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Archive for the ‘Revenue’ Category

So, now Sen. John Kennedy is officially opposed to strengthening firearms BACKGROUND CHECKS.

His newest proclamation (which really isn’t new at all) raises the obvious question of whether there is any level to which he will not stoop to kiss the ring of Donald Trump and the rest of the NRA-purchased Republicans who insist that it is never the time to discuss ways to curb the number of MASS SHOOTINGS that have plagued this country for the past 35 years.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough for Sen. John Kennedy to join fellow Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy in voting for the so-called tax “reform” bill that is so heavily weighted in favor of the very rich but now he has underscored that Gawd-awful CAMPAIGN AD in which he said, “…love is the answer but you oughta own a hand gun, just in case.”

He even repeated the phrase during a Senate committee hearing, saying it was an old saying from back in Louisiana though, to be honest, I don’t ever recall anyone but Kennedy uttering such an inane statement.

So, obviously, while it is never the time to discuss a solution, it’s always the time to ensure that the mentally ill will have unfettered access to weapons.

Kennedy clashed with Bobby Jindal—and later with Gov. John Bel Edwards—over the budget, repeating his mantra: “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.” That, it turns out, was the most intelligent thing he had to say as State Treasurer. But the fact of the matter was—and is—that it was a combination of the two.

The problem is in the giveaways, as in tax credits, tax exemptions, tax incentives, and all the other breaks given away to industry that promised big jobs in exchange for keeping off the tax rolls but who failed to deliver. That spending problem created a critical revenue problem that was only partially alleviated by a 43 percent increase in college tuition.

Kennedy also proposed an across-the-board cut in state contracts. That was far too simplistic. A better solution would have been—and remains—to take a long, hard look at the multitude of contracts awarded by the sate to determine if they are really necessary.

Just as one example, the various studies of restoration of Louisiana’s coastline, like the bevy of studies awarded by the City of Baton Rouge to study traffic congestion, have brought the state no closer to resolving the problem than before tens of millions of dollars were spent on those studies.

But I digress. Kennedy, in constant search of a TV camera and microphone, has now gone beyond absurdity in opposing more stringent background checks. Does he not remember:

  • Sandy Hook?
  • Columbine?
  • Aurora?
  • Orlando?
  • Las Vegas?
  • San Bernardino?
  • Chattanooga?
  • Charleston?
  • Oakland?
  • Tucson?
  • Blacksburg?

I could go on, but what’s the point? People like Kennedy are imprisoned by their own closed minds and political calculations about how to best play to the emotions of the gun enthusiasts and to how best to go about assuring the continued flow of NRA campaign contributions. The KILLING FIELDS of America are without comparison anywhere else in the civilized world, according to statistics published by the NEW YORK TIMES.

Oops, I forgot. That should be the failing New York Times, according to Donald Trump, on whose coattails Kennedy so shamelessly ran in his senatorial campaign. So, it must be fake news, right?

Well, those figures quoted by the failing New York Times were provided by the FBI, which keeps meticulous records on such things.

Oh, I forgot again. The FBI is no longer credible, according to Grump, who arbitrarily decides who is and who is not trustworthy and who sets such a shining example for the likes of Kennedy, Bill Cassidy and the other Repugnacans in Congress who apparently are unable to make as simple a decision as when to go to the bathroom without a directive from Thumper.

Yes, I know the NRA gun-totin’ flag-waving zealots are going to have me pilloried by sundown but I can live with that and I have this to say to them:

I would rather stand for what is right for all the victims who were so needlessly slaughtered by obviously mentally disturbed people who should never have had access to weapons than to have all the campaign money the NRA dumps into the campaigns of the likes of John Kennedy.

Those are my principles, Mr. Kennedy, what, pray tell, are yours?

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Legislators, like any member of society, can be incredibly stupid when they set their minds to it, as they all too often do.

But a story by Baton Rouge  ADVOCATE reporter Elizabeth Crisp, excerpted from a Washington Post column by writer Catherine Rampell, establishes a new low for stupidity, intolerance, and a propensity for shooting off at the mouth, the facts be damned.

Now let it be established here and now that I am a military veteran and that I stand and face the flag every time the National Anthem is played or sung at a public event, no matter how badly a singer may be singing his or her interpretation of the Star-Spangled Banner (and believe me, I’ve heard some incredibly bad renditions). I don’t care if I’m at the concession stand outside Alex Box Stadium for an LSU baseball game, when the PA announcer asks the fans to stand for the National Anthem, I stop what I’m doing, remove my LSU or Boston Red Sox cap, and hold it over my heart in my right hand until the song is finished. No big deal, just something I do.

