bobby Jindal’s nine public-private partnership hospital contracts will be funded in the next fiscal year, a move that is certain to adversely affect low-income residents seeking medical care. http://theadvocate.com/news/15333761-70/seven-out-nine-public-hospitals-unfunded-in-next-years-budget-including-baton-rouge-and-lafayette

As severe as the projected cuts are ($58.4 million to Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge and $51.2 million to Lafayette General Health Center alone), Gov. John Bel Edwards appointee Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee has been AWOL at hearings before the House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

The latest crisis is, of course, directly attributable to the short-sightedness of Bobby Jindal and his obsession with privatizing everything in state government that moved—even to the extent of having his lap dog LSU Board of Supervisors approve a contract turning over medical facilities in Shreveport and Monroe to private concerns which contained 50 blank pages.

As things now stand, it appears the only hospitals to be spared the knife (if you will pardon a terrible pun) are the LSU Medical Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport and they survived only because they house LSU medical schools.

The fiscal year 2017 budget calls for a 10 percent funding cut for DHH. That comes to $283 million right off the top but the number escalates to $750 million when the loss of federal matching funds are factored into the equation.

Besides OLOL in Baton Rouge and Lafayette General, other public-private hospitals impacted by the cuts include those in Alexandria, Monroe, Houma, Bogalusa and Lake Charles.

LSU Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier testified that he was worried about the prospect of seeing the public-private arrangements go belly up. OLOL, he said, has 150 residents in training and Lafayette has 82. In all, LSU has about 800 residents scattered about the state.

State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) noted that residents of north Baton Rouge, a predominantly black area, have lost both inner community hospitals when Earl K. Long was closed and later torn down and when Baton Rouge General-Mid City closed down its emergency room a year ago Thursday (March 31).

So with all this bad news swirling about, where was the DHH secretary?

Sure, DHH Undersecretary Jeff Reynolds testified but was unable to give clear cut answers to legislators’ questions about how funds saved from Medicaid expansion might be used to offset the DHH shortfall.

But Gee was still MIA. Reynolds said she was absent because of personal issues but that lame excuse was quickly shot down by DHH spokesperson Bob Johannessen told LSU’s Manship School News Service that Gee was spending spring break with her family.

Johannessen’s candor could get him in hot water. The boss never likes it when a subordinate reveals something that puts him or her in a bad light. And face it, this is a pretty bad light. He did recover some lost ground, however, when he added that legislators who were critical of her absence were “grandstanding.”

Well, yeah. That’s what politicians do. So why make it so easy for them?

Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville) said he doesn’t recall seeing Gee at any Appropriations Committee or Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meetings.

Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) was even more critical. “It’s getting a little troublesome that the secretary doesn’t come,” he said. “The taxpayers want to hear from the boss when we start talking about these kinds of dollars.” http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/2016/03/29/millions-dollars-cut-state-hospitals/82402336/

Spring break? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? (the new polite way of saying WTF?)

Edwards appointed Gee, a professor of health policy and management in obstetrics and gynecology at LSU, to head DHH in early January. http://new.dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/page/7/n/55

We just had a DHH secretary (Kathy Kliebert) whose brother-in-law got into hot water with the Louisiana Board of Ethics (does anyone have any idea how difficult that is to do after Jindal revamped the ethics board in 2008?) because he failed to disclose his employment by state Medicaid contractor Magellan Health Services. http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11707352-123/brother-in-law-of-state-health-secretary

We just got rid of a governor who for eight years steadfastly refused to be held accountable for his action (or inaction, as the case may be).

Her appointment was described as “among the most important appointments Edwards will make in his new administration” by NOLA.com back in January.

At the time of the announcement of her appointment, she said, “I pledge to you I will use all of the skills I’ve used as a physician, a patient, a parent, and a policymaker to do everything I can to improve the lives and health of people in this great state.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/01/john_bel_edwards_dhh_secretary.html

Dr. Gee, those noble words might mean a little more to the taxpayers of this state if you would take your position more seriously and appear at important committee hearings. A public face on an agency in crisis mode is more than important: it’s critical.

It’s all about accountability.

We’ve already had one agency head (Kristy Nichols) to duck out on a committee hearing to attend a boy band concert in New Orleans. We don’t need an encore of that performance. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/06/kristy-kreme-knows-one-direction-ducks-out-on-legislative-committee-for-boy-band-concert-at-n-o-smoothie-king-arena/

Going on spring break at a time when the low-income residents of this state are staring at having to overcome even greater hurdles to obtain decent health care sends the wrong message—a message that we’ve become all too familiar with over the past eight years.

And that message is arrogance.

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

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

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

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

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

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/27/senate-education-chairman-appel-purchases-discovery-stock-week-before-company-enters-into-state-techbook-agreement/

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

LSU SPORTS PAYMENTS FROM CAMPAIGN FUNDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the more flagrant cases we found:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Predictably, the business community is in high dudgeon over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ initial proposals to address the fiscal mess left by his predecessor—you know, the guy who thought he was presidential timber.

