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Archive for the ‘NGOs’ Category

Three news stories on the last day of July and first day of August raised more questions than they answered about Bobby Jindal’s personal and campaign finances and, at the same time, re-opened a controversy over the funneling of $4.5 million in state funds to a family member of one of Jindal’s campaign contributors at the expense of Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

It was a pair of stories by CNN and Associated Press on July 25 and Aug. 2, however, that again reminded us of the insanity of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which opened the door for the corporatocracy and its affiliated special interests to usurp the democratic process from America’s citizenry.

The first story, on Friday, July 31, revealed that Jindal’s net worth was somewhere in the range of $3.3 million and $11.3 million. That’s a pretty big range, to be sure, but the federal financial disclosure forms are written that way—deliberately, most likely, to allow elected officials to comply with financial reporting laws while still managing to conceal their true worth.

The following day, August 1, two stories appeared in the Baton Rouge Advocate. The first, on Page 3A, announced that boat builder Gary Chouest, one of Jindal’s major donors—and a grateful beneficiary of legislative projects pushed by Jindal—contributed $1 million to Believe Again, a super PAC supporting Jindal. In that same issue of the Advocate, on page 3B was a story that a company headed by a Chouest family member who had received $4.5 million from the state in 2014 was being sued over money owed Andretti Sports Marketing by the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana and NOLA Motorsports Park. The owner of NOLA Motorsports Park is Laney Chouest and the amount in question is…$1 million.

More on that later.

It was the pair of stories by CNN and AP, however, which shone the glaring light of undue influence of PAC money, particularly in national elections. Julie Bykowicz and Jack Gillum, writing for AP, noted that it took U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz three months to raise $10 million for his 2015 presidential campaign but a single check from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer eclipsed that number with a single, $11 million contribution to Keep the Promise, Cruz’s super PAC.

Not to be outdone, billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who amassed their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom, chipped in $15 million to Cruz’s super PAC, according to a July 25 CNN story by Elliot Smilowitz. Should we wonder which side of the fracking debate Cruz comes down on? If he wins the Republican nomination and is subsequently elected President, should West Texas residents, concerned about the quality of their drinking water or about their sick and/or dying livestock, even bother appealing to Cruz’s humanitarian side?

You can check that box “No.”

But back to Jindal and his unexplained wealth. A 44-year-old multi-millionaire can’t be found on any old street corner, especially a 44-year-old who has spent all but a single year of his adult working life in the public sector. Upon completion of his studies at Oxford University, he joined the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for about 11 months. He left McKinsey to become a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery before being appointed by Gov. Mike Foster as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24. Four years later, he appointed the youngest-ever president of the University of Louisiana System and in 2001, he was named by President George W. Bush as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation. After losing his first campaign for governor to Kathleen Blanco in 2003, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives the following year and was re-elected in 2006 before being elected governor in 2007.

In 2005, a year into his first term as a congressman, Jindal’s net worth was reported to be between $1.18 million and $3.17 million. A short year later, that estimate was between $1.3 million and $3.5 million, according to federal financial reports, ranking Jindal as the 118th richest of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. By 2015, ten years following that initial report, his net worth has tripled to $3.8 million on the low range or $11.3 million on the high range—all on a public servant’s salary of $165,200 per year as a congressman, for all of three years, and $130,000 per year as governor for less than eight years.

He listed on his financial reports, besides his salary, income from investments. But how does an elected official find the time to tend to the business of the nation or the state and see to the concerns of his constituents, engage in re-election fundraising, and play the market? Jindal, the avowed advocate of transparency, has never explained how his wealth was attained other than to quip, “I tried to be born wealthy, but that plan didn’t work.” As the son of immigrant parents, both state employees, he is probably correct in saying he was not born rich.

But what he did do was coerce the Senate Finance Committee in 2014 into ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and reallocating the money for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish. It is that $4.5 million that has come into question in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

In order to bring the IndyCar race to Avondale, NOLA Motorsports created a nonprofit affiliate, or non-government organization (NGO), to apply for and receive a $4.5 million from the state to fund improvements at the track.

Andretti Sports Marketing subsequently signed a three-year contract to organize the Grand Prix beginning in 2015. Andretti, in its lawsuit, claims NOLA Motorsports Park used $3.4 million of that state grant to pay for improvements which did not leave enough to pay Andretti and other vendors. NOLA, on the other hand, claims it used only $2.6 million on improvements.

