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Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

LouisianaVoice has expressed concerns about the industrial tax incentives, aka giveaway programs, for years. It has been our contention that while welfare cheats are an easy target for criticism, the money lost to fraudulent welfare and Medicaid recipients is eclipsed by the billions of dollars stolen from taxpayers in the form of industrial tax exemptions, incentives, and credits.

Of course, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry would never concede that fact. Instead, they use the stage magician’s tactic of misdirection by claiming runaway lawsuits, organized labor, higher wages (they are especially terrified of an increase in the $7.25 minimum wage) and poor public education performance are to blame for Louisiana’s economic and social ills.

Never (not once) will one hear LABI point to poverty as a cause of the state’s low ranking in everything good and high ranking in everything bad. Never (not once) will one hear LABI, the local chambers of commerce, or the Louisiana Office of Economic Development call attention to the billions of dollars in relief given businesses and industry—from Wal Mart to Exxon—in the form of corporate welfare—leaving it to working Louisianans to pick up the check.

And all you have to do to understand how this has occurred is to follow the money in the form of campaign contributions to legislators and governors and visit the State Capitol during a legislative session and try—just try—to count the lobbyists. Better yet, you may do better by counting lobbyists and legislators following adjournment each night as they gather for steaks, lobster and adult beverages at Sullivan’s or Ruth’s Chris—compliments of lobbyists’ expense accounts.

And while LouisianaVoice has attempted to call attention to this piracy, an outfit called Together Louisiana has put together a 15-minute video presentation that brings the picture into sharp, stark focus. The contrast between two separate economies living side by side is stunning.

Stephen Winham, retired director of Louisiana’s Executive Budget Office called the video “a super good presentation of facts our decision-makers choose to ignore as they have for many, many decades.”

Winham went a step further in saying, “Our leaders seem to think we are all too dumb to understand this—and that’s a positive assessment. A more jaundiced view would be that they don’t want us to understand it.

“All we can do is keep on keeping on with our individual attempts to communicate this and let our elected officials know that we do understand and that we hold them responsible and accountable. Unfortunately, when I attempt to talk about this with individuals and groups, their eyes glaze over within minutes. I’m not going to stop trying, though, and neither should anybody else.

“I am happy to have this information in such a tight presentation,” Winham said.

So, with that, here is that video:

 

And if that’s not enough to convince you, THIS STORY was posted late Friday.

 

 

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Sean Morrison is fighting a tough battle in one of the reddest of a decidedly red state’s parishes. But he doesn’t make any apologies for his positions and he stands ready to take the fight to the special interests.

Morrison says he is not beholden to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) or any other special interest group in his quest to fill the unexpired term of District 90 State Rep. Greg Cromer who resigned to become mayor of Slidell on July 1.

In fact, Morrison, chairman of the St. Tammany Democratic Parish Executive Committee, took the rather unusual step of releasing a copy of LABI’s candidate QUESTIONNAIRE, the answers to which are virtually certain to keep him from getting the organization’s seal of approval—which is fine with him.

The survey, he said, “asked candidates to oppose policies that are good for working families like workplace fairness, job safety protections, access to justice for all Louisianans in our courts, access to high quality healthcare, promoting wage fairness, and an ongoing review of Louisiana’s billions in corporate tax giveaways.”

He said, “We need leaders in Baton Rouge who aren’t already influenced before they get there. I’m promising this: to fight hard to do what is right under the circumstances every single time,” Morrison said.

Born in Missouri, he grew up in Texas and moved around a lot as a child. From small towns like Egan, Louisiana, to Stillwater, Oklahoma, Sean saw all aspects of American life. His father, Michael, has worked in the oil and gas industry his entire career. His mother, Christy, is a school teacher in Houston.

Morrison studied political science, psychology, and philosophy at Tulane. He graduated with honors from Case Western Reserve Law School with a focus on international law and war crimes. He went to law school with one goal – to prosecute war criminals. Case Western Reserve had just the program, so Sean packed a U-Haul and drove it all the way from New Orleans to Cleveland. The gambit paid off. For six months he worked with the prosecution for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the aftermath of their brutal civil war.

Following law school, he got a job working with a large Cleveland law firm. One morning he woke up and saw his whole future laid out before him. It was full of billable hours, corporate meetings, and Cleveland winters. So, he hopped on a plane to American Samoa and became a criminal prosecutor there. It was not long until the island was hit with a devastating tsunami. He immediately transferred to the Department of Commerce, where he worked on rebuilding the community, revitalizing its broken economy, and planning to prevent future disasters. “It was there that I learned that serving people through government was the most rewarding work anyone could do,” he says.

When he returned, he began working to conserve the Gulf Coast, it’s beaches, wetlands, and fisheries for future generations. He entered the job in the wake of scandal, as the Executive Director and others were jailed for corruption. As part of the new team, Sean helped reorganize the department, put in place new legal and fiscal systems, and rebuilt the reputation so that today the Department of Marine Resources is considered the gold standard of government in Mississippi (though Louisianans, after eight years of Bobby Jindal, are leery of anything bearing the label “gold standard”).

