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Archive for the ‘Veto’ Category

The state’s 2012 Capital Outlay Bill (House Bill 2) contains more than $1.5 billion in priority 1 projects and another $1.2 billion in priorities 2 and 5 projects.

The bill, which was approved by the full House on May 17, was heard by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee on Monday, May 28, and now goes to the full Senate for debate. If the Senate version finally passed is different from the House version, the bill will go to a conference committee to hammer out a compromise and still must be approved by both chambers.

After final passage by both chambers, the bill will go to Gov. Bobby Jindal who, by line item veto, may eliminate projects he deems wasteful or which may obtain funding elsewhere.

At a time when the state is grappling with revenue shortfalls and budget deficits, this year’s construction bill is packed with more than more than $180 million in priority 1 local spending projects such as festivals, ball parks, sports complexes, community centers, professional sports facilities, groundwater reservoirs and golf courses.

Some of those include:

• $17.5 million for professional sports facilities in Jefferson and Orleans parishes;

• $1.17 million for New Orleans Zephyrs baseball facilities repair;

• $21.5 million for the New Orleans Sports Arena improvements;

• $17.2 million for an economic development award program for infrastructure assistance;

• $7.74 million for wet-lab business incubators statewide;

• $20 million for aerospace manufacturing infrastructure in New Orleans;

• $10 million for mega-project site preparation statewide;

• $4.6 million for renovations to the River Center Arena and Theatre in Baton Rouge;

• $1.4 million for baseball stadium improvements in Baton Rouge;

• $2 million for construction of a community center in north Iberville Parish;

• $6.7 million for improvements to the Bayou Segnette sports complex in Jefferson Parish;

• $8.6 million for land acquisition and additional cabins for Bayou Segnette State Park;

• $13 million for Bayou Segnette Festival Park land acquisition and construction;

• $600,000 for construction in raw undeveloped area of Parc de Families in Jefferson parish;

• $8.5 million for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Natchitoches State Museum;

• $6.6 million for improvements to New Orleans City Park golf course;

• $2 million for improvements to amusement area at New Orleans City Park;

• $2.4 million for Bayou Dechene Reservoir in Caldwell Parish;

• $1.7 million for real estate acquisition and improvements to Poverty Point Reservoir;

• $2.6 million for Washington Parish Reservoir study, planning and construction;

• $950,000 for repair and renovation of the Strand Theatre in Shreveport;

• $400,000 for a multipurpose evacuation shelter and community center in Avoyelles Parish;

• $4.2 million for a golf course development in Calcasieu Parish;

• $635,000 for the Woodmere Community Center in Jefferson Parish;

• $2 million for a governmental complex and jail upgrade in Lafayette Parish;

• $2.3 million for a multipurpose community center in Bienville Parish;

• $1 million for a fire station and public service center in St. Mary Parish;

• $1.6 million for a cultural center for the arts in Jefferson Parish;

• $250,000 for a Maurice civic center-post hurricane shelter in Vermilion Parish;

• $400,000 for Rosenwald Community Center in Orleans Parish;

• $200,000 for renovations to the Dansereau Harris Playground in Orleans Parish;

• $1 million for improvements to park land in Jefferson Parish;

• $215,000 for a Winnsboro community center in Franklin Parish;

• $4 million for Phase 2 construction of the West Calcasieu Community Center;

• $2.85 million for a public safety complex for the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office in Ruston;

That comes to a little more than $182.4 million – and that’s just a small sampling of the $1.5 billion in projects included in the bill.

The bill passed the House by an 84-15 vote with 6 members absent.

Those voting against the bill were Reps. Richard Burford (R-Stonewall), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Simone Champagne (R-Erath), Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville), Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette), Anthony Ligi (R-Metairie), Sherman Mack (R-Livingston), Jim Morris (R-Oil City), Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro), John Schroder (R-Covington), Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City) and Lenar Whitney (R-Houma).

Absent and not voting were Reps. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans), Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge), Raymond Garofalo (R-Chalmette), Joe Harrison (R-Gray), Girod Jackson (D-Harvey) and Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux).

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George Orwell, writing in Chapter 10 of his literary classic Animal Farm, said, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Never was that well-worn quote more obvious than when, on July 1, 2011, Gov. Bobby Jindal cast aside the civics class principal of the three equal branches of government by exercising his veto power over legislative oversight of one of his pet projects—privatization.

