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Archive for the ‘OGB’ Category

Thank goodness for late-inning rallies Thursday and Friday nights by LSU’s No. 1-ranked baseball team to beat No. 2 Texas A&M 4-3  and 9-6, respectively. Otherwise, the news just keeps getting worse for Louisiana.

That’s right; we had to flip all the way back to the sports section to find anything good to write.

That’s because even as the legislature grapples with that $1.6 billion budgetary shortfall, things were becoming unraveled elsewhere as the administration was hit this week not with a double- but a triple-whammy that could end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars and could conceivably end up costing another LSU president his job.

We will try to take the events in chronological order.

On Tuesday, the administration received word from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services that CMS AGAIN REJECTS the administration’s Cooperative Endeavor Agreements (CEAs) in connection with the controversial state hospital privatization plan pushed by Bobby Jindal “because the state has not met its burden of documenting the allowability of its claims for Federal Financial Participation (FFP).”

The decision apparently will cost the state $190 million, according to a letter to State Medicaid Director Ruth Kennedy from Acting CMS Director Nikki Wachino.

On the heels of that letter, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols received notification from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell on Thursday that the state had been OVERPAID BY $17 MILLION in tobacco settlement money and would have to repay that amount to the tobacco companies who then will redistribute it to states that were underpaid.

And on Friday, State Treasurer John Kennedy announced that national investors had pulled out of a large portion of a major bond deal for LSU after concerns were raised on Wall Street by LSU President F. King Alexander who announced on Thursday that he was preparing paperwork for the state’s flagship university to file for financial exigency, or academic bankruptcy. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/lsu_academic_bankruptcy.html

Kennedy, in a Friday news release, said his office was “trying to sort out the facts,” but essentially, a $114 million bond issue that was in the works appeared to fall flat when investors pulled out on about $80 million in commitments. The bond sale was to have funded a Family Housing Complex, residence halls and a Student Health Center and also would have saved interest on existing debt. http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=e9da20fd-7c07-4e6d-9d75-82afa4fb05a9&c=cdce75a0-62fb-11e3-959d-d4ae52a459cd&ch=ce38f740-62fb-11e3-95d9-d4ae52a459cd

A BloombergBusiness report said that while investors who bought the $114 million of debt sold by LSU they were not told the school was considering filing for exigency. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-23/louisiana-state-bond-buyers-greeted-by-insolvency-plan-next-day

A declaration of exigency by LSU and other colleges and universities across the state would open the way for the schools to fire tenured professors. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-04-23/louisiana-state-to-draft-insolvency-plan-as-jindal-plans-cuts

One state official confided in LouisianaVoice that Alexander, in his attempts to underscore the severity of the financial crisis in Louisiana higher education, currently facing still more deep budgetary cuts, may have overplayed his hand in making a “premature” announcement of such magnitude.

Meanwhile, word leaked out of a Board of Regents committee meeting Friday afternoon that as many as one-half to 75 percent of Louisiana colleges and universities may be unable to meet payroll by June unless some solution is found quickly to the fiscal crisis that has spread a mood of imminent doom across state campuses. That source said he does not believe a solution will be found until the last week of the session—if then.

With a vengeful governor like Bobby Jindal, anything perceived by him to place him in a bad light is met with severe repercussions, namely teaguing, and Alexander’s pronouncements have certainly reflected poorly on the administration.

For new readers who may not be familiar with the term, teaguing refers to Jindal’s firing of Melody Teague because of her testimony before the state government streamlining committee and the similar firing of her husband, Tommy Teague, only six months later from his job as Director of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) when he failed to go along with the ill-fated privatization of that agency. Dozens of other state employees and legislators have been either fired or demoted from committee assignments by Jindal for lesser sins. LouisianaVoice learned today that Melody Teague, who was suffering from ALS, died in March. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theadvocate/obituary.aspx?pid=174404543

For his part, Jindal, after more than seven years in office, has finally admitted there is a problem with “corporate welfare” in Louisiana, i.e. corporations that do not pay any taxes to the state.

One classic example cited by Steve Spires of the Louisiana Budget Project was Wal-Mart, which is a Delaware-based corporation. Spires, speaking at a State of (Dis)Repair conference in Hammond on Thursday, noted that Louisiana Wal-Mart stores are leased by local entities who pay exorbitant rent to the corporate parent in Delaware, a state with no state income tax, thus avoiding income tax in Louisiana while reaping the benefits of other incentives such as Enterprise Zone designation and 10-year property tax exemptions.

Jindal has only in the past couple of weeks so much as acknowledged the state has a problem with its generous tax breaks for corporations which cost the state billions of dollars per year.

