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Archive for the ‘Office of Group Benefits’ Category

 

There’s nothing left to be said other than to say Bobby Jindal is bat guano crazy.

The Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) was cruising along in 2011, providing virtually complaint-free quick turnarounds on medical claims for state employees, retirees and their dependents.

But then Bobby Jindal saw a way to undercut premiums in his privatization scheme which allowed the state to be obligated for less in its share of matching premiums so that Jindal could rake in some extra cash to cover his backside, aka budget deficit.

The result, as just about everyone who follows this sham of an administration knows, was that the $500 million reserve fund was all but wiped out.

Bobby Jindal, after having first jerked $40 million in funding for state colleges and universities, reversed himself again by taking $30 million from a federal hurricane recovery fund.

Bobby Jindal has shrunk the state’s rainy day fund from $730 million when he took office to $460 million and a $450 million fund to subsidize companies for investing in the state has evaporated as is the $800 million balance in the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly.

And after giving away billions of dollars in tax breaks, incentives, rebates and exemptions for business and industry in an effort to spur economic development, we learned today (March 18) that Louisiana’s unemployment rate was third highest in the nation. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/02/bobby-jindal-campaigning-114948_Page2.html#.VQoeJ005Ccw

The one constant in all this is the Louisiana State Lottery, which since a 2004 Constitutional amendment has dedicated proceeds to the Minimum Foundation Formula (MFP) for public education.

Since the lottery’s approval by voters in 1990 and its implementation in 1991, the lottery, which is mandated to transfer 35 percent of proceeds to the state treasury, has contributed $2.8 billion to the state.

In 2014, sales were $450 million and $161 million of that was transferred to the state.

Also, 2014 marked the 13th consecutive year that the lottery has transferred more than $100 million to the state.

Why do we tell you all this?

Well, only because the administration of Bobby Jindal is currently entertaining the notion of selling bonds that guarantee future State Lottery profits in order to raise some $467.7 million in one-time money to help plug a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget.

Wait. What? Sell the State Lottery?

Yup.

State Treasurer John Kennedy tells LouisianaVoice that the administration is “seriously considering” two separate proposals to take over the lottery and to pay the state one time money.

The two proposals were from Wall Street banking firms Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. While Citigroup did not specify an amount, Goldman Sachs said, “Based on lottery revenue growth of at least 1.5 percent annually, the state could raise approximately $428 million and preserve a minimum contribution to the MFP of $160.2 million.” Goldman Sachs Presentation – March 2015

Citigroup Presentation – March 2015

With 13 consecutive years of receipts of more than $100 million and total receipts of $2.8 billion since 1992, $428 million in quick cash appears to be a terrible deal for the state—not that Bobby Jindal gives—or ever gave—a flying fig about this state.

Let’s first take a look back at the history of lotteries in Louisiana.

In 1868, the Louisiana Lottery Co. was authorized and granted a 25-year charter after a carpetbagger criminal syndicate from New York bribed the Legislature into approving the lottery and establishing the syndicate as the sole lottery provider.

Because it was an interstate venture, 90 percent of the syndicate’s revenue came from outside Louisiana. Because it was so profitable, when efforts were made to repeal the charger, bribes to legislators ensured the effort’s failure.

Ten years after it was approved, Louisiana had the only legal lottery remaining in the company. When Congress passed a prohibition against operating lotteries across state lines, the Louisiana Lottery was finally abolished in 1895. When it was disbanded, reports of ill-gotten gains and bribery surfaced. http://www.library.ca.gov/crb/97/03/chapt2.html

But even more worrisome are the histories of the two Wall Street banking firms who submitted proposals for taking over the Louisiana Lottery.

And even though Kennedy said Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols has said the lottery won’t be sold, the mere fact that two proposals for just that scenario have been simultaneously submitted by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup cannot be considered as coincidence. Both investment banking firms pointed that similar actions have been taken by Oregon, Florida, Arizona and West Virginia.

And what about the integrity and professional ethics of the two companies?

That’s a fair question, so let’s look at the records.

Goldman Sachs:

Citigroup:

So now the administration suddenly receives “unsolicited” proposals for the sale of the Louisiana State Lottery from two Wall Street banking firms with checkered backgrounds. (But admittedly, it would be difficult to find a Wall Street bank—or banker—these days that is not under a similar cloud.)

A Division of Administration (DOA) source said Bobby Jindal feels that, unlike his desire to sell the remainder of the tobacco settlement in yet another desperate effort to raise one-time revenue, he would not need legislative approval to sell the State Lottery. “We feel legislative approval would be required, but the governor apparently feels otherwise,” Kennedy said.

The State Treasurer added that he felt if Bobby Jindal does intend to sell the State Lottery, “he will wait until after the legislative session has adjourned and then direct the Lottery Corporation to take the action.”

