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Archive for the ‘Revenue’ Category

Less than three months ago, on June 24, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order in which he mandated more scrutiny over how significant industrial property tax breaks are doled out to manufacturers. http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2016/06/john_bel_edwards_signs_executi.html

Theoretically, the order gave local governments that would lose out on property taxes a say in approving exemptions for heavy industry, and companies applying for five-year renewals of five-year tax breaks totaling $11 billion would be required to prove the breaks would create and/or retain jobs.

But the Commerce and Industry Board may be trying an end run around Edwards’ order.

The board waited until late Friday afternoon (one of Bobby Jindal’s favorite tactics of making announcements as the week’s news cycle winds down) to give public notice of a Monday board meeting during which it is scheduled to vote on redirecting millions in local property tax revenue from disaster-affected parishes to corporate tax exemptions, without any input from the local bodies losing that revenue.

One of the exemptions to be voted on Monday would “renew” an exemption for Georgia Pacific, a Koch brothers company, costing East Baton Rouge $1.9 million in property taxes.

Exemptions are costing $16.7 billion in lost property tax revenues to local governments, schools and law enforcement, according to the nonprofit Together Louisiana, which will hold a press conference to oppose the proposed exemptions Monday at 9:15 a.m. prior to the 10 a.m. board meeting. http://togetherbr.nationbuilder.com/about

The board meeting will be held in the LaSalle Building at 617 North Third Street in Baton Rouge. The Together Baton Rouge press conference will be held in front of the LaSalle Building.

The exemptions being voted on at Monday’s meeting are being considered in direct violation of Governor John Bel Edwards’ Executive Order issued, and “effective immediately,” on June 24th, 2016, which stated that no future industrial tax exemptions would be approved without the consent of the local governmental bodies — school boards, sheriffs, municipalities and parish governing authorities — whose tax revenue was at stake.

No public hearings, public deliberations or local votes have taken place on any of these proposals, despite the clear requirement of the Edwards executive order. Here is the full agenda for Monday’s board meeting: http://www.opportunitylouisiana.com/docs/default-source/boards-reports/MeetingCategory/louisiana-board-of-commerce-and-industry/9-12-16-c-amp-i-board-agenda.pdf?sfvrsn=0

 

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Allegations of forged and falsified time sheets, misapplication and/or misappropriation of federal funds, unaccounted for expensive ice chests, a claim of a stolen computer hard drive and an FBI investigation.

Just another ordinary day at the office in another state agency in Louisiana.

Except this state agency, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) normally flies well under the radar, attracting little or no attention from local, state or federal officials.

And, to be truthful, that’s the way LDWF officials would have preferred it.

In fact, according to one former agent who spoke with LouisianaVoice, he was told precisely that by a fellow agent: “Don’t worry, we’re over here in Southwest Louisiana where no one ever looks at us”

Long before it became public knowledge that the FBI was investigating irregularities at LDWF, LouisianaVoice received a cryptic telephone call in mid-June from an FBI special agent from Baton Rouge asking what we might know about the agency.

We had already received an anonymous tip that the feds were looking into illegalities involving misappropriation of federal funds related to the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill cleanup. Our source said about $10,000 in fishing equipment was purchased with the federal funds, “along with 40 or 50 Yeti coolers,” of which “only three can be accounted for.”

Yeti coolers are expensive, top-of-the-line coolers, some costing more than $1,200, making them a prime target for theft.

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1NHXL_enUS703US706&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=yeti+coolers&tbm=shop

Professing (truthfully) that we had little information to share, we referred the caller to former LDWF agent Todd Abshire who had contacted us earlier about payroll irregularities—including the forging of his initials on his timesheets to reflect time classifications which he says were inaccurate.

Now it appears official that LDWF is indeed under investigation for misapplication of federal funds from the BP oil spill. http://www.louisianasportsman.com/details.php?id=9895

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_f06a8d82-5e67-11e6-bc45-9b911b0114db.html

At issue is how the agency spent $8.6 million seafood testing grant awarded by BP following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

Abshire, a Marine Corps veteran, said he was the victim of discrimination because supervisors would not accommodate him for his service-related PTSD. He also said he witnessed supervisors claiming hours that they did not work. In one case, he said the supervisor left him practicing backing a trailer in the supervisor’s driveway while the supervisor worked at his second job.

