Sunday, December 2, 2012

I Will Not Vote This Saturday

The race for the Third Congressional District seat is the only item on the ballot at the Lafayette precinct where I vote.

I will not vote this Saturday.

Voting for Jeff Landry was never an option. Landry's a jerk who has shown the same respect for the President that he'd show any black man he met on the street.

Charles Boustany eliminated himself as an option by the cynical and dishonest campaign that he has run.

First, I don't believe there is any significant difference between the voting records of Landry and Boustany — despite the millions of dollars they've spent trying to convince us that there is. At the end of the day, both Boustany and Landry vote in lockstep with the House Republican leadership against President Obama's policies. If he's for it, they're against it.

Boustany, though, has been counting on Democratic votes to win re-election all along. If it was a Republican primary, Boustany would likely suffer the fate of other 'establishment' Republicans who were challenged by Tea Party types and be rejected by the members of his own party.

Instead, Boustany and his handlers have run a cynical campaign that attacks the President and his policies (dishonestly on one issue) while trying to woo the votes of Obama supporters, particularly those in the African American community.

They have apparently decided that they must attack the President to hold a respectable portion of the Republican base; yet, they still work to woo enough Democratic votes by capitalizing on his family's reputation in the community and funding campaign operations of certain supposedly Democratic interest groups.

The Boustany and Obama signs outside the so-called United Ballot operation during the primary was the purest distillation of the Boustany campaign's cynicism.

This week, my household got another mailer from Boustany in which he lies about the President and then crows about his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

The lie is Boustany's assertion President Obama's bias against the oil and gas industry. The President did impose a moratorium on deep water drilling during the middle of the worst oil spill in U.S. history and during hurricane season. The BP well blew oil into the Gulf of Mexico for more than 80 days. The moratorium was the subject of an intense propaganda campaign, but the facts are that there were very few jobs lost due to the moratorium. The $100 million fund created by BP and managed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to help workers affected by the moratorium paid fewer than 1,000 claims.

The U.S. is experiencing an oil and gas production boom under the Obama administration. Charles Boustany cannot bring himself to admit to this fact because it is considered heresy among Louisiana Republicans.

Boustany also proudly points to the his many votes against Obamacare. What Boustany is saying is that he is proud to oppose this law that is good for the people of his state and his district: provides tax credits to more than 10,000 small businesses in his district to help them offer health insurance benefits to their workers; that stripped insurance companies of the ability to take away your coverage in the event of an adverse diagnosis; that eliminated the pre-existing condition exclusion for children (and will eliminate it for adults in 2014); that allows children up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance policies; is closing the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole; and will offer the opportunity for about 75% of the working age adults in this state who do not currently have health insurance to get that coverage through either the Medicaid exchange or health insurance exchange programs that will become operational in 2014.

These positions are not different than Jeff Landry's. But, Jeff Landry is not seeking — and depending on — the votes of Democrats to win election.

I will not reward Mr. Boustany's cynicism by essentially ignoring his attacks on President Obama but giving him my vote.

I'm not voting Saturday. I'm not helping Charles Boustany's cynical game succeed.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rep. Kirk Talbot's HB-969 — Redefining Fiscal Recklessness

Louisiana celebrates it's bicentennial this year and — though our state has a long and colorful history of shenanigans — one would be hard pressed to find a more reckless piece of legislation than HB-969 (PDF) by Rep. Kirk Talbot of Jefferson Parish.

The bill is part of the great Jindal public education funding raid that includes grabbing public tax dollars and diverting them into the coffers of private schools in the form of vouchers.

HB-969 is more brazen by an order of magnitude. According to the Legislature's digest of the bill (PDF), Talbot's bill clears the way for something called Tuition Scholarship Organizations (TSOs) to emerge in Louisiana. These are, according to the digest, "501(c)(3) tax exempt organization which donates no less than 95% of the monies from donations for scholarships to students for attendance at a qualified nonpublic school of their parent's choice."

It's a pretty attractive set up on it's face. Anyone interested in promoting private education in Louisiana will be able to make a fully tax deductible contribution to the TSO of its choice. It's a two-fer — a feel-good, federally tax-exempt activity.

Doubling Their Money!