It should be a simple matter for NOLA Motorsports Park to verify the expenditure of every nickel of that $4.5 million state grant. After all, under rules enacted after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, any NGO that receives money from the state general fund is required to provide quarterly reports on how the money is used. Officials of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism verified that all required records were submitted by NOLA Motorsports. “We would not have released the money unless they were incompliance,” said one CRT official.

And even as the claims and counterclaims were surfacing in Court, Gary Chouest was plowing $1 million into Believe Again, reminding us to, well, believe again that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision snatched control of America’s elections, and necessarily, of the government itself, from its citizens and hand delivered that control to the corporatocracy and its well-financed lobbyists.

But let us not forget that while all those millions were being tossed around what with Gary Chouest dropping a cool million on Jindal’s super PAC and with opposing parties quarreling in federal court over payments to promote Laney Chouest’s $75 million, (did we mention it is privately-owned?) racetrack, the big loser in all this were Louisiana’s developmentally disabled.

With the lone exception of State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), the Senate Finance Committee, in taking its marching orders from Jindal, removed $4.5 million from the developmentally disabled in 2014—just a year after he vetoed a 2013 appropriation of extra funding to help shorten the waiting list for services for those same developmentally disabled.

State campaign finance records show that between 2007 and 2010—long before the 2014 $1 million contribution to Believe Again—members of the Chouest family and their various business interests contributed $106,000 to Jindal—all in the interest of good government, of course.

 

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Our friend C.B. Forgotston, who follows the legislature relentlessly, alerted us to this little tidbit this morning that illustrates just how far the legislature is willing to go to absolve itself of any responsibility in the current fiscal mess in which the state currently finds itself.

Year after year, when stinging budget cuts are imposed on higher education and health care, the same cry goes up from the citizenry: “Why are only higher ed and health care subjected to repeated budget cuts? Why aren’t other agencies made to share the pain?”

And year after year, the same response from legislators: “Because under the State Constitution, those are the only areas that can be cut.

“Our hands are tied,” they wail in unison.

Not so, says Forgotston, who once was a staff attorney for the legislature.

Of the $30 Billion in the current state budget, $3.9 Billion or only 13 percent is constitutionally-protected, he says.

Of the dedicated funds:

  • $3.3 Billion (85 percent of the constitutionally-dedicated funds) funds public elementary and secondary education’s Minimum Foundation Program (“MFP”) which is approved by the leges.
  • $318 Million (9 percent) pays the annual debt service on state borrowing (bonds).
  • $115 Million (3 percent) pays the supplemental pay for municipal policemen, firemen and deputy sheriffs.

What’s not protected?

            Of the $30 Billion budget, Forgotston says 87 percent is not constitutionally-protected. That includes:

  • NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other local pork barrel projects in the Operating and Capital Outlay budgets.

The constitutional scapegoat

            The constitution is a convenient scapegoat for the governor and the legislators’ lack of political courage to set priorities,” he said, “especially, since none of them appear to have ever read the document.”

No matter. On Monday, they had a chance to do something about it and they didn’t.

They punted.

And the vote wasn’t even close.

The Senate Finance Committee deferred, by an 8-2 vote, Senate Bill 196 by State Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) which would have placed a constitutional amendment before Louisiana voters that would have repealed the constitutionally-imposed dedications. SB 196 TEXT

The Legislative Fiscal Notes, which accompany any bill dealing with fiscal matters, says there would be “no anticipated direct material effect on governmental expenditures.”

The fiscal notes also said, “Due to the elimination of approximately 20 constitutional funds and the requirement that the revenue source of such funds now flow into the State General Fund (SGF), the SGF will have approximately a statutorily dedicated fund balance transfer of approximately $3.9 billion in FY 16 and annual SGF revenue flow of approximately $730 million per year.” SB 196 FISCAL NOTES

Morrell lectured committee members as he testified on behalf of his bill, saying, “We fixed higher ed but not health care. We have too many ‘not me’s’ coming before you to defend their programs.

“If you kill this bill,” he cautioned members, “you’re saying to your constituents not only that your hands are tied but that you like your hands to be tied.”

Which is precisely what they did on motion from Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge).