“I have dedicated my career to helping people through public service,” he says. “I have seen how the government is supposed to operate, and what gets in the way. Too often it is the legislators enacting laws that make it impossible to provide decent service to the people. As more and more politicians claim that there’s nothing to be done (and then set about proving it), I’ve come to know that all we need is public servants willing to roll up their sleeves, stop playing politics, and start doing the hard work of government. I have that experience and I can get the job done.”

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If you like political posturing, puffery, bombast, and breast-beating, then the reaction to that LETTER being sent out to 37,000 nursing home patients in Louisiana is tailor-made for political junkies like you.

The letter, sent out by the Louisiana Department of Health, got the desired reaction. CBS Evening News featured the story prominently in its Wednesday newscast, complete with a brief interview with Jim Tucker of Terrytown, operator of about a dozen nursing homes.

It’s interesting that Tucker was sought out for camera face time. He was Bobby Jindal’s Speaker of the House who abetted Jindal for eight years in gutting the state budget of services for the elderly and mentally ill. And now the roll him out in front of the cameras to cry wolf.

The Edwards administration tried to assure us, through Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee, that this is not Chicken Little, that the sky really will fall if budget cuts are not restored by July 1, the date that the state is projected to fall over the metaphorical fiscal cliff when $650 million in tax revenue falls off the books.

Typically, the reaction by Republicans in the legislature, the same ones who have steadfastly refused to face fiscal reality since the beginning of the Jindal accident in 2008, was to scream foul to anyone who would listen—and there were plenty who did.

Dr. Gee, of course, did her part, even tearing up as she explained to the TV cameras that hearts “are breaking over the need to do this. We can’t provide services with no money to pay for them.”

Dardenne added his bit, saying, “This letter is scary, but it’s not a tactic. This is the reality that we are facing.”

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) gave the best performance. With a lock of hair hanging down over his forehead a-la the late Bobby Kennedy, he bleated, “This is premature at best, reckless at worst,” adding that the letter was designed “to scare the elderly of this state, and that is an embarrassment.” No, Cameron, you’re an embarrassment.

Ditto for Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), chairman of the House Republican Delegation, who called the letter an “unnecessary political scare tactic done to intimidate and frighten the most vulnerable people into believing they will be kicked out onto the streets if the governor doesn’t get everything he wants in the form of revenue.”

And Cameron Henry should understand that the legislature as a body is no less an embarrassment to those of us who have been forced to observe its collective ineptitude on a daily basis for 10 years now. To quote my grandfather, they couldn’t find a fart in a paper bag.

Lost in all the rhetoric is the hard fact that the administration might not have found it necessary to send out the letter—regardless whether it’s a scare tactic or reality—had the legislature made any effort to face up to its responsibility to the 4.5 million citizens of this state.

But here’s the real reality—and just remember where you read it:

Not a single nursing home patient is going to be evicted. Not one.

Want to know why?

Money.

And I don’t mean money to be appropriated by the legislature to properly fund state government, nursing homes included.

I’m talking about campaign money.

Lots of it. Tons of it.

Since 2014, individual nursing homes, nursing home owners, and nursing home political action committees have contributed more than $750,000 to Louisiana politicians, primarily legislators. Here is just a partial list of NURSING HOME CONTRIBUTIONS

And that’s just over the past four years.

More than $50,000 was contributed the campaign of Edwards.

Henry, the one who called out the administration for its “scare tactics,” received more than $10,000 since 2014.

Senate President John Alario also received more than $12,000 over the same time span.

Louisiana Public Service Commission member Foster Campbell said on the Jim Engster show on Louisiana Public Radio earlier this week that since he first ran for the legislature more than 40 years ago, the cost of seeking political office has become cost prohibitive. Foster said when he first ran for the State Senate in 1975, he borrowed $7,500 to finance his campaign. “Now, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars” and the average person who wants to serve cannot afford to do so, he said.

I’ve always wondered why corporations and the wealthy who seem so concerned about “good government” don’t use their money to help others rather than lavish it on politicians. The money they throw at politicians and lobbyists could be put to such more productive use—but they don’t try because they don’t really care about good government. And every now and then, I can’t help wondering why that is.

But I don’t wonder about it long. The answer is obvious: power and influence.

And that’s a sorry commentary on our political system, from the local level all the way to the very top of the political pyramid.

And it’s for that reason that not a single nursing home resident will be evicted. By some miracle, repeated every year, it seems, extra money will be “found” to do what is politically expedient.

Because the money has already been spread around by those who buy influence and legislators.

Remember where you read it.

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In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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Why would DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle abruptly resign less than midway through his fifth consecutive term in office?

Arbuckle, who stepped down, effective today (Friday, March 16), attributed his decision, which he said has been a year in the making, to HEALTH PROBLEMS being encountered by one of his grandchildren.