Why don’t I take a stand? Well, I do. I stand for the anthem and I respect those who choose, for whatever reason, not to. That’s because this is still America where freedom of expression is guaranteed in the First Amendment and every person in that ball park has that right, whether I happen to agree with them or not.

For that matter, how is taking a knee any less respectful than those who continue to talk or who refuse to remove their caps during the anthem? And believe me, there are literally dozens all around me who (a) continue with their concession stand purchases, (b) continue talking, or (c) do not remove their caps/hats. Taking a knee is an act of protest. Any one of the other three is indifference and just as disrespectful in its own way.

So, please, don’t waste my time telling me how unpatriotic it is.

But back to Elizabeth Crisp’s recap of the Washington Post column which, as the Saints stumble into the playoffs and LSU prepares to meet Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, is more than a little timely:

According to Post writer Rampell, a group of Louisiana legislators (much to their relief, LSU has refused to divulge their names, thus saving them considerable embarrassment) got their shorts in a wad and called LSU President F. King Alexander just before football season to threaten additional cuts to the higher-ed appropriations if any player took a knee in protest during the playing of the National Anthem before any LSU games.

King had to find a tactful way to remind the dumb-asses that LSU players remain in the locker room during the anthem and are not even on the field. If the legislators had ever used their free tickets to attend a game, they should have realized that.

Not that this is really relevant to this particular issue, but those brain-dead legislators apparently forgot how they kowtowed to Bobby Jindal and slashed higher-ed funding year after year for a cumulative 43 percent reduction in funding since 2008. Apparently, they had no problem taking a knee before Jindal so they could kiss his ring. And make no mistake, they are every bit as complicit as Jindal for the fiscal morass the state finds itself in today.

Interim Vice President of communications Jason Droddy told Crisp last Friday, “I can confirm the phone call occurred, but we won’t name the person, as that was an unfortunate comment that is better left in the past. We hope that in the future, LSU’s state appropriations will be tied to its performance in the classrooms and laboratories and its economic contributions to our state.”

It should also be hoped that in the future, legislators won’t be afflicted with diarrhea of the mouth just for the benefit of political grandstanding, but don’t bet the farm on that happening. Politicians, by their very nature, are grandstanding, running-off-at-the-mouth self-promoters who seldom let facts stand in the way of political expediency.

State Rep. Kenny Havard, for instance, wanted to pull state subsidies for the New Orleans Saints after Saints players knelt during the anthem before a pre-season game. “If it’s a state-subsidized sporting event, that’s not the place to protest,” he said.

And while I support pulling state subsidies for the Saints for an entirely different reason (mostly having to do with my distaste for supporting a billionaire owner’s hobby—and the requirement that state agencies rent expensive office space from that same billionaire), I would pose this question of Havard:

If a sporting event is not the place to protest, then is it the proper place to honor military personnel? While public support of our men and women in uniform is a noble gesture, it is, nevertheless, just as much a political statement as a protest. You can’t have it both ways, Rep. Havard.

I happen to support both the right to protest injustice and the right to honor our military personnel, even if I happen to disagree with our reasons for invading another sovereign nation. That is my right under the First Amendment. And it’s consistent.

I would suggest that Rep. Havard and those anonymous legislators who made that embarrassingly inadvisable call to Dr. Alexander step back and digest the words of my college classmate TERRY BRADSHAW who, in an NFL pre-game show on (appropriately enough) Fox Sports, a division of Fox Network, had this to say about Donald Trump’s tirade against NFL players who took a knee during the anthem:

It’s hard to believe that I’m going to say something about the most powerful man in the greatest country in the world, but probably like a lot of you, I was somewhat surprised that the President—the President of the United States came out attacking NFL players for them exercising the Freedom of Speech.

While I don’t condone the protesting during our National Anthem, this is America!

If our country stands for anything, folks—it’s freedom. People died for that freedom. I’m not sure if our president understands those rights—that every American has the right to speak out, and also to protest. (emphasis added)

 Believe me—these athletes DO love this great country of ours.

 Personally, I think our president should concentrate on serious issues like North Korea and healthcare rather than ripping into athletes and the NFL.”

Like Bradshaw, I feel legislators also have a few more pressing problems to address than football players taking a knee.

Louisiana is on the precipice of a $1 billion budgetary shortfall. This is largely attributable to the actions of the legislature in falling all over themselves for eight years to do the will of Bobby Jindal, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Grover Norquist—and for failing in their responsibility to face up to the looming crisis. That, after all, is their job—not monitoring knee-bends at a football game.

So, do your damned job.

Instead, you’re worried about some college football player taking a knee and in a frantic effort to prevent that, you make a wildly reckless threat to cut funding even further.