But, Talbot's bill goes WAY beyond that. It makes the State of Louisiana a full partner in the enterprise. Yes, the federal tax deduction stands, but HB-969 requires the state to provide those donors a rebate in the full amount of their donation! Not a tax credit or anything like that. A rebate.

The bill requires the Department of Revenue to cut checks to those donors in the amount equal to that which they donated to the TSO or TSOs. There appears to be no limit on the number of TSOs to which an individual or company can contribute; nor is there any cap on the amount of money the State of Louisiana will have to pay back.

The bill allows contributors to TSOs to double their money in one fell swoop, courtesy of Louisiana taxpayers. First, since they are contributing to a 501(c)(3), TSO donors get to deduct the full amount of their donation from their federal tax return. Then, the Louisiana Department of Revenue will cut them a check for the full amount they donated to the TSO as a token of the state's appreciation.

If there's a sweeter deal than that to be found anywhere, it's in some genetically modified sugar product.

The bill roared through the House in the early days of the current session in the wake of the Jindal voucher blitzkrieg.

Take Off Your Cap!

By the time it reached the Senate, a recognition of the potential impact of the bill raised eyebrows in that chamber. Senator Barrow Peacock of Bossier City introduced an amendment there that would have imposed a $300 million capped to total state obligation on the rebates in any fiscal year. That amendment passed the Senate by a single vote.

Peacock's amendment forced the bill to go back to the House for approval. The Senate cap was rejected and the bill headed to a conference committee. The bill that emerged from the conference committee no longer had a cap.

On Tuesday, April 24, the Senate voted 32-7 to approve HB-969 without the cap on rebates. The House voted 65-36 (with four absent) to approve the bill on the same day. It now awaits Governor Jindal's signature to become law.

Madness!

The lunacy of opening what amounts to an unlimited draw on state finances to support private education (and feather the nests of the wealthy) was driven home by another event on the same day the bill won approval in both houses.

The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) is charged with monitoring state revenue and expenditures to ensure that the constitutional mandate that state budgets finish each fiscal year in balance is observed. On the 24th, the REC concluded that state revenues are not meeting projections in the current fiscal year and it appears that there will be a new hole in the state budget in excess of $200 million.

So, on the day that this new budget shortfall is announced, large majorities in both houses of the Legislature voted to create an unlimited draw on state revenue in the form of HB-969. Representative Katrina Jackson of Monroe, who did not vote on final passage of HB-969, laid out the problem the bill (soon to be law) presents with out a cap. There is no wiggle room in the language of the bill. In the event of future mid-year budget shortfalls, the state will have to cut education and health care in order to meet its obligations to those contributing to TSOs. (See video below for more.)

Follow the LLCs

Anyone with a working knowledge of Louisiana campaign finance recognizes the immense danger HB-969 poses to the state's finances. Consider the role of Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) in Louisiana political campaigns. As is seen in every state election cycle, LLCs offer wealthy individuals multiple opportunities to contribute the maximum allowable contribution to candidates. An individual with, say, 20 LLCs could make 20 $5,000 contributions to a candidate for statewide office. That's $100,000 from one person, all done within full compliance with Louisiana campaign finance law (you know, 'The Gold Standard').

Looking at the provisions of HB-969, there is nothing in the bill to prevent a person controlling multiple LLCs from making multiple contributions to TSOs. The 'double your money' incentive at the heart of the rebate plan will surely catch the eye of CPAs and financial advisors across the state (thankfully, the rebates are restricted to people who file a Louisiana income tax return).

Where will the money for the rebates come from? From the General Fund of the State of Louisiana. That means the rebates will compete with funding for essential government services, particularly in times of revenue shortfalls like we've had in just about every year of the Jindal tenure. Hospital funding will be cut, clinics closed, teachers let go, and higher education cut in order to meet the state's obligation to these high rollers — er, uh, donors.

At the end of the day, HB-969 is not about education. It is about enabling raids on public resources by the wealthiest individuals in the state that will deprive the state's people and its institutions of the funds needed to provide essential services.

All of this is being done in the broad light of day under the supervision and direction of an administration that has repeatedly proven itself incapable of managing the state's finances.

If there has ever been a more cynical and/or reckless piece of legislation enacted here, I don't think we'd be celebrating our bicentennial this year.