The nine lottery corporation members are appointed to staggered terms by the governor. Kennedy serves as an ex-officio member. Three members, Christopher Carver ($2,000), Heather Doss ($1,000), and Lawrence Katz, combined to contribute $8,000 to various Jindal campaigns since 2003.

 

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“That clanking sound you heard,” says blogger C. B. Forgotston, “was Louisiana’s proverbial fiscal can hitting the end of the road.” And he has been around state government long enough to know the signs.

“Like a kid behaving badly, we’ve been placed on probation,” added State Treasurer John Kennedy.

Both men’s assessments were in response to the double whammy of two investor rating services’—Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s—action to move Louisiana’s credit outlook from stable to negative on Friday and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.

“This should be a wake-up call that we need to stop spending more than we take in,” Kennedy said.  “We’ve drained our trust funds, we’ve relied on nonrecurring money and we’ve had to cut the budget in the middle of the fiscal year for too many years now.  Many have been warning that this day would arrive, and it has.”

The dual action by the two ratings services impacts $2.7 billion in outstanding general obligation debt and $1.25 billion in related debt.

Moody’s warned that continued structural imbalances, steep growth in pension costs, deterioration in financial liquidity and failure to contain costs in the state’s Medicaid system will result in a credit rating downgrade, making it more costly for the state to borrow money.

S & P added a warning that “Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating” even further.

Gov. Bobby immediately attempted to put a positive spin on the bad news (or as Forgotston described it, tried to pour perfume on the manure pile to change the smell but not the content) by saying that the agencies didn’t lower the ratings on the existing outstanding General Obligation bonds.

But what Gov. Bobby did not say, according to Forgotston, was that the rating on those bonds was not lowered because the Louisiana State Constitution gives those bonds first call, even before employee retirement benefits, on all the money in the state treasury. “In other words, if the state goes bankrupt, those bonds will be paid,” he said, adding that future state borrowing will also cost more.

It could also mean that in the event of default, retirees won’t be getting their pension checks, something that should get the gray panthers up in arms.

At this point, we feel it important to point out—just in case anyone still needs reminding—that Gov. Bobby has been traveling all over the country (well, mainly to Iowa and Washington, D.C.) spewing his rhetoric about how he has cut the number of state employees, how Louisiana’s economy is out-performing other states, how new industry is locating to Louisiana, and how little it costs to attend LSU.

Except it’s all part of his big lie—except, of course, the part about hauling state workers out to the curb.

But if he is so hell-bent on claiming and then taking credit for all these wonderful events and trends (of course he never mentions the state’s high poverty rate, poor health care availability, our second lowest median household income, the eighth lowest percentage of citizens with a bachelor’s degree or higher, or our fifth highest violent crime rate), then he must shoulder the blame for the bad news as well.

Any coach will tell you that’s the way the game is played; if you take credit for the wins, you have to take the blame for the losses.

And of course, he never, never does that. Everything out of his mouth is about all the great accomplishments of his administration, and always spouted off in such rapid-fire fashion as to give little chance for argument from dissenters. It’s his style to overwhelm with statistics quoted by rote in his boring staccato delivery.

Well, Bobby, your rhetoric—and for that matter, you as well—are wearing a little thin.

The doubt began creeping in here in Louisiana midway of your first term and has continued to build until now the national media have caught on. Only last week, three or four national stories revealed the pitiful shape you are leaving our state in for your unfortunate successor to attempt to clean up.

Unfortunately, whoever follows you will most likely be a one-term governor because no one can clean up your mess in a single term and the voters are likely to grow weary of whoever is unfortunate enough to follow you and turn him or her out of office after four years in a desperate attempt to find a quick solution that in reality may take decades. You have set this state back that far (Thank you, Gov. Mike Foster for inflicting this plague upon us).

And, Gov. Bobby, you can just mothball your national political ambitions. Being President is a far distant fantasy by now and any prospects of a cabinet position are just as surely disappearing like so much sand through your fingers. You can now only accept that you will go down as one of, if not the most vilified governor in the history of this state. You have succeeded, by comparison, in making Earl Long appear to have been in full control of his mental faculties back in 1959.

And lest anyone think we are giving the legislature a free pass on this situation, think again. With only a handful of exceptions, those of you in the House and Senate have been complicit in this charade of governance. You have aided and abetted this pitiful excuse of a chief executive who, while pandering repeatedly that he had the job he wanted, nevertheless plunged full speed ahead toward his fool’s errand of seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Why, his own family was talking openly of his becoming President—at his first inauguration way back in 2008!

Moody’s and S &P were each quite thorough in laying out the reasoning for their simultaneous actions on Friday.