Thus, as the budget crisis grows progressively worse with each passing year, Jindal has resorted to more and more sleight of hand in patching over budget holes with one-money.

Caldwell, in his letter to Nichols and Kennedy, said a number of states had been underpaid in tobacco fund settlement money by the tobacco companies because of accounting errors, and that a corresponding number, including Louisiana, had been overpaid.

Louisiana, he said, was overpaid by about $17 million which will have to be repaid so the money can be redistributed to the proper states.

The CMS rejection has been a problem for the administration since the privatization deals with several private hospitals were signed, though DHH Secretary Kathy Kleibert has attempted to see the world through rose-colored glasses, always expressing optimism that the state’s plan would be approved.

Not so.

In her three-page letter to Ruth Kennedy, Wachino said, “After careful consideration, CMS cannot accept the arguments advanced by the State in its Request for Reconsideration. While CMS recognizes the State’s efforts at corrective action, such measures do not address the State’s noncompliance for the period in question (Jan. 1, 2013 through May 23, 2014). For the reasons stated above, as well as in CMS’s Dec. 23, 2014, disallowance letter, the…disallowance is affirmed.”

All in all, the state has seen better weeks.

Go LSU! We need a sweep badly!

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JINDAL STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS(FROM OUR ANONYMOUS CARTOONIST: CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

If there was any lingering doubt that Bobby Jindal has been committing payroll fraud, that doubt was erased in last Monday’s State of the State address to legislators at the opening of the 2015 legislative which, thankfully, will be his last such address.

Fraud is defined as:

  • The wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain;
  • Deceit, trickery, or breach of confidence perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage;
  • A person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

Payroll fraud is further defined as the unauthorized altering of payroll or benefits systems in order for an employee to gain funds which are not due. The person making financial gain could be the employee or could be an associate who is using the employee to commit the fraud while taking the funds for himself.

There are generally three types of payroll fraud but for our purposes we are interested in only one:

  • Ghost employees—A person, fictional or real, who is being paid for work he does not perform. In order for the fraud to work the ghost employee must be added to the payroll register. If the individual is paid a monthly salary this is easier for the fraudster, as once this has been set up there is little or no paperwork required. In order for the fraud to work, the ghost employee must be added elected to the payroll register. Once this has been set up, there is little or no paperwork required.

Under that definition, Jindal could certainly be considered a ghost employee. One person even suggested that it was not really Jindal speaking to legislators, that Jindal was actually in Iowa and they were being addressed by a hologram.

We maintain that Jindal is committing payroll fraud by vacating the state so often and leaving the details of running the state to appointed subordinates as inexperienced and naïve as he. The point here is this: No one on his staff was elected; he was. And he has not been at the helm of the ship of state and by absenting himself so frequently and so consistently as he gins up his presidential candidacy, he is committing payroll fraud, theft, and malfeasance. Others, like former Desoto Parish School Superintendent and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Walter Lee have been indicted and been prosecuted for payroll fraud.

Before we really get into his speech to legislators, JINDAL ADDRESS TO LEGISLATURE we simply must call attention to the feeble effort at humor he (or someone) injected into the third line of his speech:

“Well, here we are…at the moment that some of you have been waiting for a long time—my last state of the state speech.”

After an apparently appropriate pause, he continued: “No, that was not supposed to be an applause line…and I do appreciate your restraint.”

Seriously? You actually wrote that line in your speech? If you have to write that in, if you are incapable of ad-libbing that simple line, then we now understand that idiotic response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009.

Before getting to the real meat of his legislative agenda for this year (if you can call it that), he touched ever-so-lightly on a few other points he generously referred to as his administration’s accomplishments. Our responses to each point are drawn directly from statistics provided by 24/7 Wall Street, a service that provides a steady stream of statistical data on business and government:

