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23.10.14

Kennedy demagoguery raises questions for his future



Readers interested in Louisiana politics got another reminder recently of the maddening inconsistency of state Treasurer John Kennedy’s thinking, and why, should he decide to pursue the matter, any attempt he makes to be elected governor in 2015 should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.



Sometimes on issues he hits the nail square on the head, as he did recently concerning a hastily-considered law that had the effect of expanding substantially state retirement benefits for two individuals. He correctly understood that the law passed unconstitutionally and that legal action should be taken to have the courts invalidate it. Further, he continually agitated for that until, in effect, that was the outcome.



But on other issues at times he goes into full demagoguery mode that shreds facts bound by illogical inferences. He displayed that recently in an opinion piece concerning the changes coming in the state’s employee and retiree (and for some school employees) health benefits. Generally, while some will see these lowered, many clients will see higher insurance costs when taking all of premiums, co-payments, and deductibles into account as a result of those changes.

22.10.14

Will PSC race signal end of liberal populism in LA?


Human nature dictates that we often don’t recognize qualitative change at its very beginning, but only when observing the obviousness of it as it near completion. Depending on outcome, the Public Service Commission District 5 contest, with north Louisiana as its entire battlefield, could serve as the latter.



That features as its incumbent the last of Louisiana’s significant populists, Democrat Foster Campbell. He started his political career during the second gubernatorial administration of Prisoner #03128-095, who currently is running for Congress under his given name Edwin Edwards, with election to the state Senate. While entirely different in personal comportment, one thing they do share is Manichean political rhetoric, blaming the state’s problems on the alleged ability of certain bogeymen to get too much power and wealth at the expense of the larger public, necessitating redistributive policy to right the reputed wrong.



In 2002, he successfully made the natural move to the PSC, where he could be one of five regulators of an industry he regularly singled out as a villain, oil insofar as pipeline regulation. It also gave him an opportunity to rail against other regulated industries such as utilities, often carping that they were allowed too much profit at the expense of ratepayers and taxpayers (even as roughly half of his political contributions since 2009 have come from regulated industries and interested parties). At the same time, he has championed certain special interests in decisions that actually cost ratepayers and taxpayers more, such as in favoring solar energy and energy efficiency concerns.

21.10.14

Caddo/Bossier voters need to reject new taxes

Voters on both Caddo and Bossier Parishes, but especially the latter, face some Trojan Horse proposals that likely will raise their taxes come late this year and early next year if they approve these.



In both parishes, a new 2 percent tax would be levied on hotel rooms and camping sites, with proceeds going to the Shreveport-Bossier Conventions and Tourist Bureau’s Sports Commission to attract sports events, the Independence Bowl Foundation for it to beef up payouts for the bowl game and to get Division I schools to play neutral site games at Independence Stadium, and essentially to subsidize Shreveport Regional Airport so that it can pay carriers to provide added service. It is estimated it would bring in over $2 million a year.



As usual, supporters argue this only can bring benefits to the area because “others” will be paying the extra fee, not area residents. And, just as typically, this ignores that the added cost to lodging will discourage. So maybe bribing events, teams, and airlines might get more of them to come to the area – only then to jack up lodging costs for teams, fans, and other area visitors that drives up their lodging costs, which serves as a disincentive to want to come. There’s no evidence to suggest that the cost of lost jobs and negative spillover effects on local businesses by an artificial increase in lodging prices will be less than any presumed gains from increased visitation on the tax coffers of local governments.

20.10.14

Policy-makers roll dice on factoring in bonus bucks



So the state lost track of around $320 million starting in 2002, and it’s out there available to be spent. Whether that means the state won’t need to reduce services over the next few months is another matter.



By Aug. 15, the state knows its funds inflows and outflows from the previous fiscal year ending Jun. 30, and reports these results in early October. Part of the revenue side of the picture is money taken from dedicated funds transferred to another agency for use and self-generated monies by agencies assigned to specified uses. But apparently since 2002 if any excesses existed after transfers or generation, unused for their intended purposes, they lay fallow. Now the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration wishes to put them to work, especially as without those leftovers fiscal year 2014 resulted in about $141.5 million of outflows over inflows.