Before the vote on Claitor’s motion, Sen. Fred Mills (R-St. Martinville) offered a substitute motion to approve the bill, sending it to the Senate floor. Only Sen. Bodi White (R-Central) voted with Mills in favor of the bill. Those voting against approval were committee Chairman Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), committee Vice-Chairman Norbert Chabert (R-Houma), members Bret Allain (R-Franklin), Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Shreveport), Claitor, Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles), Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), Edwin Murray (D-New Orleans), and Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport).

As an unspoken acknowledgement of the committee’s concern over a possible veto by Bobby Jindal, a fretful White went so far as to suggest to Morrell that he might get a more favorable consideration of his bill if he waited until next year “when we have a new governor.”

So, bottom line, it appears that legislators remain unwilling to confront a lame duck, largely absentee governor despite his abysmal approval ratings by Louisiana voters.

Something is wrong with this herd mentality, folks.

This is not the time to wait for a “new governor.” This is the time for bold, decisive action that says to Jindal, “We damned well dare you to veto this or we’ll throw it back in your face with a veto session like this state—or any other state—has never seen. We will bring the attention of the national media down upon your delusional head.”

Instead, they choose to wait.

Again.

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By now, everyone who isn’t emotionally involved with Dancing with the Stars or Bachelor, is acutely aware that the state, going into the 2015 legislative session, is flirting with a $1.6 billion budget deficit.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the growing backlog of sorely needed infrastructure repairs for state highways and universities totaling well over a billion dollars. Nor does it include previous deep cuts to health care and higher education.

Things are so bad that an increasingly desperate Bobby Jindal, running out of state buildings, vehicles and hospitals to sell or agency funds to raid, is even looking to sell the remainder of the state tobacco settlement money and the State Lottery in order to generate yet even more one-time revenue to cover recurring expenses.

And remember, this is the man who told the Monroe News-Star he was leaving the state in better shape than he found it. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/13/gov-jindal-want-finish-strong/70262992/

Still, every year those non-government organizations (NGOs) make the obligatory trek to Baton Rouge with hands out, asking that legislators appropriate funding for their organizations. This year is no exception as 80 individual entities have submitted requests for funding of 89 separate projects totaling nearly $241.3 million.

Of that amount, $116 million, or 48 percent, were for NGOs in the greater New Orleans area.

Many of the requests are from the usual worthy organizations like councils on aging, youth groups and charitable organizations.

Among the larger requests:

  • $26 million for the Foundation for Science & Math Education in New Orleans;
  • $17.2 million for the Girl Scouts of Louisiana East in New Orleans;
  • $4.4 million for Kingsley House in New Orleans;
  • $1.6 million for the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum in Baton Rouge (two projects);
  • $8 million for the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans;
  • $5 million for the Louisiana Food Bank Association in Baton Rouge;
  • $4 million for the Louisiana Regional Leadership Council in Lafayette;
  • $27.7 million for a National Hurricane Museum and Science Center in Lake Charles;
  • $1.4 million for renovations to VFW Post 8852 in Alexandria;
  • $14.9 million for the North Desoto Water System in Stonewall;
  • $4.1 million for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans;
  • $1.2 million for Sci-Port (Louisiana’s Science Center) in Shreveport;
  • $10.7 million for repairs at the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport;
  • $2.1 million for Administrators of the Tulane Education Fund in New Orleans;
  • $4.3 million for Lighthouse for the Blind in New Orleans;
  • $4.9 million for the Louisiana Association for the Blind in Shreveport;
  • $3 million for the Baton Rouge Empowerment Foundation;
  • $10 million for the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation in Baton Rouge;
  • $7 million for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana;
  • $2 million for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra;
  • $2.6 million for Loyola University in New Orleans;
  • $1.1 million for WYES Educational Television in New Orleans;
  • $11.8 million for University Hospital & Clinics in Lafayette (two projects);
  • $37.3 million for the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans;
  • $5.68 for the Biomedical Research Foundation Northwest in Shreveport;
  • $4.5 million for the NOLA Motorsports Hospitality Committee in New Orleans.

The last four warrant particular attention.

While all such organizations are barred from making political contributions because of their non-profit status, officers and members of their boards of directors are not bound by such restrictions. Jindal received $167,000, various members of the Louisiana House and Senate got $65,650, and the Louisiana Republican Party was the beneficiary of another $26,000 from seven principals connected with those four organizations.