Judging from the early reaction of his die-hard opponents, including the Louisiana’s Rush Limburger wannabe Jeff (so) Sadow, Edwards is already a major flop just two weeks into the job. As much as I detest Mike Foster’s love child, I gave him nearly four years before abandoning any hope that he had the slightest concern for the people of this state.

Personally, I can’t think of a single person on the face of the good earth who could come into this job and successfully turn the state around in eight years, let alone four. It’s a daunting task that no sane candidate should relish.

In coaching, no one wants to be the one to follow a legend. You want to be the one who follows the one who follows the legend. Well, no one should want to be the one to inherit a disaster. You want to be the one who follows the one who tried to right the ship so if things are looking up, you can ride the momentum and take credit for the recovery.

With that in mind, here are a few observations:

The Baton Rouge Advocate on Sunday ran an outstanding analysis of the undeniable disaster in high education funding left by Jindal. The story was especially timely in light of Edwards’ announcement of even more draconian cuts facing high ed as he tries to cope with $750 million in budget deficits for the current fiscal year and a $1.9 billion budget gap for next fiscal year—all to be covered with shrinking revenues. http://theadvocate.com/news/14621878-123/special-report-how-startling-unique-cuts-have-transformed-louisianas-universities

LSU President F. King Alexander has gone on record as saying summer school may have to be cancelled at LSU. That’s the same type of dire warning as his “financial exigency” threat last year. That worked to get legislators’ attention and warded off the threatened bankruptcy. This threat of the cancellation of summer classes is a similar wakeup call to lawmakers—if they can get their heads from the place where only their proctologists can find them.

Even Jindal’s head cheerleader Rolfe McCollister inexplicably allowed Jeremy Alford to reveal in McCollister’s Baton Rouge Business Report that Edwards learned to his surprise that Piyush had approved millions of dollars in pay raises and made almost two dozen board and commission appointments that were not announced.

As a sign that McCollister may not be paying enough attention to his publication, he also allowed an Associated Press story that said Jindal left Edwards a gaggle of economic development deal IOUs.

But when Edwards suggested a tax package to help meet the fiscal disaster head-on, you’d have though from LABI’s reaction, that he was demanding the first-born of every businessman in the state.

Never mind that the Tax Foundation released a report last week that revealed that Louisiana has the sixth-lowest tax burden in America in the 2012 fiscal year.

While the rest of the country was paying an average of one dollar for every $10 earned in state and local taxes (exclusive of federal taxes), Louisiana citizens were paying only 76 cents for every $10 earned.

The per capita state and local taxes of $2,940 paid is fourth-lowest in the country and the state’s cigarette tax is one of the lowest. Edwards is seeking to increase the 86-cent cigarette tax to $1.08, which would bring Louisiana more in line with other states.

The state’s effective property tax rate of .5 percent is third lowest but the combined state and local sales tax rate (arguably the most regressive tax) of 8.9 percent is third highest.

Edwards says the days of using budget gimmicks are over. “This administration will remove the smoke and mirrors and provide the facts about where we are,” he said, in a not-so-subtle slap at Jindal. http://theadvocate.com/news/14619324-75/gov-john-bel-edwards-outlines-budget-options

State Sen. Jack Donahue, in a rare exhibition of lucidity for a legislator, told The Advocate, “…the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so what did we spend (state revenue) on? Motion pictures; we spent it on solar power; we spent it on enterprise zone tax credits; we spent it on new market tax credits. We spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on all those things; so obviously, they were more important than our education.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14621878-123/special-report-how-startling-unique-cuts-have-transformed-louisianas-universities

Well, Senator, you said it. And you were oh, so accurate to employ the pronoun “we.” Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 and yours is flawless. Other than Edwards, Rep. Rogers Pope, and Sens. Ed Murray and Dan Claitor, and maybe a couple others, I can’t recall many objections to the Jindal giveaway years coming from either chamber over the past eight years.

So now, Edwards wants to roll back some those insanely, ill-advised, foolish, thoughtless corporate tax breaks, and the corporate world is already screaming rape. Hey, guys, the honeymoon is—or should be—over. It’s way past time for the middle- and low-income citizens of this state to be relieved of the heaviest tax burdens while you guys get all those tax breaks, exemptions and incentives to create minimum-wage jobs—if jobs are even created at all. I mean, does anyone really think oil and gas will leave Louisiana when the oil and gas is here? To get to it, they have to come here. Do we really need Enterprise Zone credits for Wal-Marts in St. Tammany Parish?

As Edwards said, it’s time for the governor’s office to be “not business as usual.”

He will make mistakes. He will do things I don’t agree with. I was never under the illusion that I would agree with every single action he takes. No politician, like a rooster in a henhouse, could ever please everyone all the time.

And when he does displease me, I will say so. But for now, I’m more than willing to at least let him get his feet wet. We all owe him that much.

 

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