And I thought Roy Moore was an idiot…

 

 

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Bobby Jindal said in a 2015 address to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that teachers are still at their jobs only by virtue of their being able to breathe.

That was when he was touting his ambitious education reform package that was designed to promote and enrich the operators of charter and virtual schools by pulling the financial rug from under public education in Louisiana.

That, of course, only served to further demoralize teachers and to punish those students from low-income families who could not afford charter schools but all that mattered little to Jindal. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that his former chief of staff Steve Waguespack now heads LABI.

Lest one think that sorry attitude toward teachers and the teaching profession went away in January 2016 when Jindal exited the governor’s office, leaving a fiscal mess for his successor, John Bel Edwards, think again.

Here’s a little wakeup call for those of you who may have been lulled into a false sense of security now that the husband of a teacher occupies the governor’s office: That disdain for public education has carried over into the halls of Congress via this proposed new tax bill now being ironed out between the House and Senate.

Much has already been written about how the tax bill is supposed to benefit the middle class when in reality it does just the opposite—yet those blindly loyal zealots, those supporters of child molesters, those adherents of the Republican-can-do-no-wrong-because-they-wrap-themselves-in-a-flag-and-wave-a-bible-in-one-hand-and-a-gun-in-the-other mantra continue to drink the Kool-Aid and cling to the insane theory that Trump, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy have their best interests at heart.

These delusional people get all bent out of shape when a jock refuses to kneel at a football game because they consider it an affront to our military (it’s not) while this tax bill rips more than $40 billion from HUD, including programs that help provide housing for homeless VETERANS. How’s that for honoring our fighting men and women? Where the hell are your real priorities?

Any of you die-hard Republicans out there on Medicare? Are you ready to take a $25 billion HIT? You will under this tax “reform.”

All you Trump supporters who have been so critical of the federal deficit prepared to see that deficit increased by a whopping $1.4 trillion? Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy are. So are Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham and Garrett Graves.

Those of you with college kids presently on tuition exemptions like TOPS might want to get ready; your son or daughter is going to have to declare those benefits as taxable income. Is that why you voted Republican?

And while all this is going down, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the proposed tax “reform” will eliminate the tax on inherited fortunes (you know, the kind that made Donald Trump Donald Trump) and will maintain the “carried interest” loophole which taxes the fees of private-equity fund managers (read: the mega-rich, Wall Street bankers, etc.) at low capital gains rates instead of the higher income tax rates.

But after all that’s said and done, the part of the tax bill that really turns my stomach, the part that sticks in my throat, is a provision that is of so small an amount as to be insignificant—if it weren’t for the principle of the whole thing.

Call it a carry over from Jindal, a snub of teachers, or whatever, it’s galling.

Here it is:

Teachers, particularly elementary teachers, traditionally spend hundreds of dollars per year of their own money on materials and supplies for their classrooms. And it’s not for them, it’s for the children. Keep that in mind, folks. While there are parents out there who would rather buy meth and booze and cigarettes than supplies for their kids, there are teachers who quietly enter the school supply stories and stock up so that kid will have a chance.

Call it personal, if you wish, and it might well be. When I was a student at Ruston High School, I was injured right after school one day. My English teacher, Miss Maggie Hinton, never hesitated. She led me to her powder blue 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air and took me to Green Clinic—and paid the doctor to patch me up. You never hear the Jindals of the world tell those kinds of stories. They don’t fit their agenda.

Under the present tax laws, these teachers, who on average spend $500 to $600 per year (school principals, by the way spend an average of $683 of their own money annually on snacks and other food items for students, decorations and supplies like binders and paper), can take a tax deduction of up to $250 for those expenditures. (And to interject a very personal story, once, while I was making a purchase for a school in Livingston Parish at Clegg’s Plant Nursery, the owner would not accept my money. He donated the items because he, too, supports public education.)

Now understand, that’s a tax deduction of up to $250, not a tax credit, which would be a dollar-for-dollar tax cut. A deduction benefits the teacher only $40 or so off her taxes. But at least it’s something.

The Senate version of the new tax bill would double that deduction to $500, thank you very much.

So, what’s my beef?

Nothing much…except the HOUSE version would eliminate the deduction in its entirety.

That’s right. While the Republicans want to take care of the fat cats (those in Trump’s income bracket would realize tax breaks of approximately $37,000), teachers, under the House version of this tax bill would no longer get even that paltry $40. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Thank you, Garrett Graves, et al.

That really angers me and it should anger every person in Louisiana with even a scintilla of a conscience.