Brown Bag Lunch #5: Louisiana's Budget — Giving It All Away

Brown Bag Lunch #5 centered on Louisiana's recurring budget problems. Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project and Representative Katrina Jackson of Monroe were the speakers. Both made the case that the state's budget problems are self-inflicted wounds that are the result of run-away tax expenditure policy.

Mr. Moller maintains that the policy dates back to the initial attempts to undo the impact of the voter-approved Stelly Plan. Rep. Jackson says that at least one-third of the state's budget problems can be traced directly to tax expenditure policies initiated by the Jindal administration. She also makes the case that it is irresponsible to be making cuts in essential state services without knowing the true cost of the state's tax expenditure program — that is, those programs through which the state waives and exempts taxes, or rebates tax dollars to companies and individuals.

In the first video from the event, Mr. Moller makes the basic case that the seemingly endless string of budget shortfalls are problems governor and lawmakers created themselves.


In the second segment of his talk, Mr. Moller says that the state's budget problems will get worse before they get better and that a combination of external and internal forces might force, at the very least, a cost-benefit analysis of the 464 tax exemptions the state has on its books. Those exemptions cost state government $4.8 Billion every year.



Representative Katrina Jackson is the author of HB-1104 which would require that agencies and departments administering state tax breaks, incentives, exemptions, and rebates, provide annual reports on the fiscal and economic impact of those tax expenditures. She said her bill brings transparency and accountability to an area of the state budget where none currently exists.



Representative Jackson said the purpose of HB-1104 is to bring the same kind of transparency and fiscal responsibility to tax expenditures as is applied to line items in the state budget. She agrees with the Louisiana Department of Revenue and the Legislative Auditor that tax expenditures are every bit as real expenditures of state dollars as are line items. There needs to be the same level of accountability applied to those expenditures. They must deliver a return to the state on those investments.



On Tuesday, the Revenue Estimating Conference announced that the state will experience another revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year that ends on June 30. The hole is estimated to be just under $300 million. Cuts in programs will have to be enacted in order for the Governor and Legislature to comply with their constitutional mandate to keep the budget in balance.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Brown Bag Lunch #4: ALEC & Louisiana

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a link featured on the front page of the Louisiana Legislature's website. It's been there so long that the image is not even the current logo of the organization.

ALEC's influence on Louisiana and other state legislatures has soared into the national spotlight in recent weeks, as evidence of a significant number of ALEC-written bills becoming law across the country have garnered public attention.

The April 12 Brown Bag Lunch #4 focused on ALEC's role in Louisiana. Tom Aswell of Louisianavoice.com and consultant and political observer Don Whittinghill spoke at the event. Both outlined the extensive but mostly hidden influence the organization has had and is having in the current legislative session.

First, Tom Aswell tracked the money from Governor Jindal and ALEC to members of the House and Senate retirement committees in this segment of his presentation.



Next, Aswell discusses his recent findings indicating that members of the Louisiana Legislature might have double dipped on expense reimbursements resulting from their attendance at the 2011 ALEC conference in New Orleans.



Here's Don Whittingthill's talk on the ALEC connection to the changes in public education bring pushed by the Jindal Administration. Mr. Whittinghill focuses on the two companies involved in the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy and their ties to ALEC.

Brown Bag Lunch #3: People, Prisons & Profits

LAJUICE (Louisianians Against Jindal's Unjust Intentionally Created Emergency) held its third Brown Bag Lunch on the topic of prison privatization. This event was held on Wednesday, April 4.

Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the United States. Mandatory sentencing laws have worsened the problem by taking power away from judges to make the punishment fit the crime — and the perpetrator. As a result, most of the growth in our prison population is from non-violent crimes and most of those involve the possession, use or sale of drugs.

Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow" explains the connection between the national explosion of the number of people in prison and the war on drugs. The same forces are at work in Louisiana.

Louisiana House members James Armes of Leesville and Robert Johnson of Marksville looked at the prison privatization issue. Dr. Joe Connelly, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge looked at privatization in the context of mass incarceration.

Representative James Armes of Leesville declared privatization a failure:



Representative Robert Johnson of Marksville said privatization is an admission of failure on the part of elected officials.