Moody’s said its action reflects a $1.6 billion structural deficit, continued budget gaps, the state’s large Medicaid caseload, job growth below the national average and significant unfunded pension liabilities.  “The negative outlook reflects the state’s growing structural budget imbalance, projected at $1.6 billion for fiscal 2016, or about 18% of the $8.7 billion general fund even after significant budget cuts of recent years,” Moody’s said. “The state has options for reducing the imbalance, including scaling back various tax credit programs, but the overall scale of balancing measures needed may further deplete resources and reduce the state’s liquidity, which has been one of its strengths.”

S & P was no kinder, citing Gov. Bobby’s reliance on non-recurring revenue which it said only served to increase future budgetary pressures. “In our view, the state’s focus on structural solutions to its general fund budget challenges will be a key determinant of its future credit stability.

“We could consider revising the outlook back to stable if revenue trends stabilize and if Louisiana makes material progress in aligning its recurring revenues and expenditures on a timely basis with a focus on recurring solutions. Should budget adjustments fail to focus on recurring solutions or if the structural gap grows with continued declines in revenue or material reductions in federal program funding to the state, we could lower the rating,” S & P said.

Forgotston, in his own unique way, tells us what Moody’s and S & P were really telling us: “Bobby, you and the legislators have made a big ‘number-two’ mess in your fiscal pants and we have no faith in your ability to clean it up. Folks, don’t let the legislators try to fool you; this is very bad news for us taxpayers and the legislators are the reason for it.”

Yes, it’s easy to blame Gov. Bobby because he has in his seven years initiated every Ponzi scheme one could imagine from giving away something like $11 billion in tax incentives (according to one recent story), to giving away the state’s charity hospitals, to robbing the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, to attempting to rob the state’s retirement system, to refusing federal grants for needed projects, to rejecting Medicaid expansion and thus depriving the state’s indigent population access to decent health care which in turn led directly to the announced closure of the emergency room of a major Baton Rouge hospital. The list goes on.

But, as Gov. Bobby is so fond of saying, at the end of the day, it was the legislature, through the “leadership” of Senate President John Alario, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin that allowed him to do it by refusing to grow a collective set and stand up to this vindictive little amateur dictator.

This is an election year and Louisiana voters—particularly state employees, former state employees who have lost their jobs because of Gov. Bobby, teachers, retirees and the state’s working poor would do well to remember what this governor has done to them and which legislators voted to support the administration’s carnage inflicted upon this state.

There are those few in the House and Senate who have spoken up and tried to be the voices of reason but those voices have been drowned out by Gov. Bobby’s spinmeisters.

So when you vote for governor next fall, you would do well to ignore the TV commercials bought by those who want only to continue down this same path of economic destruction and growing income disparity and consider who you believe really has the best interest of the state, and not the special interests, at heart. In other words, think for yourselves instead of letting some ad agency do your thinking for you.

If you don’t get your collective heads out of the sand and in the most emphatic manner you can muster, tell your neighbors, your friends, your family, the clerk at the store where you shop for food and clothing, the cashier at the restaurant where you eat what this governor and this legislature have done to you and to them, then come next fall, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

The time for joking about Gov. Bobby is over. We’re at the end game now.

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  • 676,484: the number of votes received by candidate Bobby Jindal in the 2003 runoff with Kathleen Blanco for the office of Governor. I was one of the 676,484. Jindal lost.
  • 699,275: the number of votes received by Congressman Bobby Jindal in the 2007 primary election for Governor of Louisiana. I was one of the 699,275. Jindal won.
  • 673,239: the number of votes received by incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal in his successful bid for re-election in the 2011 primary election. I was not one of the 673,239. Jindal won.
  • Betray:·trā/ v. to fail or desert especially in time of need; to disappoint the hopes or expectations of; be disloyal to; to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining, or fulfilling, as in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to perform the job to which he was elected.
  • Betrayal: be·tray′al n. to abandon or desert; to turn one’s back on another; to delude or take advantage of; One who abandons his convictions or affiliations—as in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s betrayal of the 4.5 million residents of Louisiana.
  • Epitaph: ˈepə·taf/ n. a commemorative inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument about the person buried at that site; a brief statement commemorating or epitomizing a deceased person campaign or something past—as in the political ambitions of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Some may think it’s too early to bury Jindal’s presidential ambitions just yet, but it is our humble opinion that Roy Orbison summed it up more than 50 years ago with his 1964 hit It’s Over.

What little spark that still burned in his fading presidential hopes has been snuffed out by a fast-paced series of events beginning with his incredibly idiotic rant about the Islamic no-go zones in Europe which then morphed into a tirade by Jindal shill Kyle Plotkin over the tint or lack of, in Jindal’s “official” portrait hanging in the reception area of the governor’s office on the fourth floor of the State Capitol.