University Hospital in Lafayette has been taken over by Lafayette General Medical Center in Jindal’s sweeping state hospital privatization scheme which raises immediate question of why the state should be funding projects at that facility.

Same for the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, which last year assumed operation of LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. The foundation received $5.7 million in state largesse last year.

The Audubon Institute receives millions of state dollars every year, much of which goes to the upkeep of the institute’s golf course. Last year, for example, Audubon Institute received $16.8 million in legislative appropriations.

But for sheer audacity, we give you the NOLA Motorsports Hospitality Committee. Here is its summary justifying its request for $4.5 million:

  • NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish, through a competitive process, has been selected as the site for an INDYCAR event to be part of the championship Verizon INDYCAR Series. The selection was made, in part, because of the availability of a venue for the Event and related activities, transportation infrastructure, personnel, commitment to comply with the required specifications, and because of the collaborative relationships that have been established with other support entities. The Nola Motorsports Host Committee, Inc., a non-profit corporation, has committed to host a first-class Event and to plan and provide a unique and entertaining visitor experience for all which will include live music from Louisiana artists, regional cuisine, and demonstrations of Louisiana’s culture to enhance the visitor experiences for all participants including drivers, team owners, team supporters, corporate sponsors, family and guests, media, and other attendees; and
  • The public purpose of the Event is to provide supplemental funding to the Nola Motorsports Host Committee, Inc. to host the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana which will support the expansion and promotion of tourism by producing an event that is projected to stimulate substantial growth in the Louisiana tourism industry, resulting in job creation and other increased economic activity, including the generation of tax revenue for state and local governments. Nola Motorsports Host Committee has secured a preliminary economic impact analysis from Formula, LLC which indicates an estimated economic impact of $27.8 million annually from the Event. INDYCAR has guaranteed a 3-year lifecycle of the Event with the goal of the Event being an annual occurrence. The goal is to attract visitors to Louisiana and to maintain awareness and a positive image of Louisiana as a unique and desirable travel destination. It is anticipated that the public benefit is proportionate to the obligations undertaken by the State. The State will receive tourism publicity and recognition for its support through verbal acknowledgements, media events, and in other related publicity associated with promoting and publicizing the Event.

But wait. Didn’t this same organization receive $4 million from the state just last year for track improvements after Jindal made a commitment to the track owners to come through with the money?

Well, yes and no.

This is where things get a bit murky.

You see, last year, when Jindal yanked a $4.5 million appropriation away from the developmentally disabled, it was to give the money to NOLA Motor Club (The NGO got $4 million, not the $4.5 it requested), a corporation that was established in September of 2009 and which remains in good standing.

This year, however, the $4.5 million request came from a corporation calling itself NOLA Motorsports Host Committee, established last June.

Both corporations listed their addresses at 11075 Nicolle Blvd. in Avondale, however, but had different officers, according to corporate records on file with the Secretary of State’s office.

But wait. There is a third entity: NOLA Motorsports established in May of 2008 and located at 2251 Drusilla Lane, Suite B in Baton Rouge. But that corporation is listed as inactive and records show its corporate status was revoked on Aug. 16, 2013.

One of the officers of NOLA Motor Club was Laney Chouest.

While Laney Chouest was listed as an officer for NOLA Motor Club, he is not listed among the officers for NOLA Motorsports Host Committee. It is nevertheless interesting to note that he, other members of the Chouest family and their many business enterprises have made $166,300 in campaign contributions since 2003. They include $43,800 to various legislators, $26,000 to the Louisiana Republican Party and $96,500 to Jindal.

What best illustrates the arrogance of that fiscally irresponsible appropriation, the thing that pushed it to the status of virtual malfeasance, is the fact that the Senate Finance Committee, taking its cue from Jindal, ripped $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled in order to free up the money for the racetrack. The lone dissenting vote was that of State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge). https://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/26/senate-finance-committee-craters-to-jindal-rips-4-5-million-from-developmentally-disabled-for-racetrack/

But what compounds that unconscionable act was the motivation behind Jindal’s action.

The man who for his entire term of office has railed against government encroachment (see: federal stimulus funds, Common Core, medical care, prisons, etc.), obviously based his justification on political expedience and using state government to take care of his contributors.