LDWF receives no state General Fund (direct) money, but the bulk of its funding is via statutory dedications which are state funds and, like all other agencies, its funds have to be appropriated by the state to be spent. Therefore it would be incorrect to say the agency is self-funded, as some in the agency insist. In fact, it receives funding from several federal programs and, says Abshire, that is where the time sheet irregularities come into play.

Agents are required to code their time sheets according to which of the federal programs they work on a particular day. The money for their salaries is charged back to the program listed on the timesheets.

The federal programs include, among others:

  • Boating Safety Enforcement;
  • Boating Accident Investigation;
  • Boating Safety Search and Rescue;
  • Recreational Fishing Federal;
  • Commercial Fishing Federal;
  • Commercial Catch Shares;
  • Federal Game and Waterfowl;
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ);
  • Maritime SWAT

Abshire said he has witnessed agents remaining in the LDWF offices while coding their timesheets under one of the federally-funded programs.

He even provided copies of his own timesheets which he said showed changes to times he did not work—changes made without his authorization and with his initials forged to the timesheets.

Besides the feds, the agency is also being investigated for contract irregularities and for nepotism by a number of local and state agencies, including the Legislative Auditor, the Louisiana Office of Inspector General and East Baton Rouge District Attorney.

Now, in addition to the missing ice chests, claims of illegal purchases with federal funds, and charges of falsified time sheets, comes the word that a LDWF employee has reported the theft of items from her desk, items that include a computer hard drive and a day planner.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/crime_police/article_99bc910a-760f-11e6-9040-bb2dc8e09bb9.html

Wendy Brogdon, listed as a confidential assistant, said the hard drive, day planner and personal souvenirs were taken in a burglary of her office between the evening of Aug. 11 and Aug. 24 during a time the office was shut down because of record flooding, according to her attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III.

Inexplicably, she was placed on administrative leave after reporting the theft and just as puzzling, LDWF spokesperson Adam Einck would not confirm whether or not she was a LDWF employee even though her name regularly appears in the minutes of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission as the commission secretary.

LDWF officials also said surveillance cameras at agency offices were of no use because they were aimed at the office’s exterior and not the interior. If we had a tendency toward conspiracy theories, that would be just too convenient and it might even prompt us to wonder what might have been on the hard drive and the day planner that was important enough to be taken in the theft.

But this is Louisiana, after all, so it’s only natural that the thief would also take Duck Commander duck calls autographed by Willie Robertson of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, Duck Commander tea cups signed by Si Robertson and Duck Commander baseball caps signed by Willie and Si Robertson.

At least now we know the real reason for the burglary.

 

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Regular readers of this site know our disdain for the undue influence of lobbyists and special interests over lawmakers to the exclusion of the very voters who elected those same lawmakers to represent them and their best interests.

Our opposition to political decisions made with priority given to campaign contributions over what is best for the state is well-known—and uncompromising. Money should have no place—repeat, no place—in political decisions.

Unfortunately, we know that is not the case. Politicians for the most part, are basically prostitutes for campaign funds and those who choose to remain chaste usually find themselves at a serious disadvantage come election time.

To that end, you can probably look for State Rep. Jay Morris (R-Monroe) to attract strong opposition when he comes up for re-election in 2019. And that opposition, whoever it might be, is likely to have a campaign well-lubricated by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the Louisiana Chemical Association, and the oil and gas industry.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, we have gone on record on numerous occasions as saying the voters are merely pawns to be moved about at will by big business in general and the banks, pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street and oil companies in particular. It is their money that inundates us with mind-numbing political ads that invade our living rooms every election year telling us why Candidate A is superior to Candidate B because B voted this way or that way and besides, good old Candidate A has always had the welfare of voters uppermost in mind.

The presence of that influence was never more clearly illustrated than in Tyler Bridges’ insightful story in Friday’s Baton Rouge Advocate. http://theadvocate.com/news/15225624-78/la-legislative-staffers-sort-out-changes-added-at-the-last-minute

In the very first paragraph of his story, Bridges wrote that a secret deal between Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) and lobbyists for LABI and the Louisiana Chemical Association.

We won’t bother to re-hash the details of that meeting and the agreement finally reached just before the closing minutes of the recent special session. You can read the details in the link to the Bridges story that we provided above.

But suffice it to say had it not been for Morris digging his heels in and threatening to kill his own bill when he learned of a manufacturing tax break that had been added to his bill, HB 61 that aimed at eliminating exemptions and exclusions on numerous sales tax breaks. Though a Republican, Morris feels that big business isn’t paying its fair share of taxes.