Whether or not blogger Lamar White’s comment about Jindal’s “white-out” of his portrait which (a) makes him appear almost anemic or (b) makes him appear as if the anemic version caught a little too much sun at Gulf Shores (depending on which is the “official” portrait), the entire episode quickly descended to the level of ridiculous political theater.

And when the dialogue is reduced to arguments over the shade of color in a portrait Jindal has run out of issues for serious public debate and can no longer be taken seriously.

As a great singer, the late Roy Orbison, crooned back in 1964, It’s over.

And as our favorite writer, Billy Wayne Shakespeare from Denham on Amite would say (with certain literary license):

Not that I loved Caesar Jindal less, but that I loved Rome Louisiana more. Had you rather Caesar lived Jindal were President and (we) die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead Jindal were forgotten, to live all free men?”

—Brutus Bob, from Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II.

“I have come here to bury Caesar Jindal, not to praise him. The evil that men do is remembered after their deaths, but the good is often buried with them difficult to find. It might as well be the same with Caesar Jindal. The noble Brutus Bob told you that Caesar Jindal was ambitious. If that’s true, it’s a serious fault, and Caesar Louisiana has paid seriously for it.”

—Marc “T-Boy” Antony, from Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II

If  there was any lingering doubt, that was erased late Friday (notice the timing) when he released a laundry list of yet another round of budget cuts. As has become his practice, all bad news is announced late on Fridays so the impact will be lessened because people tend not to follow the news on weekends.

Among those cuts:

  • Department of Environmental Quality: $2.5 million;
  • Department of Health and Hospitals: $13 million;
  • Department of Transportation and Development: $16.65 million.

Jindal also some miraculously came up with $42.8 by sweeping several agencies, including $9 million from the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly.

The governor’s office was not spared, of course. Biting the bullet along with everyone else, Jindal’s plan included a reduction of $10,000 in travel expenses for his office.

That’s correct. Health care is taking a $13 million hit while Jindal is sacrificing roughly the cost of one trip to appear on Fox News or to Washington D.C. for something like his recent attack on Common Core at an event sponsored by someone like oh, say the American Principles Project.

He is pulling $9 million from the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly but don’t worry, he will forego a trip to Iowa or New Hampshire.  Yeah, yeah, we know trips to Iowa and New Hampshire are paid out of his campaign fund. But when he takes those political trips, he takes along a detail of state police security personnel whose transportation, lodging, meals and overtime must be borne by the state treasury. It doesn’t take long for just one of those trips to eat through $10,000.

If Jindal is not acutely aware by now that any chance he had to be president has vanished into that $1.6 billion deficit projected for the coming year—a far cry from the $900 million surplus he inherited when he took office seven years ago.

If he does not know by now that his political credentials are shot, he can compare today’s 6.7 percent unemployment rate to the 3.8 percent unemployment when he took office in 2008. That wasn’t supposed to happen after industrial tax incentives increased from a couple hundred million a year to more than $1 billion a year over that same period.

If he is still wondering why his approval rating is lower than President Obama’s, he may want to direct his inquiry to the presidents of Louisiana’s colleges and universities who have seen their budgets cut by $673 million since taking office—and who are now anticipating another $300 million in cuts.

If he still doesn’t get it, he could ask the 250,000 low-income uninsured adults how they could possibly be upset at his decision not to expand Medicaid to cover their health care—all because of his philosophical criticism of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare. And while he’s at it, he might wish to ask Baton Rouge’s low-income uninsured residents in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish how they’re going to make out after he closed Earl K. Long Hospital last year which forced those residents to seek emergency care at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City which announced this past week that it is closing its emergency room because of the financial losses incurred from that overflow from Earl K. Long.

Michael Hiltzik, writing for the Los Angeles Times on Friday (Feb. 6), to say, “Jindal has promoted his plan with a string of distortions about the ACA and the health insurance marketplace that suggest, at best, that he has no idea what he’s talking about.” http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-the-lesson-of-louisiana-20150206-column.html

And if Jindal is still a bit hazy about why his chances of becoming president could make a possum optimistic about making it across a busy interstate highway, he might wish to review his glowing optimism over the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) that preceded a drawdown of the agency’s reserve fund from a healthy $500 million built up by former OGB CEO Tommy Teague, whom Jindal fired, to less than half that amount.