The vote was 36-0 in the Senate and 100-0 in the House but Jindal still pulled rank on the Louisiana Legislature and vetoed SB-207 by Sen. Willie Mount (D-Lake Charles), as well as three provisions of HB-1 that would have given the legislature some say into the governor’s privatization of the state’s Medicaid program.

The vetoes left no doubt as to the determination of the governor to move forward with his sweeping privatization of several state government programs even though one report said that the proposed privatization of the Office of Group Benefits it dead—at least for this year.

Jindal has already privatized one agency a year ago, the Office of Risk Management, but failed in his efforts to sell three state prisons earlier this year.

He was less than specific in giving his reasons for the vetoes, saying only that the three provisions that he stripped from HB-1would delay implementation of one program while eliminating the flexibility of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) to initiate changes in two other.

In one case, he said that legislative involvement could delay implementation of a program that provides care for youth who have behavioral health problems that put them at risk of being institutionalized.

Language in HB-1 would have required DHH to submit a report providing details of the programs structure, service delivery provisions, population served, and estimated costs for budget committee review at least 30 days prior to awarding a contract.

The administration is presently evaluating a dozen private companies that have submitted proposals to establish networks of health-care providers, including physicians and hospitals with which Medicaid recipients would enroll in an effort to cut costs and better coordinate health care. Ten of those companies are insurance companies.

Jindal’s “coordinated care networks” would use state revenue to pay private insurance companies and other private entities to provide the medical needs for two-thirds of the state’s 1.2 million Medicaid recipients.

Mount, chairperson of the Senate Health Committee, said she was disappointed in the governor’s veto.

“This (Jindal’s privatization) is a significant change in the way we are offering health care,” she said, adding that the legislature should be an “active and engaged” partner to ensure that health care outcomes are both improved and cost-effective.

Jindal also cited “contingencies” in vetoing the proposals but legislators earlier this year complained that Jindal himself included “contingencies,” in his original budget proposal, including the proposed sale of three state prisons that would have required legislative approval before the funds could be appropriated.

Rep. Eddie Lambert (R-Prairieville) said Jindal apparently had a different perspective on contingencies when considering vetoes as opposed to drafting his budget.

“I’m somewhat surprised he would veto those things because the more oversight you have in government, the better taxpayer interests are going to be served,” said Lambert, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The governor is not too keen on legislative oversight,” said Sen. Lydia Jackson (D-Shreveport), who said she has long been a proponent of the idea that the Legislature should exercise more independence in budgeting. She is vice chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee. “Maybe these vetoes will be the kick in the pants for us to exert ourselves a little more,” she said.

Not only did SB-207 receive unanimous support in both the Senate and House, it also was endorsed by the Louisiana Hospital Association, the Louisiana State Medical society, and the New Orleans Metropolitan Hospital Council.

Jindal, in his veto message, said Mount’s bill “terminates Louisiana’s Medicaid reform initiative, Coordinated Care Networks, as well as the Community Care Program on Dec. 31, 2014.

“Coordinated Care Networks will provide a medical home for 800,000 Medicaid recipients, providing better access to primary and preventative care, improved health outcomes, with an anticipated savings of $24 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $135.9 million in state fiscal year 2013.

“Inserting a termination date for this important reform and preventing Louisiana from improving the performance of outcomes in our current Medicaid system sends the wrong message, that we are incapable of providing better care to our people, and we can do no better than our ranking of 49th in the nation for health outcomes. I am not content with the outcomes of our current Medicaid program and am committed to reforming our Louisiana health care system.”

Now that’s making a case for being more equal than others.

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BATON ROUGE (CNS)—Among the 16 bills vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal thus far was one that must have raised a few eyebrows, especially with four members of the Louisiana House of Representatives.

HB-533 by Rep. Richard Gallot (D-Ruston) would have made various, mostly cosmetic changes to the election code, including one that Jindal said he found “problematic.”

“House Bill No. 533, provides that a candidate who is neither a Republican nor a Democrat and who does not belong to any other unrecognized party shall be listed as ‘Independent’ on an election ballot,” Jindal wrote in his veto message.

Gallot said some Republicans are fearful of right-wing conservatives campaigning as being “more conservative than they are” and that many unaffiliated voters and candidates believe it unfair that they can only be called “No Party.”

“Nonaffiliated voters are the fastest-growing segment of registered voters,” Gallot said. To ignore the fact that some people are fed up with all the parties is doing them a disservice,” he said.