Though Laney Chouest is not listed among the officers for NOLA Motorsports Host Committee, it is nevertheless interesting to note that he, other members of the Chouest family and their many business enterprises have made $166,300 in campaign contributions since 2003. They include $43,800 to various legislators, $26,000 to the Louisiana Republican Party and $96,500 to Jindal.

Two members of the Senate Finance Committee, Robert “Bret” Allain (R-Franklin) and Norbert “Norby” Chabert (R-Houma), received $2,500 each from Gary Chouest in 2010 and 2011.

Isn’t it interesting how a state so broke as to find itself unable to fund things like highway and bridge repair, health care, higher education, and a host of other essential services, can find $4 million for a race track, $7.7 million for golf courses across the state, $35.1 million for professional sports facilities, $10.1 million for local sports complexes, and another $3 million for baseball stadiums (including $1.4 million for a baseball stadium in Baton Rouge, when we don’t even have a team here)?

It will certainly be interesting to follow the outcome of some of these NGO requests.

Especially those last four on the list.

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State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) has revealed an ambitious set of bills he will be pre-filing preparatory to the 2015 legislative session, a couple or which are almost certain to be vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal should they survive both chambers intact.

The 60-day 2015 session convenes at noon on April 13 and will adjourn at 6 p.m. on June 11.

Vetoes are nothing new to Richard and in fact, one of his bills rejected by Jindal last years in hindsight represents a moral victory for Richard and something of an embarrassment for Jindal.

House Bill 142 (HB-142) passed both the House and Senate unanimously last year and was vetoed by Jindal only to see Jindal find it necessary to implement at least part of the bill through an executive order last month.

Passing 84-0 in the House (with 20 members not voting) and 37-0 in the Senate (with two not voting), HB-142 would have provided for a 10 percent reduction of all state professional, personal and consulting service contracts. The bill further provided that the savings from the cuts be deposited into the Higher Education Financing Fund.

State Treasurer John Kennedy, Richard was quick to point out, has been recommending slashing state contracts for several years and has been all but ignored by the administration but now even Jindal has ordered that state contracts be cut but not so higher education could be funded but instead to attempt to plug the growing chasm that is the state budget deficit.

Jindal, for his part, says he will offer legislators “suggested solutions” to ease the budget crisis which now is projecting a deficit of $1.6 million. http://theadvocate.com/sports/preps/11454861-123/jindal-says-hell-suggest-options

First of all, wasn’t that why he hired Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) Consulting for a cool $7 million? We were under the impression that A&M was going to find all these wonderful ways for the state to save money.

Second, the governor is the state’s CEO and as such, is charged with the leadership of the state. After all, Gov. Kathleen Blanco came under withering criticism for the manner in which she handled the crisis of Katrina. Jindal appears no less befuddled and clueless in his approach to the state’s budgetary crisis and now, after seven years of telling lawmakers what he wanted done, he punts to them.

Of course, it’s difficult to fight Islam in Europe, run for president and hold prayer meetings that fail miserably in filling all the seats in the venue while governing the state.

Only yesterday (Monday, Feb. 2), Kennedy broke the news that Moody’s Investors Service had issued a warning that reductions in revenue estimates by the Revenue Estimating Conference constituted a “credit negative for the state” and that the ratings service may downgrade the state’s credit outlook from stable to negative.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/7el18uxosj11pi1/Louisiana%20Oil%20Plunge%2002%2002%202015.pdf?dl=0&utm_source=Moody’s+Press+Release++020215&utm_campaign=Moody’s+2-2-15&utm_medium=email

Kennedy said the next procedural step would be a rating downgrade that would make it more difficult for the state borrow money and cost the state higher interest for money it does borrow.

And lest Jindal attempt to blame the latest fiscal woes on the drop in oil prices, Moody’s pointedly noted that the state’s problems pre-date the fall in oil prices—by several years. “As the U.S. economy picked up steam,” the Moody’s analysis said, “Louisiana had muted job growth even before the oil price decline.”

“This is what happens when you spend more than you take in,” Kennedy said. “Moody’s is telling us that we’d better get our fiscal house in order or we are going to be downgraded, which will cost taxpayers dearly in higher interest rates on our bonded indebtedness.”