Constitutionally, after Oct. 15 the administration reports to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on the status of the previous year’s actual figures. If a deficit is declared and the JLCB concurs, this allows the governor to impose mid-year budget cuts to make up the previous year’s difference. It’s something policy-makers rather would avoid, which has seen since 2008 $1.122 billion in such cuts, with FY 2014 being the first since then not to have any.

19.10.14

After court confirmation, take next education reform step

As expected, the Louisiana Supreme Court flushed home the slam dunk on the state’s 2012 revolutionary education reforms, and having resolved that leads to the next question of how to progress further in improving education in the state.



Last week, the Court essentially laughed away a challenge to the law. Its reforms addressed a number of different facets about education, and the suit was based upon the very fact of diversity in the law. Having already warned an obstinate lower court judge that the law should not be taken to violate the single object constitutional standard for legislation, only to have him stubbornly insist that it did, the Court conclusively decided otherwise unanimously. The legal tactic by the plaintiffs, a motley collection of American Federation of Teachers state and local units, was a cover to try to cancel policy they didn’t like, most controversially for them making teacher tenure more difficult to attain and basing that decision for about 35 percent of all teachers on a value-added measure anchored on standardized testing.



In the short term, this changes nothing. Given the wrenching changes from implementation of and the debate ongoing about the Common Core State Standards, the use of a VAM, defined as changes in student scores from one year to another on standardized tests, as an input into tenure and retention decisions was delayed for the last and this school year. Even as CCSS is expected to increase the profile of standardized testing and expand it to be able to include more teachers (assuming state policy-makers don’t pull the plug on it, as some will attempt next year), education leaders, including Louisiana’s, are wondering whether testing needs to be more selectively applied.

16.10.14

Democrats start negative onslaught against Cassidy

Likely dispirited from a debate that did nothing to change the race’s dynamics, and with panic rising after more and intense polling confirmation that Sen. Mary Landrieu’s campaign was on the ropes, expect now that Louisiana Democrats will engage in the most terrific mudslinging ever seen in the state in order to stop Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy from poaching her current seat.



With several recent polls all showing Cassidy having a heads-up lead, some beyond a poll’s margin of error, Democrats prayerfully hoped Cassidy would make some extremely controversial utterance in the course of the first of two candidate debates, held previously this week. He didn’t, perhaps because of the mundane mien of the gastroenterologist that some find a liability.



Which, in the reduced state Democrats find themselves in, suddenly has become an attack line. According to (the only Louisiana) Democrat Rep. Cedric Richmond, who nobody ever could mistake for being a medical doctor or even reasonably intelligent when making remarks like this, Cassidy is “weird,” and lacking the ability to say anything of substance about Cassidy falls back to playing the race card in the inane accusation that Cassidy’s campaign is all about “a picture of a black man [Pres. Barack Obama] and a white woman [Landrieu] up there in Louisiana to stoke fear and all the worst feelings in people.”

14.10.14

Inconsequential debate makes Cassidy its "winner"



The public television 2014 Senate election debate for Louisiana has come and gone, which served to reinforce existing support for the two major and one mid-major candidates, and really contributed nothing else.



Let’s face it, on the whole “debates” (they aren’t really, more like forums where candidates try to answer as much as possible in the way the want to as much as possible regardless of the questions with little depth given to these) only cause any significant shifts in support that last any length of time when candidates say something controversial, if not stupid. Nothing of the sort happened; when the most outlandish thing said, by the Republican major candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy (a medical doctor) that he favored letting people hoot up for medical reasons while his mid-major GOP compatriot Rob Maness and the major Democrat involved incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu refused to join him, you know the needle won’t move as a result of this.