“I was not aware of the deal,” Bridges quoted Morris as saying. “I was not invited.”

Neither, apparently, were any spokespersons for consumers, organized labor, teachers, or the citizens of Louisiana.

Oh, but you can bet LABI President Steve Waguespack was invited to a meeting in Alario’s office earlier in the day, as was Louisiana Chemical Association chief lobbyist Greg Bowser.

Given that, we would like to ask Sen. Alario and Rep Barras why no one representing the people were invited to that little conclave. And don’t try to tell us that the Senate President and House Speaker were representing the people. You were not. You were representing the vested interests of the chemical industry and big business. Period.

Sen. Alario, Rep. Barras: the people of Louisiana are far more deserving of a place at the table in some furtive backroom meeting than LABI and the chemical association.

Either all factions are invited in or no one is. The playing field should be level.

By not excluding lobbyists or by not inviting those on whose shoulders are placed the greatest burden, the ones who placed you in office, you have not just failed at your job; you have failed miserably.

Our late friend C.B. Forgotston would have said of the meeting which produced that secret deal: “You can’t make this stuff up.”

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First it was the State Dental Board exposed by LouisianaVoice as serving in the multiple capacity of prosecutor, judge and jury in investigating complaints against dentists, filing charges and then judging on their guilt or innocence. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/07/state-board-employs-intimidation-harassment-to-generate-funds-to-pay-for-lucrative-contracts-worth-millions-of-dollars/

Then there was the Auctioneer Licensing Board and the manner in which it failed to defend an 84-year-old widow against a case of shill bidding (efforts to drive prices up by a  plant) or to protect her from unscrupulous actions by an auctioneer.

Now we have another board, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (LSBME) which, through its executive director, is being accused of tactics similar to those of the dental board. The result has been a spate of lawsuits, ethics complaints, and court hearings, all revolving around charges brought against a Baton Rouge doctor and encouraged, he says, by his competitor who sits on the board that brought the charges against him.

The one common thread running through each of the regulatory boards is that they receive no state funding. And with the dental and medical examiners boards, at least, there are expenses: staff, including attorneys, investigators and executive directors, and rent of nice, upscale offices in New Orleans central business district.

The lack of state funding coupled with the aforementioned high costs means the boards must necessarily generate funding—lots of it—through licensing fees and disciplinary actions against dentists and physicians. No dentist or physician in the state wants make waves because the boards literally hold the fate of their livelihoods, indeed their licenses to practice, in their hands.

In the legal profession, rainmakers are those within a firm who generate business by enlisting well-heeled clients who can afford expensive legal representation. Legal fees, after all, are the lifeblood of a law firm and the bigger the firm, the greater the pressure to bring clients through the door.

Taking the comparisons between the dental and the medical examiners board even further, the board acts in the capacity of investigator, accuser, and judge in disciplinary cases and, again like its counterpart, depends to a certain extent on penalties imposed on doctors for its operating revenue. Consequently, there is an undeniable incentive to generate revenue to ensure the boards’ survival.

So when it comes down to adding needed revenue to the coffers, it matters little whether the dentist or physician is guilty; if the need for revenue is present, as it usually is, then the boards, to paraphrase British politician and businessman Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes, “will squeeze the lemon until the pips squeak.” https://richardlangworth.com/pips

LouisianaVoice has previously documented strong-arm tactics by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry whereby a dentist may first be assessed a modest fine for some supposed transgression. Should the dentist resist, he may quickly learn that that modest fine of a few thousand dollars somehow has run into six figures because he is also assessed the costs of the investigation of his practice—and because the board can. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/16/13976/

Sitting members of the dental board are allowed to initiate charges against a competing dentist in the same town—and often do just that.

And while physicians may not actually initiate charges against one of their peers, LouisianaVoice has learned that a board member who was a direct competitor with a doctor under investigation may have participated in the investigation, board discussions and votes affecting his competitor.

Baton Rouge pain management physician Dr. Michael Burdine, an LSBME member, has emerged as a key figure in the board’s investigation of Dr. Arnold Feldman, also of Baton Rouge because of his apparent reluctance to recuse himself from discussing Dr. Feldman’s case pending before the board.

The board’s legal counsel did produce somewhat belatedly a document that purported to recuse Dr. Burdine from participating in proceedings relative to Dr. Feldman’s case but board minutes indicate “unanimous” votes on matters pertaining to Dr. Feldman even as Dr. Burdine was supposedly recused. Moreover, Dr. Burdine repeatedly participated in executive session discussions when the subject of the closed session was Dr. Feldman’s case. Board member Dr. Mark Dawson, however, insists that Dr. Burdine did, in fact, recuse himself. “The pain management doctor’s attorneys are playing you for a fool,” he told LouisianaVoice.