The Moody’s news comes on top of earlier reports that health care and higher education will probably suffer even deeper cuts than the $180 million in reductions made over the past two months. The state’s colleges and universities have been told to expect at least $300 million in further budget cuts during the next fiscal year even as the Department of Health and Hospitals is expected to have $250 million slashed from its budget.

Jindal has even had to renege on his pledge last year to create a $40 million incentive fund to pay for college programs that provide graduates for high-demand jobs in Louisiana. Once considered one of his highest priorities, he has yanked that money away before the ink was dry on the bill that created the program.

All this has had a cumulative effect leading up to what promises to be a tumultuous legislative session as lawmakers grope for ways to keep from cutting services while at the same time being able to keep the lights on.

One trial balloon, already rejected by Jindal, would be for the state to roll back some of the billions of dollars in corporate and industrial tax breaks but Richard is not ready to accept the governor’s dismissal of that idea just yet.

This year, Richard has an agenda even more ambitious than his across-the-board 10 percent cut in contracts last year. Remember, that bill, HB-142 was passed unanimously in each chamber but vetoed by Jindal because, the governor said, the bill “could hinder the state’s efforts to continue to provide its citizens with timely, high quality services.”

In hindsight, however, it would appear his signing that bill into law would not have hindered the delivery of services nearly so much as not having the funds to pay for the services in the first place. The only thing not hindered by his veto was uninterrupted payments to the contractors.

Among Richard’s bills to “re-establish the legislative branch of government” are bills:

  • For an automatic veto session. Currently, legislators are mailed forms to complete and return indicating whether or not they want to hold a special session to consider overriding the governor’s veto(es). “If a bill passes with a two-thirds vote or better and the governor vetoes it, there would be an automatic veto session convened and legislators wouldn’t have to vote for it,” he said.
  • To eliminate the line item veto. “This will be a hard row to hoe,” Richard admitted. “But the governor has always held the line item veto over legislators’ heads as a means of getting what he wanted. This bill would change that.” Former President Bill Clinton pushed through a bill giving him the line item veto during his administration but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional.
  • To establish a capital outlay oversight committee. “We need to eliminate all NGOs,” he said, referring to the tradition of the legislature appropriating funds for NGOs, or non-government organizations such as baseball parks, golf courses, local court houses, city halls, councils on aging, etc. “These should be financed at the local level. If the local people want these things, they will pass bond issues to pay for them. That should not be the responsibility of the legislature. Before we look at raising more revenue, we need to cut spending,” he said. “John Kennedy has said many times that we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem, and he’s correct.”
  • To change the makeup of the House Appropriations Committee. “Appropriations has 27 members. That’s way too many,” he said. Richard said he would like to see it reduced in size to 15 members with three members from each of the five Public Service Districts in the state. “That would guarantee representation from each area of the state,” he said.
  • To eliminate the Homestead Exemption. “We need to get rid of all tax exemptions,” he said. “We give away $2 billion a year in industrial and corporate tax exemptions.”

Richard said he knows his bills will be fought by special interests and by the governor. “But Jindal has done nothing in seven years,” he said. “It’s time the Legislature re-asserted itself as an equal partner in governing this state.”

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The best thing about blogging is that we are not bound by the constraints of pseudo-objectivity as are the reporters for your local daily. Every post for us is an op-ed piece in which we are free to express our disgust with or enthusiasm for people and events.

At this stage of the 2014 legislative session in Baton Rouge, we tend to get a little confused so excuse us if we can’t quite remember if it was Billy Wayne Shakespeare or Forrest Gump who said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Despite the rapid onset of CRS Syndrome, we have no trouble or hesitancy in calling something—or someone—stupid if that is the way we perceive it.

And sometimes we are willing to go a step further in injecting words like “corruption,” “duplicity,” “sleaze” (we especially like that one), or even “malfeasance.”

And so it is that after receiving a heads-up from our friend and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston, we employ each of these adjectives in describing the actions of the Senate Finance Committee on Sunday after 10 of its 11 members (Sen. Dan Claitor was the lone member to cling to his principles) discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

It’s bad enough that this state, thanks to the idiotic fiscal foolishness of Gov. Bobby Jindal, is so deep into the financial dumpster but still places a priority to lavishing millions of dollars on things like something called an IndyCar Series race, but to take that money from developmentally disabled citizens who so desperately need state services just to survive is nothing short of criminal.