After he’s done all that, then maybe he’ll finally understand why Louisiana’s middle income growth was sixth worst in the nation (-4.9 percent, as in a negative growth) in 2013. Maybe, just maybe, it will finally dawn on him that the widening income gap is not good news for the state’s poorest citizens. Perhaps someone will explain to him that the state’s poorest 20 percent of households averaged earning $8,851 in 2013 (that’s household income, not per capita). There may even be a chance that he can explain why the income share of 2.8 percent among the state’s 20 percent poorest was down from 3.2 percent share in 2009 while the wealthiest 20 percent held nearly 52 percent of the state’s income—a figure even higher than the national figure and a dramatic increase from 2009—even as the state’s poverty rate increased.

We’ve been beating this drum steadily for nearly five years now and just when we were beginning to believe no one was listening, no less than three national news organizations (the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Politico) have jumped into the fray with witheringly harsh stories critical of Jindal and his train wreck of an administration in Louisiana.

And to think, it took an incredibly silly diatribe about Islam in London and a prayer meeting in Baton Rouge sponsored by a fundamentalist fringe element to get the attention of the national media that decided, at long last, it might be time to peel back the layers of righteousness and morality and take a long, hard look at the real Jindal and his actual record.

Funny, isn’t it, how often the big picture is overlooked until someone stumbles onto some little something that sets much bigger events into motion?

And now, at long last, we feel we can safely say it’s over. Done. Kaput. We have witnessed, in the incredibly short span of only a couple of weeks, the complete cratering of a political quest.

Cue Roy Orbison. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufgrNRPFJn8&list=RDufgrNRPFJn8#t=0

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In our lowlights review for the first six months of 2014, we were reminded by State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) that we had omitted a major low point in Louisiana politics.

Accordingly, we will preface our second half with the June veto by Gov. Bobby Jindal of HB 142 by Richard and Sens. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) and Mack “Bodi” White (R-Central) which was pass unanimously by both the House (84-0) and Senate (37-0).

Called by Richard as the only “piece of legislation that would’ve done anything in the form of reform,” HB142 called for a reduction in consulting contracts. Richard said the bill also “would’ve provided transparency in the way the state hands out contracts” and would have provided savings that would have been dedicated to higher education.

“It just made too much sense to Bobby,” Richard said.

Jindal, on the other hand, said the bill would “hinder the state’s efforts to continue to provide its citizens with timely, high-quality services.”

Such high-quality services as paying $94,000 to a firm to assistant students to learn to play during recess; paying consulting fees to Hop 2 It Music Co. or to the Smile and Happiness Foundation.

Jindal also said the bill would “cause significant delays and introduce uncertainty to executing a contract” and would “discourage businesses from seeking opportunities to provide services to the people of Louisiana.”

Which now brings us to the second half of political news that could only occur in Louisiana.

JULY

Troy Hebert back in the news:

Three former ATC supervisors, all black, have filed a federal lawsuit in the Baton Rouge’s Middle District claiming a multitude of actions they say Hebert took in a deliberate attempt to force the three to resign or take early retirement and in fact, conducted a purge of virtually all black employees of ATC.

Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III filed the lawsuit on behalf of Charles Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimian T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit said that all three plaintiffs have received the requisite “right to sue” notice from the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints.

So, where are all those savings we were promised?

To probably no one’s surprise except a clueless Gov. Bobby Jindal, the takeover of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana a scant 18 months ago has failed to produce the $20 million per year in savings to the state.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The OGB fund balance, which was a robust $500 million when BCBS took over as administrators of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in January of 2013, now stands at slightly less than half that amount and could plummet as low as an anemic $5 million a year from now, according to figures provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

There is no tactful way to say it. This Jindal’s baby; he’s married to it. He was hell bent on privatizing OGB and putting 144 employees on the street for the sake of some hair-brained scheme that managed to go south before he could leave town for whatever future he has planned for himself that almost surely does not, thank goodness, include Louisiana.

So ill-advised and so uninformed was Jindal that he rushed into his privatization plan and now has found it necessary to have the consulting firm Alvarez and Marcel, as part of their $5 million contract to find state savings, to poke around OGB to try and pull the governor’s hand out of the fiscal fire. We can only speculate as to why that was necessary; Jindal, after all, had assured us up front that the privatization would save $20 million a year but now cannot make good on that promise.

We can save, but we have to let you go…

The Jindal administration announced plans to jettison 24 more positions at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) as a cost cutting measure for the cash-strapped agency but is retaining the top two positions and an administrator hired only a month ago.

Affected by layoffs are eight Benefits Analyst positions, three Group Benefits Supervisory spots, one Group Benefits Administrator, seven Administrative Coordinators, an Administrative Assist, two Administrative Supervisors, one IT Application Programmer/Analyst and one Training Development Specialist.

All this takes place at a time whe OGB’s reserve fund has dwindled from $500 million at the time of the agency’s privatization in January 2013 to about half that amount today. Even more significant, the reserve fund is expected to dip as low as $5 million by 2016, just about the time Jindal leaves town for good.