Because teachers are my heroes. Nearly fifty-seven years after graduating from Ruston High School, my heroes are still named Hinton, Ryland, Perkins, Garner, Lewis, Peoples, Edmunds, Barnes,  Johnson, Garrett & Garrett (any I omitted is only because I took no classes under them). They took a personal interest in a kid with no real promise and made him a little better person. They and my grandparents alone have stood the test of what a true hero should be.

And I am proud to defend the honor of teachers everywhere in their memory.

And the fact that five Louisiana House members—who, by the way, are all up for reelection in 2018—voted for this tax “reform” bill that slaps my heroes in the face really pisses me off.

Did I mention those five are up for reelection next year? That’s 2018, less than a year from now.

A smart voter remembers who represents him.

Those not so smart should go fishing on election day.

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It’s a plaintiff attorney’s and a legislator’s nightmare.

As an illustration of just how bad the state’s fiscal condition really is, one need only examine the 40 court judgments stemming from litigation against the state in 2016 that have yet to be paid.

As former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill once said, all politics is local and when a constituent wins or settles a lawsuit against the state, that person’s legislator is usually prompt in filing a bill in the House to appropriate funds for pay the judgment. That’s important to legislators. The state, after all, has denied classified employees pay raises for the better part of a decade but never missed paying a judgment other than the Jean Boudreaux case—until now.

It’s also a good indication of just how dire the state’s fiscal condition really is.

In all judgments of road hazard cases—cases involving auto accidents where the state is found at fault for inadequate signage, poor road maintenance or improper construction—as well as certain other claims like general liability or medical malpractice, funds must be appropriated via a bill submitted by a legislator.

In past years, with the exception of one major judgment, that has not been a problem. Only the $91.8 million class action judgment resulting from the 1983 flood in Tangipahoa Parish was never paid. In that case, lead plaintiff Jean Boudreaux claimed that construction of Interstate 12 impeded the natural flow of the Tangipahoa River, causing unnecessary flooding of homes and businesses north of I-12.

But in 2016, Rep. Steve Pugh of Ponchatoula submitted a bill to appropriate funds to pay the judgment. He did the same in 2017. It still remains unpaid, along with 36 other judgments totaling another $9.5 million for which bills were approved.

That puts the overall total judgments, including the 34-year-old Boudreaux case at more than $101 million.

And that doesn’t count the cost of attorney fees, expert fees, or court reporter fees, amounts practically impossible to calculate without reviewing the complete payment files on a case-by-case basis.

Twenty-four of the cases had two or more plaintiffs who were awarded money.

In 19 cases, awards were for $100,000 or more and three of those were for more than a million dollars—if indeed the money is ever paid.

In the meantime, judicial interest is still running on some of those judgments, which could run the tab even higher.

A list of those who were either awarded or settled cases in excess of $100,000 that remain unpaid and their parishes include:

  • Michael and Mary Aleshire, Calcasieu Parish: $104,380.82;
  • Kayla Schexnayder and Emily Legarde, Assumption Parish: $1,068,004;
  • Debra Stutes, Calcasieu Parish: $850,000;
  • Peter Mueller, Orleans Parish: $245,000;
  • Steve Brengettsy and Elro McQuarter, West Feliciana: $205,000;
  • Jeffrey and Lillie Christopher, Iberville Parish: $175,000;
  • Donald Ragusa and Tina Cristina, East Baton Rouge: $175,000;
  • Stephanie Landry and Tommie Varnado, Orleans Parish: $135,000;
  • Jennie Lynn Badeaux Russ, Lafourche Parish: $1.5 million;
  • Adermon and Gloria Rideaux and Brian Brooks, Calcasieu Parish: $1.375 million;
  • Theresa Melancon and DHH Medicaid Program, Rapides Parish: $750,000;
  • Rebecca, Kevin and Cheryl Cole and Travelers Insurance, East Baton Rouge: $400,000;
  • Samuel and Susan Weaver, Lafourche Parish: $240,000;
  • Henry Clark, Denise Ramsey and Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Lafayette Parish: $326,000;
  • Anya and Abigail Falcon and Landon and Nikki Hanchett, Iberville Parish, $946,732.53;
  • Adam Moore and James Herrington, East Carroll Parish: $150,000;
  • Traci Newsom, Gerald Blow, DHH Medicaid and Ameril-Health Caritas, Tangipahoa Parish: $150,000;
  • Michael Villavaso, Orleans Parish: $443,352.51.

Lawsuits against all state agencies are handled by the Office of Risk Management (ORM), which Bobby Jindal privatized in 2011 in order to save the state money.

The privatization didn’t realize the savings Jindal had anticipated but now, at least, it looks as though the Division of Administration has found another way to save money on litigation costs:

Don’t pay the judgments.