Three members of the House are listed on the state legislative web page as Independents: Jerome Richard of Thibodaux, Joel C. Robideaux of Lafayette, and Ernest Wooten of Belle Chasse. Additionally, Rep. Michael Jackson of Baton Rouge now may have to change his plans to change his registration from Democrat to Independent.

Jindal said in his veto message that state law stipulates that candidates who do not belong to any unrecognized party shall be listed as “No Party.”

He said that state statute says, in part, “No political party shall be recognized in this state which declares its name solely to be ‘Independent’ or ‘The Independent Party.’”

Therefore, the governor said, that provision in Gallot’s bill was “in conflict with current law.”

That may leave some voters wondering what the law says about a candidate choosing his first name from a network television sitcom and running for governor under that nom de plume.

Piyush Jindal selected his Americanized first name of Bobby from the television show The Brady Bunch and has run for office under that alias–twice for Congress and twice for governor, winning all but his first run for governor.

If he were to apply the same logic to his own candidacy as he did to Gallot’s bill, then shouldn’t he run as Piyush and not Bobby?

Equally curious and more than a little inconsistent was Jindal’s veto of SB-21 by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) that would have exempted from state sales taxes water, mineral water, carbonated water and flavored water sold in containers.

Jindal said the exemption would result in state revenue losses of $8.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year and a total state revenue loss of $52.7 million over the next five years.

“I am concerned this could cause our budget for the upcoming year to be out of balance,” he said. “It is important that we protect scarce resources for priorities like healthcare and higher education.”

The veto of a tax break is unusual enough, given Jindal’s propensity to offer tax incentives whenever and wherever possible. Of course, he prefers giving those breaks to political allies of the corporate stripe as opposed to individuals.

Riser was somewhat confused by the governor’s actions. “Most people don’t realize there are zero taxes on soft drinks, but yet we tax water,” he said.

“Water delivered to the home through pipes is already exempt from sales tax,” Jindal said.

But still, as noted earlier, the veto was curious and inconsistent. On June 12, Jindal vetoed a renewal of a 4-cent cigarette tax that would have meant $12 million additional to the state in direct tax revenue, plus another $36 million in federal Medicaid revenue. Annually.

That’s $48 million per year the state stood to lose because of Jindal’s bull-headedness over his promise not to impose “tax increases.” The only problem with that is it wasn’t a “tax increase,” it was a tax renewal. College tuition increases? Now, that’s a tax increase. But apparently he’s okay with making it even more difficult to afford a college education.

And that $48 million per year is almost six times the $8.3 million he was so concerned about losing to the tax exemption on the sale of water. He said the water tax exemption would have cost the state $52.7 million over five years. Try a five-year loss of $240 million over failure to renew the cigarette tax.

And how was the cigarette tax revenue to have been used? Healthcare. And what was his expressed concern over the tax exemption on the sale of water? “It is important that we protect scarce resources for priorities like healthcare and higher education.” His words, not ours.

At least the House, while not possessing the stones to override his cigarette tax veto, did include the tax renewal as an amendment to the TOPS bill that will be put to voters this fall in the form of a Constitutional amendment.

And, as he hits the campaign trail in the weeks leading up to October’s election, he can truthfully and oh-so-sincerely tell voters that it was not he who opted to attach that 4-cent tax to the TOPS bill.

After all, it apparently is all about saving face.

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“This veto is not the fruit of wise leadership. There’s a time for politics and a time for principle. This time, principle trumps politics. Tobacco, if not already legal, would be an illegal drug. It is the worst legal substance human beings can place inside their bodies. Don’t be on record today as supporting its use.”

Rep. Hollis Downs (R-Ruston), urging fellow House members to override Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of the 4-cent cigarette tax renewal. The override effort fell 12 votes short.

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The administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to cloak itself in a veil of secrecy despite the governor’s spurious boasts of having the most transparent administration in America.

His actions fly in the face of his bogus claims of accountability and openness.

After his ridiculous and shameless exhibition of releasing his birth certificate—as if it mattered or more significantly, as if anyone cared—one would think he’d be eager to comply with a simple request to divulge his federal income tax returns.

One would think wrong.

One would think that after the public relations disaster that occurred at the confirmation hearings of his secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, he would be equally eager to comply with a public records request as to the identity of the financial analyst selected to conduct an assessment of the Office of Group Benefits.

Again, one would think wrong.

LouisianaVoice made both requests—in vain, it turns out….again.

Not that we’re surprised; this administration doesn’t even respond to legislative committees. Why should we be any different?