The Dental Board until recently brought charges at the recommendation of a private investigator retained by the board whose offices were housed in the dental board’s suite on Canal Street in New Orleans. LSBME, on the other hand, employed its investigator as a full time employee. Following Dr. Burdine’s selection as vice president of the board, investigator Cecilia Mouton, a physician also, was appointed executive director of the board and immediately requested—and received—a 10 percent pay increase to $211,600.

Mouton, while still employed in 2010 as an investigator who looked into complaints about doctors, married attorney Jack Stolier who at the time represented physicians who were subjects of investigations and who had disciplinary action pending before the board and Mouton. Stolier ceased representing physicians before the board following his marriage to Mouton, Dawson said.

Taking the comparisons between the dental and the medical examiners board even further, LSBME acts in the capacity of investigator, accuser, and judge in disciplinary cases and, again like its counterpart, depends entirely on penalties imposed on doctors for its operating revenue.

Dr. Burdine’s Spine Diagnostics of Baton Rouge, one of the largest pain management clinics in the state, had annual receipts of slightly less than $9 million compared to Dr. Feldman’s $6 million in 2012. The two clinics are only about five miles apart. Dr. Feldman maintains that closure of his facility would necessarily mean that Dr. Burdine would inherit much of his caseload, thus enhancing the size of his clinic and providing an economic windfall for him.

The federal Healthcare Quality Improvement Act of 1986 provides that physicians are entitled to a professional review action “before a panel of individuals who are appointed by the entity and (who) are not indirect economic competition with the physician involved.”

Not only has the board, with the active participation of Dr. Burdine claimed by Dr. Feldman, plowed ahead with its prosecution of Dr. Feldman, Mouton, first as board investigator and later as executive director, denied Dr. Feldman access to his investigative file in order that he might formulate a defense, said Dr. Feldman in a 42-page complaint filed with the State Board of Ethics.

The specifics of the board’s complaint against Dr. Feldman have never been revealed but appear to stem from the death of a patient while in Dr. Feldman’s clinic even though the death was determined to be from natural causes and not connected to pain treatments being administered to the patient by Dr. Feldman.

The Ethics Board found no ethics violation in a decision that has become all too familiar since the ethics laws were amended in 2008, effectively gutting the ethics board. But that hasn’t stopped Feldman from seeking justice from what he feels is malicious prosecution, abuse of due process and violation of Louisiana commerce statutes.

He filed suit against Dr. Burdine in Civil District Court in New Orleans last August and the children of one of his patients has filed a separate suit in CDC naming LSBME, Mouton and board investigator Leslie Rye as defendants.

That lawsuit, filed by Alexia Senee James and Albert Lewis James of Baton Rouge, claims that Mouton and Rye intervened in Dr. Feldman’s treatment of their mother, Tonja Guitreau James.

After Tonja James was convinced by Mouton and Rye to leave the care of Dr. Feldman, she subsequently died from a prescription drug overdose, the petition says, adding that Mouton and Rye “violated the doctor-patient privilege, confidentiality and sacrosanct relationship between Tonja James and her physician.”

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You just have to love Louisiana politics.

It’s kind of like having someone pee down your back while telling you it’s raining.

Or maybe trying to run a marathon with a rock in your shoe.

And to no one’s real surprise, it doesn’t seem to matter much which political party is in power.

Take Thomas Harris, the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), for example.

On Feb. 19, not quite two weeks ago, Secretary Harris testified before the House Appropriations Committee about the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget. In his testimony, Harris, who spent about a dozen years at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) before his Jan. 26 appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards, lamented the fact that his agency was so strapped for funding that up to 66 employees face layoffs come July 1.

While it may difficult for some to feel much compassion for DNR, given the historically cozy relationship between the oil and gas industry and the agency’s top brass. It was DNR and DEQ, after all, which conveniently looked the other way all these years as our coastal marshlands were raped by the industry that curtailed the so-called legacy lawsuits filed against oil companies that neglected to clean up after themselves. http://theadvocate.com/home/9183574-125/house-oks-legacy-lawsuit-legislation

http://legacy.wwltv.com/story/news/2014/12/10/tainted-legacy-legislatures-fixes-create-obstacles-to-oil-and-gas-cleanup/17671639/

Harris gave his testimony during the afternoon session of the Appropriations Committee that met during the recent special legislative session called to address major budget shortfalls.