Jindal, while traipsing all over the country with his goofy grin, rejects expansion of Medicaid that might alleviate some of the suffering, and after vetoing last year’s appropriation of extra funding to help shorten the waiting list for services for the developmentally disabled, now displays the sheer callousness, or stupidity, of committing to find the money for facility and track improvements. http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Disable_to_Racetrack.mp3

That’s correct. He made a commitment to the owners of the facility to drop $4.5 million on them. And who benefits from this largesse? The state? Teachers? Health care? State employees?

You can check those boxes no, no, no and no. A privately owned auto racetrack would be the correct answer.

Our first impulse was to plunge into the campaign contributions of campaign fund abuse poster boy Republican Sen. John Alario of Westwego in Jefferson Parish, president of the Senate. The whole deal just had that smell to it.

But, no, that was not the connection. His contributions from the principals were negligible in the overall scheme of things—something in the area of $3,500. That’s not enough to pay for one of Alario’s legendary meals at a fancy New Orleans eatery or to pay for one of his luxury boxes at the Superdome.

Nor were there any contributions to any of the Finance Committee members from NOLA Motor Club, LLC., operators of the raceway.

Our next step was to check in with the Secretary of State’s web page and conduct a corporations search for NOLA Motor Club, LLC. Voila! Whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and marine transportation and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC., and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed a whopping $106,500 to Jindal.

Laney Chouest was active in the political arena during that same period, contributing tens of thousands of dollars to minor candidates, but he was smart—or lucky—enough to stay away from Jindal and members of the Senate Finance Committee, thus making the direct link difficult.

The question then becomes why the hell is the state bailing out this family, which can well afford to make its own updates and repairs to the racetrack? Why indeed.

To take money from Louisiana’s very most unfortunate citizens and hand it to the Chouest family on a silver platter is not only unconscionable, reprehensible, irresponsible, immoral, or whatever other appropriate word you may wish to invoke in condemning this classic example of political corruption, it should be criminal and should carry the same penalties as embezzlement, public bribery or child abuse.

Instead of retreating to reality TV, those of us fortunate enough to have mentally and physically healthy children, siblings, parents and spouses should take a few minutes and consider the plight of our neighbors who are not so fortunate. They are the ones who can never enjoy dining out in a restaurant, going to a movie, taking family vacations or watching your reality shows because providing care to family members in dire need is a full time job without the downtime of cheering for LSU, Southeastern or ULL in this year’s regionals, super regionals or College World Series.

Extreme? Strident? Outraged? Damn right, hell yeah on all three.

The oath of office our elected officials take comes with a huge responsibility to place the welfare of our citizens uppermost above all else. Jindal and 10 members of the Senate Finance Committee have turned their backs on that promise by once again knuckling under to our absentee governor (and demanding this appropriation on his part) and in so doing, have committed the most disgraceful form of malfeasance.

Accordingly, here are the names of the 11 members of the Senate Finance Committee, how they voted on the amendment to take the $4.5 million away from the developmentally disabled, and their email addresses—just in case you might have something to add to what’s already been said here.

Sen. Jack Donahue (Chairman) (YES)R-Mandeville  donahuej@legis.la.gov
Senator Norbèrt N. “Norby” Chabert (Vice-Chairman) (YES) R-Houma  chabertn@legis.la.gov
Senator R.L. “Bret” Allain, II (YES) R-Franklin  allainb@legis.la.gov
Senator Sherri Smith Buffington (YES) R-Keithville  smithbuffington@legis.la.gov
Senator Dan Claitor (NO) R-Baton Rouge  claitord@legis.la.gov
Senator Ronnie Johns (YES) R-Lake Charles  johnsr@legis.la.gov
Senator Eric LaFleur (YES) D-Ville Platte  lafleure@legis.la.gov
Senator Fred H. Mills, Jr. (YES) R-New Iberia  millsf@legis.la.gov
Senator Edwin R. Murray (YES) D-New Orleans  murraye@legis.la.gov
Senator Gregory Tarver (YES) D-Shreveport  tarverg@legis.la.gov
Senator Mack “Bodi” White (YES) R-Baton Rouge  whitem@legis.la.gov

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