Little in the way of new details emerged in terms of policy preferences. Cassidy and Maness differed on little, while Landrieu skittishly tried to sidestep articulating any specific position on most of these items by both spinning general platitudes and trying to meld answers into touting experience. When asked for specifics, she almost imperceptibly glided to broad generalities. For his part, Cassidy used these to draw contrasts with Landrieu along the lines of tying unpopular policies she supports and the slightly-more-popular-than-Ebola-incinerated-waste Pres. Barack Obama around her neck, while Maness played up what few differences he had with Cassidy while noting the more numerous of those with Landrieu.

Bad news possibly good news for McAllister reelection


In Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District contest, a new poll shows it’s still a matter of pushmi-pullyu for Democrats relative to strategy, while for Republicans too many cooks threaten to spoil the broth – leaving the object of the bad news from this week perhaps better off as a result.



An Alabama-based group conducted this effort and in a sense confirmed the common wisdom that the only Democrat and black in the race in a district the registration of which is almost half Democrat and one-third black, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, leads the way with 19 percent, and embattled incumbent Republican Rep. Vance McAllister comes in second at 17 percent, and would hold down runoff spots. Apparently moving up and into third with 13 percent is salesman Zach Dasher, related to the Duck Commander family which had supported McAllister in his initial special election bid for the office but who now declare the incumbent anathema, while leader of the previous independent poll Dr. Ralph Abraham seemingly has slumped into fourth at 11 percent.



Mayo’s singular status and McAllister’s incumbency would make sensible that they lead, but with nobody getting endorsement of even a fifth of the sample shows the contest remains wide open. Most notably, McAllister continues to fall, now down ten points from the first such poll, consistent with the idea that the later the campaign proceeds, the less advantageous his default incumbent status becomes as voters learn more about the other options. That other candidates in the contest have not cracked double-digits shows they likely are to be left in the dust, although with 21 percent of the sample still undecided it’s not impossible one could emerge.

13.10.14

Even for coast, LA processing tax unneeded, bad idea

The idea of a processing tax on energy production in Louisiana is not new. Nor is its endorsement by one who sees energy producers as piƱatas waiting to be busted anything new. What’s new is when a usually-sensible tax-cutting advocate adds support to an inferior idea that will siphon out of Louisianans' wallets hundreds of millions of dollars for no good reason.



The leftist involved here is author John Barry, late of one of the state’s two regional flood protection authorities and prime instigator of a jackpot justice suit against nearly 100 companies that have produced petroleum over the decades around the state’s coast. He envisions billions of dollars sliced from them to be put towards coastal restoration.



On that matter he rightly is chastised by columnist Quin Hillyer, who lends the Baton Rouge Advocate his considerable writing and critical thinking talents, now housed at perhaps the country’s premier opinion journal National Review, on an episodic basis. But in an intellectual lapse, he joins Barry in promoting the processing tax idea, a revived Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy that would tax each barrel of oil or cubic foot of gas that comes into Louisiana’s processing pipeline from the coastal area, whether extracted, transported, or imported.

12.10.14

Decrease budget guessing by requiring modified accrual

Regardless of the explanation of how it got there, the asserted budget surplus for Louisiana to close Fiscal Year 2014 becomes real only through a political process that would benefit from some less ambiguous legal specifications.



Last week, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration declared FY 2014 ended with a surplus of about $178.5 million. But apparently $319 million of that came from an accounting change that caught Treasurer John Kennedy by surprise, leading him to muse whether there was a $141.5 million deficit as computed under some theoretically previous standard.



He hypothesized that discovery of these surplus funds may have come because of a shift of basis of accounting from the modified accrual basis to a cash basis. In essence, that means that balances would be computed by cash inflows and outflows and what was physically on hand, not adjusted for some anticipated, with varying degrees of certainty, receipts and disbursements and disregarding others that would be off the books. That would be unusual for the state to head in that direction because of the 1999 pronouncement of the Government Accounting and Standards Board Statement #34 which said for most things governments should report using the modified accrual basis, so deviation from that in budgeting would complicate reporting, and also for complex organizations like state governments cash basis accounting provides more limited information for decision-making.