Completing the trifecta of good news, we also have learned that health benefits for some 200,000 state employees, retirees and dependents will be slashed this year even as premiums increase.

Neil Riser helps Edmonson revoke the irrevocable:

One of the single biggest state political stories of the year was the surreptitious attempt of State Sen. Neil Riser to slip an amendment into an otherwise nondescript bill ostensibly addressing procedures in handling claims against police officers that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an illegal $55,000 per year retirement boost.

Events quickly began to spin out of control after Riser first denied, then admitted his part in the ruse and as retired state police opposed the move and public opinion mounted against the move, Edmonson, after first claiming he was entitled to the raise, finally relented and said he would not accept the increase.

Meanwhile, Jindal, who signed the bill, was eerily quiet on the issue despite speculation he was behind the attempt to slip the increase into the bill.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, just to make sure Edmonson didn’t go back on his word, filed suit to block the raise and a Baton Rouge judge agreed that the bill was unconstitutional.

The bill, which quickly became known as the Edmonson Amendment, along with the Office of Group Benefits fiasco, constituted the most embarrassing moments for a governor who wants desperately to run for president.

AUGUST

Selective—and hypocritical—moral judgments

Gov. Bobby Jindal weighed in early on the kissing congressman scandal up in Monroe. When rookie U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister was revealed on video exchanging amorous smooches with a female aide, Jindal was all over him like white on rice, calling for his immediate resignation.

Jindal’s judgmental tone was dictated more by the philosophical differences between the two (McAllister wanted the state to expand Medicaid, Jindal most assuredly did not) than any real issues based on morals as Jindal’s silence on the philandering of U.S. Sen. David Vitter who did a tad more than exchange affectionate kisses.

Edmonson Amendment spawns other state police stories:

LouisianaVoice, in its continuing investigation of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), learned that a number of DPS employees enjoy convenient political connections.

  • Dionne Alario, Senate President John Alario’s daughter-in-law, is a DPS Administrative Program Manager;
  • Alario’s son, John W. Alario, serves as a $95,000 per year director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission.
  • DPS Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux retired on April 28 from her $92,000 per year salary but the day before, she double encumbered herself into the position and reported to work on April 30 in the higher position of Undersecretary. Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis ordered her to repay the 300 hours of annual leave (about $46,000) for which she had been paid on her “retirement,” but Davis resigned shortly afterward and the matter was never pursued.
  • DPS issued a pair of contracts, hired the contractor as a state employee, paid her $437,000 to improve the Division of Motor Vehicles and ponied up $13,000 in airfare for trips to and from her home in South Carolina. The contractor, Kathleen Sill, heads up a company called CTQ but the company’s web page lists Sill as its only employee.
  • Boudreaux’s son-in-law Matthew Guthrie was simultaneously employed in an offshore job and was on the payroll for seven months of the State Police Oil Spill Commission.
  • Danielle Rainwater, daughter of former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was employed as a “specialist” for State Police.
  • Tammy Starnes was hired from another agency at a salary of $92,900 as an Audit Manager. Not only was her salary $11,700 more than state trooper Jason Starnes, but she is in charge of monitoring the agency’s financial transactions, including those of her husband.

Thanks, retirees; here’s your bill for medical coverage:

LouisianaVoice was first to break the news that the Jindal administration was planning to force retirees out of the Office of Group Benefits by raising premiums astronomically and slashing benefits.

The news sparked waves of protests from employees and retirees alike, prompted legislative hearings at which Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols looked more than foolish in their attempts to defend the ill-conceived plan.

The entire fiasco was the result of the Jindal administrations foolish decision to cut premiums, which allowed the state to be on the hook for lower contributions as well. The money the state saved on matching premiums went to help patch those recurring holes in the state budget. Meanwhile, because of the lower premiums, the $500 million OGB reserve fund shrank to about half that amount as OGB spent $15 million per month more than it received in premiums.

All this occurred just three years after then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, in a letter on the eve of the privatization of OGB, promised the continuation of quality service, rates that would be “unaffected” with any increases to be “reflective of medical market rates.” More importantly, he emphatically promised that benefits “will NOT change.”

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

OCTOBER

What premium decrease?

Contrary to the testimony of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that Buck Consultants recommended that the Office of Group Benefits reduce premiums for members, emails from Buck Consults said exactly the opposite. State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) had asked Nichols during legislative committee hearings who recommended the decrease and she replied that the recommendation came from Buck. All witnesses before legislative committees are under oath when they testify.