Dr. Joe Connelly, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, moved beyond the political to the moral and ethical implications of mass incarceration in Louisiana, the state with the highest rates of incarceration in the country.

Brown Bag Lunch #2: The Governor, the Legislature & Your Retirement

LAJUICE (Louisianians Against Jindal's Unjust Intentionally Created Emergency) and friends have been hosting a series of Brown Bag Lunches in Capitol Park in Baton Rouge during the current session of the Louisiana Legislature.

Each week, we have a few speakers come in and address aspects of public policy issues up for consideration during this session.

The second Brown Bag Lunch (March 23) focused on the Jindal administration's proposed changes in the state employee retirement system. Speakers for the event were Fran Jobert, executive director of the Retired State Employees Association of Louisiana. Here are video excerpts of their presentations.

Here's Frank Jobert discussing HB-51 and SB-53:



Lafayette attorney Lester Gauthier discusses legal and constitutional ramifications of the proposed changes in the state employee retirement system.



Gauthier concluded his presentation with a parable about the proposed changes:

Friday, April 6, 2012

LOGA's dishonest campaign

 The Lafayette Daily Advertiser ran this op-ed on page 4B of their March 29, 2012, print edition.

Objective Analysis of Legacy Lawsuits Still Lacking
 
By Mike Stagg

Somewhere there is an objective analysis of the economic impact of the environmental damage oil companies have inflicted on Louisiana as well as an assessment of what the cost of cleaning up that mess has had on the industry.

However, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) has not offered one.

LOGA recently cited what it called independent research to back its claim that holding oil and gas companies responsible for environmental damage inflicted during exploration and production operations is depressing Louisiana’s energy sector.

The Impact of Legacy Lawsuits” by Dr. David Dismukes, is little more than LOGA propaganda masquerading as academic analysis.

Dismukes, associate director of LSU Center for Energy Studies, claimed that legacy lawsuits cost the state billions in lost drilling investments over the past eight years. Dismukes based part of his work on a seven-year-old poll of oil and gas industry leaders on legacy lawsuits that LOGA commissioned.

The LSU CES Advisory Council is dominated by the energy industry and lobbyists like LOGA’s Don Briggs. These close ties make the objectivity of Dismukes’ work for LOGA suspect.

Dismukes' estimates on the impact of the deep water drilling moratorium raise more flags.

Dismukes' June 2010 report “Deepwater Moratorium: Overview of Impacts for Louisiana" was at the core of the anti-moratorium fear campaign that LOGA led. He forecast calamity in Lafayette.

Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA) later had to explain why their moratorium forecast proved so wrong. LEDA’s forecast was based on Dismukes’ work.

Dismukes was wrong about the moratorium. His work on the impact of legacy lawsuits lacks objectivity. Still, LOGA uses Dismukes' flawed work to fuel a disinformation campaign.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Claiming Obama Care

I had the opportunity last night (March 15) to give a presentation to the LSU College Democrats as part of their "The Truth About ..." series.

The topic of the discussion was health care reform — The Affordable Care Act (ACA), officially; "Obama Care" according to many of the law's critics.

I believe critics of this law will regret the day that they decided to start referring to ACA as Obama Care as the reality of the law and its provisions set it. It is not anything like the hysterical claims of the opponents have alleged. It does, in fact, fall right in the great American tradition of incremental approaches to fixing the American model of health care, which is employment based health insurance coverage.

ACA is a last ditched effort to save the system from its excesses. This presentation helps explain why.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Presentations from Cecilia Education Issues Forum

Speakers who took part in the Education Issues Forum at Cecilia High School on Sunday have made their presentations available for download.

Click here to download the PDF version of the presentation delivered by Louisiana Retired Teachers Association's Graig Luscombe.

To download the PDF version of the presentation by Bambi Polotzola of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, click here.

Bryan Alleman provided great information regarding issues and concerns, as well as how to engage legislators on education issues in the session. You can download the PDF of his presentation by clicking here.

This summary includes links to resources that show the effectiveness (or lack of) for educational reforms, as well has how to stay on top of developments at the session.

NEWER! Here is the presentation by Parks Primary Principal Bonnie Thibodeaux on the Compass teacher evaluation system and its shortcomings. Ms. Thibodeaux's school is recognized as an excellent school by the State of Louisiana under its current grading system.
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