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When I was a student at Louisiana Tech, I worked part time as a disc jockey at KRUS radio station in Ruston. Occasionally, I would have a “Golden Oldies Show,” during which I played only old rock & roll records.

I saw a story in the Washington Post recently that conjured up memories of old news stories and at the same time made me wonder if the Republicans in Congress were paying attention all those years.

The story, headlined, “GOP abandons any pretense of fiscal responsibility,” noted that the Republican Party has essentially abandoned its platform of fiscal restraint, “pivoting sharply in a way that could add trillions of dollars in federal debt over the next decade.”

https://politicalwire.com/2017/10/07/gop-abandons-pretense-fiscal-responsibility/

So, doing the minimum research, it was almost too easy to find stories that reveal that the tax cuts proposed by Trump would further widen the gap between wealthy and low-income Americans. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/42177-trump-s-proposed-tax-cuts-would-further-widen-the-gap-between-rich-and-poor

The Trump-led (and that’s a very loose term) Republican tax reform would cut taxes for the very rich and place the burden on the rest of us.

In 1970, the bottom 50 percent of U.S. wage earners averaged $16,000 a year in today’s dollars. In 2014, that figure had skyrocketed to $16,200.

The top 1 percent, meanwhile, saw their average income increase from an average of $400,000 a year to $1.3 million during the same time period, hardly enough to keep the lawn watered in the Hamptons.

Some might dismiss these sources as typical liberal media, but the conservative U.S. News & World Report seems to agree with their assessments.

More than two years ago, on May 20, 2015, the magazine ran a story headed simply as THE PARTY of RED INK.

That story did cite the $1.2 billion budget deficit that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Mally left for his Republican successor, but for the rest of its story, USN&WR hammered one Republican state governor after another. Those included our own wunderkind Bobby Jindal (a $1.6 billon deficit), Chris Christie (a staggering $7.35 billion structural budget deficit), Scott Walker of Wisconsin ($2.2 billion deficit), and Sam Brownback of Kansas ($1 billion shortfall).

Their collective answer to these budgetary nightmares? Cut taxes.

But along with tax cuts go cuts to services.

Back when I was a student at Tech—and given, that’s been a long time; Terry Bradshaw was emerging as a top draft pick back then—my tuition was $99. Today, my grandson, a computer engineering student at Tech, is forking over $9,000 per quarter to stay enrolled.

In Louisiana, cuts to higher education, public education, referral services to the mentally ill, services to children with disabilities, foster child services, and other cuts have had devastating results. Yet, the Republicans go merrily along with their vision of fiscal reform.

Jindal’s obsession with tax cutting, service cutting, and privatization was such a dismal failure that Newsweek on June 1, 3015, published a story headlined HOW BOBBY JINDAL BROKE the LOUISIANA ECONOMY.

But a March 26, 2015, story was even more revealing. That story, admittedly by a partisan Democrat writer, nevertheless cited a report by an outfit called WalletHub, a commercial personal financial web site that rated all 50 states on their dependence on federal dollars to prop up their respective economies.

The REPORT basically said that red states, America’s stalwarts of fiscal responsibility, suck more money out of the federal treasury than any others and that some of the poorest states, of which Louisiana is certainly one, depend on federal funding for 30 to 42 percent of their total revenue.

Louisiana depends on federal dollars for 42.2 percent of its budget That just happens to be the highest percentage in the nation. Mississippi is right behind, drawing 42.1 percent of its budget from the feds, according to a report released in May of this year. http://www.governing.com/topics/finance/gov-state-budgets-federal-funding-2015-2018-trump.html

Yet, who screams the loudest to get the federal government out of our lives? Well, that would be the Republicans, who control both Louisiana and Mississippi.

And yet, there they go again, to paraphrase Mr. Reagan. The Republicans in Congress are pushing that same agenda of tax cuts for the rich, cuts to services, increased military spending, heavier tax burdens on the middle class, and economic stagnation for what now, something like the 35th straight year?

And yes, I am keenly aware that some of those years included the administrations of Clinton and Obama and that some of those years Democrats controlled Congress. But that only goes to prove my oft-repeated point that there is little difference in the two parties when Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the NRA, and defense contractors exert such a heavy influence on the national agenda.

But with the Republicans, it’s not so much a political philosophy as it is an obsession, a mindset.

They adhere to the Laffer Curve at all costs. That’s the theory advanced by one Arthur Laffer, who says that tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth.

Anyone seen any economic growth around these parts in the last couple of decades or so? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

The Laffer Curve might be appropriately named were it not such a cruel joke.

 

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