But could there have other overriding factors that prompted his decision? Possibly. There are several prior and ongoing questions involving the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office which, taken together or separately, could have nudged him out the door prematurely.

The first, going back about four years to an investigative audit REPORT by the Legislative Auditor’s Office in Baton Rouge revealed a major issue involving a former deputy sheriff whose private company ran half-a-million dollars’ worth of private background checks through Arbuckle’s office.

The company, Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations, ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during the 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the audit report said. That’s 41,574 background checks in a parish that has a population of only 27,000.

Lagniappe and Castillo charged its customers $12 for each background report but paid the sheriff’s office only $3 per report. That represents a profit of more than $372,000 on income of more than $498,000—and sheriff’s office employees actually ran the checks. Robert Jackson Davidson, who retired as chief investigator for the sheriff’s office in May 2013, is listed as 50 percent owner of the company by the Louisiana Secretary of State’s corporate filings.

And then there is the more recent problem of LACE. That’s an anacronym for Local Agency Compensation Enforcement whereby the district attorney’s office pays the salaries of law enforcement officers to beef up traffic patrol for the parish. LACE has been hit with similar problems in State Police Troops B and D when it was learned that troopers were reporting hours worked on LACE detail that were not actually worked.

In the case for DeSoto Parish, it was sheriff’s deputies who fudged the numbers on their timesheets and three of Arbuckle’s deputies have already left under a cloud.

A new investigative audit by the Legislative Auditor’s Office has been ongoing for some time now and that report is also expected to be highly critical of the LACE program and possibly other areas of operation.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera told LouisianaVoice on Thursday that he did not know just when that report would be released. The auditor’s office traditionally sends the head of the agency being audited a management letter in advance of the public release of the report in order to give management a chance to respond in writing. That response is usually included in the release of the audit report. There was no word from Purpera’s office as to whether or not that management letter had been sent to Arbuckle.

A check by LouisianaVoice of about 600 LACE tickets handed out by sheriff’s deputies revealed that not a single LACE ticket was issued to a resident of DeSoto Parish. Every single recipient checked was from other parishes or even from out of state.

Of course, I-49 cuts through DeSoto Parish which would explain at least a high number of out-of-parish motorists’ receiving tickets—but 100 percent would seem somewhat improbable.

Reports by local critics of Arbuckle cite him for purchasing vehicles for the sheriff’s office without going through the public bid process. But sheriffs offices are on a state vendor list that exempts many such purchases from public bid. But on those not exempt, critics claim there is mischief afoot in the way Arbuckle goes about his purchases.

Then there is Arbuckle’s annual budget which reflects revenues of $12.3 million, which is nearly double the $4.9 million of next-door neighbor Sabine Parish, which has a population of 24,200—only a little fewer than DeSoto.

But it’s the office expenditures that are the real eye-openers. Arbuckle’s office had expenditures of nearly $14.1 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. That is $3.3 million more than the $10.8 million spent by the sheriff’s office in Natchitoches Parish, which has a population of 40,000—and a university. It also is more near three times the $5 million spent by the Sabine Parish Sheriff for the same year.

So, just what did Arbuckle spend all that money on? For starters, the bulk of that $15.2 million, $11.2 million to be exact, went for salaries. It would appear that Arbuckle hired deputies almost indiscriminately. Arbuckle himself was the second-highest-paid sheriff in the state (only the Beauregard Parish sheriff made more).

His department’s salary figures compare with salary expenditures of $3.7 million for Sabine and $7.9 million for Natchitoches.

Even more telling is a comparison of the year-end fund balances for the three sheriffs’ offices. Sabine Parish ended the fiscal year with a fund balance of $7.5 million and Natchitoches Parish had a fund balance of $8.2 million. Arbuckle’s DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, however, finished the fiscal year with a whopping fund balance of $52.2 million.

Arbuckle apparently need not concern himself with the state law that a sheriff is responsible for any operating deficit at the end of his term of office.

DeSoto’s embarrassment of riches was due in large part to the Haynesville Shale and a couple of major facilities—eight energy companies, International Paper, and SWEPCO—in the parish which accounted for $256.5 in assessments and $3.5 million in property taxes (4.73 percent of total assessed valuation). Both figures would appear to be extremely low.

Arbuckle also is a principal in no fewer than six corporate entities, three of which are for-profit companies. One is a fence construction company and a second is a real estate development firm. The third, and possibly the most significant, is an outfit called Dirt Road Rentals, which rents or leases equipment to oil and gas field companies.

The company was chartered in July 2013, just about the time the Haynesville Shale boom kicked off. With so much activity taking place with the Haynesville Shale, it would seem to be a golden opportunity for a sheriff who, if he chose to do so, could lean on the oil and gas field companies to lease equipment from him lest their trucks get pulled over for traffic offenses.

Which could explain the need for all those extra deputies.

But a sheriff would never stoop to such tactics.

Would he?

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