Surplus, deficit, tomato, to-mah-to:

Nichols “discovered” a previously unknown “surplus” of $320 million in mystery money that set off a running dispute between her office and State Treasurer John Kennedy—an argument that eventually made its way before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

With a tip of our hat to cartoonist Bud Grace, we are able to show you how that surplus was discovered:

JINDAL SURPLUS SECRET

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Murphy Painter vindicated, Jindal humiliated:

Jindal’s attempted prosecution persecution of fired Director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter blew up in the governor’s face when Painter was first acquitted of criminal charges, costing the state nearly half a million dollars in reimbursement of Painter’s legal fees, but Painter subsequently won a defamation suit against his accuser.

Secret survey no longer a secret but “no one” more popular than Jindal:

A survey to measure state employee satisfaction in the Division of Administration (DOA) should be an eye opener for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols and agency heads within DOA.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) received some exciting news this week when a new poll revealed that no one was more popular among Republican contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.

The excitement was short-lived, however, when the actual meaning of the numbers was revealed.

It turns out that in a CNN poll of New Hampshire voters, Jindal tied with Rick Santorum with 3 percent, while “No one” polled 4 percent, prompting Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to joke that Jindal should adopt the slogan “Jindal 2016: No one is more popular.”

To shred or not to shred:

The controversy surrounding the sweeping changes being proposed for the Office of Group Benefits just got a little dicier with new information obtained by LouisianaVoice about the departure of Division of Administration executive counsel Liz Murrill and the possibly illegal destruction of public records from the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and the involvement of at least two other state agencies.

While it was not immediately clear which OGB records were involved, information obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Murrill refused to sign off on written authorization to destroy documents from OGB.

We first reported her departure on Oct. 14 and then on Oct. 22, we followed up with a report that Murrill had confided to associates that she could no longer legally carry out some of the duties assigned to her as the DOA attorney.

But now we learn that the issue has spilled over into two other agencies besides OGB and DOA because of a state statute dealing with the retention of public documents for eventual delivery to State Archives, a division of Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.

Reports indicate that Schedler became furious when he learned of the destruction or planned destruction of the records because records should, according to R.S. 44:36, be retained for three years and then delivered to the state archivist and director of the division of Archives, records management and history.

NOVEMBER

Secret grand jury testimony of Greenstein made public:

The Louisiana Attorney General’s office, in an unprecedented move, released the 100-plus pages of testimony of Bruce Greenstein, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals but the testimony did little in revealing any smoking gun related to the state’s $180 million contract with CNSI. About the only thing to come out of his testimony was the indication of an incredible bad memory in matters related to his dealings with his former bosses at CNSI and a razor-sharp recall of other, more insignificant events.

Approval? We don’t need no stinkin’ approval:

The very first state agency privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal was the Office of Risk Management (ORM) and after the state paid F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) $68 million to take over ORM operations and then amended the contract to $75 million after only a few months, the agency was subsequently transferred three times to other firms. The only hitch was a specific clause in the original contract with FARA that no such transference was allowable without “prior written approval” from the Division of Administration. The problem? When LouisianaVoice made an FOIA request for that written approval, we were told no such document existed.

Edwards’ Last Hurrah:

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, one of the most successful, colorful and charismatic politicians in Louisiana history, lost—decisively. Republican Graves Garrett rode the Republican tide to easily hand Edwards his first political defeat, dating back to his days on the Crowley City Council. Some may remember when Buddy Roemer led the field in 1987, forcing Edwards into a runoff. Technically, though, Edwards did not lose that election because he chose not to participate in the runoff, thus allowing Roemer to become governor. But he would return in 1991 to win his unprecedented fourth term.

DECEMBER

Friends of Bobby Jindal seeking donations:

A new web page popped up seeking donations for the Friends of Bobby Jindal, raising speculations of an attempt at a higher office (president?) since Jindal can’t run for governor again.

The new web page cited a speech by Jindal at a foreign policy forum at which he called for increased military spending.

Gimme the keys to the cars:

The Public Service Commission (PSC) became the second state agency (the State Treasurer’s office was the first) to openly defy Jindal when the administration demanded that the PSC relinquish possession of 13 vehicles as part of the administration’s cost-cutting measures.

We have already examined State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard’s attempt to cut consulting contracts which was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate but vetoed by Jindal.

But there was another veto that should be mentioned in context with Jindal’s penny wise but pound (dollar) foolish fire sale approach to state finances.

Earlier this year, State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) managed to get overwhelming passage of a bill that called for more oversight of the tax break programs by the state’s income-forecasting panel.

But Jindal, who never met a tax break he didn’t like, promptly vetoed the bill, saying it could effectively force a tax increase on businesses by limiting spending for the incentive programs.

Only he could twist the definition of removal of a tax break for business into a tax increase even while ignoring the fact that removal of those tax breaks could—and would—mean long-term relief for Louisiana citizens who are the ones shouldering the load. And for him to willingly ignore that fact borders on malfeasance.