To save you some time, open the link HERE and move to the 41-minute mark. That’s where Harris begins his address to committee members, most of whom were talking among themselves (as is the norm) and not really paying attention.

So just why are we making such a big deal of this? It’s no big secret, after all, that budgetary cuts are hitting just about every agency and employees are going to have to be laid off. It’s a fact of life for anyone working for the state these days.

Unless you happen to be named David Boulet or Ashlee McNeely

Harris hired Boulet as Assistant Secretary of DNR, effective March 10 (last Thursday), less than three weeks after his calamitous testimony about projected layoffs.

But get this: Ashlee McNeely, wife of our old friend Chance McNeely (we’ll get to him presently), worked in Bobby Jindal’s office from Feb. 3, 2014, until last Oct. 22 as a legislative analyst at $78,000. On Oct. 23, she was promoted to Director of Legislative Services at the same salary (someone please tell us why Jindal needed a director of legislative services when he had less than three months to go in his term—and with no legislative session on the immediate horizon). Of course, come Jan. 11, the date of John Bel Edwards’ inauguration, she was quietly terminated along with the rest of Jindal’s staff.

But wait. Harris decided he needed a “Confidential Assistant.” And just what is a “confidential assistant,” anyway? Well, we’re told that the term is loosely translated to “legislative liaison.” No matter. Harris did the only logical thing: he brought Ashlee McNeely on board on Feb. 10, just nine days before his cataclysmic budgetary predictions. What’s more, he bumped her salary up by eight thou a year, to $86,000.

But back to our friend Boulet: His salary is a cool $107,600—to fill a position that has been vacant for more than five years. So what was the urgency of filling a long-vacated slot that obviously is little more than window dressing for an agency unable to fill mission-critical classified positions?

Had Harris chosen instead to allocate the combined $193,000 the two are getting, he could have hired four classified employees at $46,750 each. Not the greatest salary, but certainly not bad if you’re out of work and trying to feed a family. And still higher than the state’s family median income

So, what, exactly are the qualifications of Boulet? Well, for openers, he’s the son-in-law of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and that’s of no small consequence. In fact, that was probably enough.

In fact, it’s not the first time he has landed a cushy position that took on the appearances of having all the right connections. We take you back to 2001, when Blanco was Lieutenant Governor and Boulet was hired as the $120,000-a-year Director of Oil & Gas Cluster Development for the Louisiana Office of Economic Development, a move that did not sit well with the scribes at the Thibodaux Comet: http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20011108/NEWS/111080313?tc=ar

And then there’s our old friend Chance McNeely, another holdover from the Jindal disaster. McNeely, all of 27, has seen his star rise in meteoric fashion after obtaining a degree in agricultural business and working four years as a legislative assistant for the U.S House of Representatives. From there, he found his way into Jindal’s inner circle as an analyst at $68,000. He remained there less than a year (March 6, 2014, to Jan. 12, 2015) before moving over to DEQ where the special position of Assistant Secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance (in circumvention of Jindal’s hiring freeze in place at the time and despite having no qualifications for the position)—complete with a $37,000 raise to $102,000. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

He held onto that job recisely a year, exiting the same day as his wife got her pink slip, on Jan. 11 of this year. Unlike Ashlee, who remained unemployed for just over three months, Chance was out of work for exactly eight days before being named Assistant to the Secretary at the Department of Transportation and Development, albeit at a slight drop in salary, to $99,000.

But by combining his and his wife’s salaries, the $177,000 isn’t too shabby for a state with a median income of $42,406 per household, according to 2014 data. And how many 27-year-olds do you know who pull down $99,000 per year? http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

So, Secretary Harris, as you struggle with balancing the high pay of your political appointees with cutbacks of the ones who do the real work, please know that we understand fully that we live in Louisiana where, no matter the rhetoric, things never change.

You will head an agency that will protect big oil from those of us with ruined pastureland and briny water. DNR will continue to shield big oil from those who would do whatever necessary to preserve our wetlands. And as those oil companies continue to fight back with whatever legal chicanery they can craft—including the buying of legislators.

And the merry-go-round of appointments to those with the right political connections will continue unabated—no matter what self-righteous rhetoric of freedom and justice for all is spewed by the pompous ass clowns we continue to elect.

Now ask me how I really feel.

 

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