We thought it would great to let all those north Louisiana Protestant churches that Jindal loves to visit know how well the governor backs up the talk with the walk. In other words, does he back his professed belief with support of his church? That information would be contained in his federal tax return, so we made the request.

It wasn’t an original idea. The San Antonio Express recently published an interesting story about Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his religious commitment. Perry, the story said, earned almost $2.7 million from 2000, when he became governor, through 2009.

Any good Baptist will tell you that you should to tithe 10 percent. Perry’s donations to churches and religious organizations totaled $14,243—one-half of one percent, or one-twentieth of the minimum recommended dosage.

Surely Jindal would not be so crass. Certainly, he would reveal what a generous giver he is. After all, he appears to like nothing better than jumping in a state police helicopter and hopping up north to visit a church in say, Shongaloo, Haughton, or Mansfield.

So, we asked.

The response, from Elizabeth B. Murrill, deputy executive counsel to the governor, was short and sweet:

“We are in receipt of your public records request for copies of Governor Jindal’s federal income tax returns for the years 2003 through 2010. These documents are not public record.”

We’ve been writing for some time now about Jindal’s efforts to privatize the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). After negotiations with Goldman Sachs fell through pursuant to a request for proposals (RFP) for a financial analyst to conduct an assessment of OGB, the Division of Administration (DOA) promptly issued a second RFP.

The deadline for the submission of proposals on the second RFP was June 6 with the “probable” date for naming of the financial analyst being June 15.

LouisianaVoice learned that on June 6, a representative or representatives of DOA appeared at OGB and retrieved the proposals, reportedly from three companies, including Goldman Sachs.

June 15 came and went, so we called DOA Chief of Staff Dirk Thibodeaux and his answer was decidedly curt. “If you read the RFP, you saw that June 15 was a tentative date,” he said.

“Well, since today is June 15, has there been a tentative decision?” we asked.

“No.”

So, we waited a few more days and asked again—this time as a formal public records request.

The response was clear indication that DOA has dug in its heels:

“In accordance with R.S. 44:1, et seq., this letter acknowledges our receipt of your correspondence dated June 15, 2011, where you have requested information regarding ‘the selection of the financial analyst chosen pursuant to the RFP…on behalf of the Office of Group Benefits.’

“Having reviewed your request, we are able to inform you that the Division does not possess the requested records. Furthermore, no such record exists.”

By now, it’s clear that DOA is determined to conceal public information, even to the point of lying, so we fired off another email:

“We are getting quite weary of the Division of Administration’s policy of dodging legitimate questions to which the public has a full and complete right to know the answers. Now you are beginning to play with semantics. You have taken the word ‘records’ and used it as the basis on which to deny our requests.

“So, now we will try a different approach.

“We are aware that on the day the proposals were due at the Office of Group Benefits by close of business on June 6, 2011. We are also aware that on that date, a representative or representatives of the Division of Administration appeared at OGB and took possession of the proposals. Further, we are aware that the ‘probable’ date for the naming of the financial analyst was June 15, 2011.

“You have chosen to split hairs by seizing on the terminology of ‘public records,’ denying there were any ‘records’ that would be responsive to my request. Accordingly, we are now making the same request but applying that request to ‘public business’ as defined in the applicable section of the law below.”

“The Louisiana Open Meeting Law under R.S. 42:4.1 through 10 provides the methods by which public meetings are conducted. The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states, ‘it is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”

“We are all aware that you (a) have the proposals and that you are (b) withholding information on ‘the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.’ The citizens of Louisiana are legally and morally entitled to know what our government is doing. Gov. Jindal has repeatedly boasted of his ‘open and accountable’ and ‘transparent’ administration.

“We have played games long enough. We want this information and we want it in a timely fashion.”

We’re betting that this “open, transparent, and accountable” administration will ignore our request and continue to withhold information that you, the voting public, are legally and morally entitled to know.

We’re pretty sure of this because when the administration did comply with a routine request for innocuous records recently, we were instructed to make an appointment with one Kara Allen of DOA to arrange to pick up the documents. We did and she was kind enough to give us an appointment for 1:00 p.m. the next day.

When we showed up at the guard desk of the Claiborne Building, the guard called up to the seventh floor. Instead of allowing us into the DOA offices, a student worker was sent downstairs to the guard station with the documents.

We first thought that perhaps we must be carriers of some dreaded disease. But now we know that the disease exists in the administration itself and that its victims fear that a little sunshine may be lethal.

Whether the administration is responsive or not, we will have made our point.

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