  • “We cleaned up our ethics laws so that now what you know is more important than who you know.” (A quick look at the appointment of Troy Hebert as director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after the baseless firing of Murphy Painter could quickly debunk that bogus claim. So could several appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors and the equally egregious firing of key personnel like Tommy Teague who did their jobs well but made the fatal mistake of crossing Mr. Egomaniac.)
  • “We reformed our education system…” (Louisiana is the fifth-worst educated state and we are the third-worst state for children who struggle to read);
  • “We reformed our health care system…” (Really? Is that why the privatization of our state hospitals remain in turmoil? That same reform ultimately forced the closure of Baton Rouge General Mid-City’s emergency room because of the overload brought on by the closure of Earl K. Long Hospital? Can we thank your “reform” for the fact that Louisiana still has the nation’s third-lowest life expectancy rate or that we enjoy the nation’s third-most unhealthy rating, that we are fifth-highest in cardiovascular deaths or that we have the highest obesity rate in the nation?);
  • “…Our economy is booming.” (Seriously? Louisiana is rated as the worst state for business in the U.S.; we rank sixth-highest among states where the middle class is dying; we remain the eighth-poorest state in the nation with a poverty rate that is third-highest, and we’re saddled with the fourth-worst income disparity in the nation and we’re rated the 10th-worst state in which to be unemployed.);
  • “We have balanced our budget every year…and have received eight credit upgrades.” (This one of those claims so preposterous one doesn’t know how to respond, but we’ll give it our best. Jindal has repeatedly patched budget holes by skimming funds from other agencies, like more than $400 million from the Office of Group Benefits reserve fund, from the sale of the tobacco settlement, from ripping funds for the developmentally disadvantaged (to fund a race track tied a political donor—what was that line again about “what you know, not who you know”?), by cutting health care and higher education, by selling state property, and now he’s trying to cover the current $1.6 billion budget hole by selling the State Lottery. As for those credit upgrades, we can only point to the February action by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s bond rating agencies to move the state’s credit outlook from stable to negative—and to threaten the more severe action of a downgrade.);
  • “The end result is a stronger, more prosperous Louisiana for our children. I measure Louisiana’s prosperity not by the prosperity of our government, but by the prosperity of our people.” (So, why are the fifth-most dangerous state in the nation? The 10th-most miserable state? Why do we have the eighth-worst quality of life? And the 11th-worst run state in the nation? And why have you never once addressed in your seven-plus years in office our ranking as the number-one state in the nation for gun violence or our ranking as first in the world for our prison incarceration rate?)
  • “We don’t live by Washington’s rules of kicking our debts down the road.” (For the love of God…);
  • “We have laid out a budget proposal that seeks to protect higher education, health care and other important government functions.” (And that’s why higher education and health care have been cut each of your years in office and why more cuts are anticipated that could conceivably shut down some of our universities. You really call cuts of up to 80 percent “protecting” higher education?);
  • “We have a system of corporate welfare in this state.” (Wow. After more than seven years of giving away the store to the tune of billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks, you finally come the realization that perhaps your generosity to the Wal-Marts, chicken processing plants and movie production companies may have been a bit much—that those policies may have actually hurt the state? What brought about this sudden epiphany? Bob Mann, in his Something Like the Truth blog, was all over that when he called attention to Jindal’s latest comment in the face of his claim a couple of years ago that we were “crushing businesses” with oppressive taxes. We’ll let him take this one.) http://bobmannblog.com/2015/04/17/bobby-jindal-is-now-against-corporate-welfare/
  • “We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut…” (Why the hell did it take you seven years?)

After all was said and done, after his hit-and-run sideswipes at all his purported “accomplishments,” Jindal devoted the bulk of his address to only two issues: Common Core and religious liberty. Of the latter issue, he said, “I absolutely intend to fight for passage of this legislation.”

Jindal was referring to Bossier City Republican State Rep. Mike Johnson’s HB 707 which would waste an enormous amount of time and energy—time that could be better spent on far more pressing matters, like a $1.6 billion deficit—on preventing the state from taking “any adverse action” against a person or business on the basis of a “moral conviction about marriage.”

Despite claims by Jindal and Johnson to the contrary, the bill is nothing more than a clone of the Indiana law that constitutes a not-so-subtle attack on gays or anyone else with whom any businessman deems a threat to his or her definition of marriage.

So, after eight addresses to the legislature, Jindal has yet to address any of the issues like inadequate health care, violence, poverty, pay disparity or equal pay for women, increasing the minimum wage, poor business climate (his rosy claims notwithstanding), our highway system (we didn’t mention that, but we are the seventh-worst state in which to drive, with the 15th-highest auto fatality rate), or our having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Instead, the thrust of his address is aimed at Common Core—he called it federal control even though Common Core was devised by the nation’s governors and not the federal government—and something called the “Marriage and Conscience Act.”

And he expects those two issues, along with something he calls “American Exceptionalism,” to thrust him into the White House as leader of the free world.

And, of course, attacking national Democrats like Obama and just today, Hillary Clinton, on her claim of having immigrant grandparents. Jindal, of course, wants exclusive rights to that claim and says so with his oft-repeated platitude: My parents came to this country over 40 years ago with nothing but the belief that America is the land of freedom and opportunity. They were right. The sad truth is that the Left no longer believes in American Exceptionalism.”

Well, to tell the truth, if Bobby Jindal is the example—the standard-bearer, if you will—for what is considered “American Exceptionalism,” then frankly, we don’t believe in it either.

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(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

“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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