Another (yawn) poor survey showing:

24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company, released a report which ranked Louisiana as the 11th worst-run state in America.

Louisiana, in ranking 40th in the nation, managed to fare better than New Jersey, which ranked 43rd, or eighth worst, something Jindal might use against Gov. Christ Christie if it comes down to a race between those two for the GOP nomination.

Louisiana had “one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation,” at just $44,164, the report said “and 10.7 percent of all households reported an income of less than $10,000, a higher rate than in any state except for Mississippi. Largely due to these low incomes, the poverty rate in Louisiana was nearly 20 percent (19.8 percent) and 17.2 percent of households used food stamps last year, both among the highest rates in the nation. The state’s GDP grew by 1.3 percent last year, less than the U.S. overall.

May we pray?

Meanwhile, Jindal prompted more controversy by having his favorite publisher and LSU Board of Supervisors member Rolfe McCollister run interference in securing the LSU Maravich Center for a political prayer event in January of 2015. The event will be sponsored by the controversial American Family Association and will not (wink, wink) be a political event, Jindal said.

And that, readers, is where we will leave you in 2014.

For 2015, we have an election campaign for governor to look forward to.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

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Two legislative committees charged with oversight of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) are expected to demand that OGB roll back dramatic increases in health care co-payments and deductibles the agency is attempting to impose on hundreds of thousands of state employees to make up for the Jindal administration’s mismanagement of the agency when they meet in tandem on Friday.

The Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday but will not take testimony from the public.

The two committees are expected to instruct Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West to slash the increases in deductibles—some couples’ deductibles increased from $300 to $3,000 under the new plan being proposed by OGB–and co-pays.

OGB has already announced a two-month delay in the implementation of steep increases in prescription drug costs and will refund about $4.5 million in overcharges to state employees.

The Jindal administration is attempting to impose the co-pay and deductible increases as a way to recover hundreds of millions of dollars the administration managed to squander as a cost-savings to the state’s own contributions to employees’ premiums as a means to cover huge gaps in Jindal’s state budget.

The entire scenario reads like the script from an old I Love Lucy sitcom as everything the administration had done with OGB has blown up in its face in an improbable comedy of errors. How more insulting to legislators could it get than for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols to provide false testimony to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Sept. 25 shortly before abruptly leaving the JLCB meeting to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans?

When asked point blank by State Rep. John Bel Edwards at that Sept. 25 hearing–before heading out to the Smoothie King Arena to settle into the governor’s luxury box seats for the concert—which actuary recommended that OGB reduce premiums by nearly 9 percent, she testified that Buck Consultants made the recommendation.

But Buck reportedly responded by email within days that it never made any such recommendation and that Nichols’ testimony was in direct contradiction to its recommendations.

A July report from Buck reinforces its claim that it never made any such recommendation. “We did not recommend a decrease of 7% effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77% effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal years beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012/2013,” the report says.

When witnesses sign cards prior to speaking before a legislative committee, they are certifying that they understand that their testimony is considered as being given under oath.

Edwards also asked at the hearing that Nichols or West provide him with a copy of that recommendation but he said on Wednesday (Nov. 5) that he still had not received that information. “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” he told LouisianaVoice. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”

If someone were to set out to demonstrate how incompetent an administration could be, he would be hard pressed to find a better example than the manner in which it has handled the Office of Group Benefits—from firing an effective CEO who built up a $500 million reserve fund in favor of a revolving door approach to subsequent CEOs, to firing experience claims handlers with whom OGB members were comfortable, to hiring a California firm with no knowledge of Louisiana’s medical coverage program to handle telephone inquiries because experienced OGB staff were also fired, to attempting to implement emergency rules to enact the cost increases in co-pays and deductibles without the legally required public hearings, to having to refund $4.5 million in prescription drug overcharges for the same violation of the emergency rules procedures, to first claiming that it was not necessary to invoke the emergency rule and then deciding to do just that, to lying to legislators about actuarial recommendations of premium reductions.

The FUBARs and SNAFUs of OGB are so many and so irreversible that they should give pause to anyone who would entertain even the fleeting notion that Gov. Bobby Jindal is capable of leading the free world when, through his inept surrogates, he has, in less than two years, destroyed a relatively small but viable, efficient state agency.

Jindal and Nichols, of course, have a ready explanation for the OGB financial woes: medical costs have risen and it’s all Obamacare’s fault—never Jindal’s.

It’s the same arrogance level as that was demonstrated by Nichols in another appearance before a legislative committee when, trying to explain budget figures, she said somewhat condescendingly, “Let me dumb it down for you.”

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