The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and his leadership allies in the Louisiana Legislature took a route of convenience regarding a court ruling about the practice of “funds sweeps,” leaving for the future the task of correcting an errant court ruling with no practical impact for the present.
Louisiana has hundreds of funds to which dedicated revenue streams flow – most relatively small and obscure, a few large and almost as obscure. They hold billions of dollars, but some of them collect revenues far in excess of actual spending needs. Although theoretically appropriations could be made for their dedicated purposes, in many instances there is little to no genuine reason for that spending, and certainly other things are of much higher priority, so rather than spent wastefully it piles up.
Therefore, given the choice between letting this money lie idle or using it for important objects, the state may legislate a “funds sweep,” meaning a law is passed that transfers money from these funds to another fund where it can be used for general purposes. It’s a safety valve for the lack of courage of too many legislators that refuse to unlock so many inefficient dedications that steer money to the wrong places and/or takes it from the citizenry in various forms for lack of a good reason in the first place, because instead of having to make choices and live with their political consequences, for political cover to avoid this these politicians claim they can’t do anything about it because funds are “dedicated” and then must launch into the necessary corrective of funds sweeps.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:10
There’s a better way to address the stench of pay-to-play concerning Louisiana’s judiciary, so intended legislation to deal with a campaign finance loophole needs to reform far beyond campaign finance parameters.
One big criticism of the questionable lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East that alleges broken contracts between oil companies and authorities is that the contingency fee arrangement – also questionably granted by Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell’s office – could net the lawyers involved billions of dollars and has attached to it a poison pill feature that would create large costs for the SLPA-E if it withdrew. Then it turns out that the lead attorney hired by Caldwell, a political supporter of his, also hosted a fundraiser for the judge at the very time a related matter is coming to trial in front of her. Wade Shows hosted a fundraiser for District Judge Janice Clark at the end of February.
Shows protests that all he did was host the event and did not give any money. He said he agreed to do it well before the case was assigned (randomly, as is the practice) to Clark. But that changes nothing: in a very high profile case that could net Shows an enormous payday, he acted in a way to bring a potential political benefit to the legal authority that can determine whether he sees this payoff.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:55
To the wider world, it seems like it didn’t take long to draw a response to the entry of a major challenger to his spot. But perhaps it just took time for observers to realize that Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell entered into full campaign mode weeks ago, understanding then that his job was in jeopardy and now looks to take the state on a ride over the next couple of years that accentuates acrimony and divisiveness in order to try to attain reelection.
Having encountered already a number of setbacks questioning his competence and allegiance to special interests, perhaps the biggest challenge among these is just now getting wound up: the allegation that his office allowed an impermissible contingency fee relationship as part of a questionable lawsuit to go forward letting a state agency (where it’s unclear whether this is considered a constituent part of state government or has sufficient independence, such as with a municipality, parish, or school district, not to be considered as such) sue 97 oil companies over actions allegedly taken or not decades ago. Many observers suspect Caldwell has sympathy for this suit not only for ideological reasons, but also because he has a history of trying to expand state government use of contingency fee arrangements that supports his political allies.
The contingency fee issue, and others, were contested in a lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association late last year. This merely turned up the heat, already being applied by state legislators, in arguing the legal impermissibility of Caldwell’s action. Caldwell enlisted a political ally to formulate a response, and were dynamics different, he might have left it at that to let things play out.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 08:30
Perhaps the most promising aspect of the nascent Louisiana Legislative Conservative Coalition is that, for the first time, it can articulate a genuine, principled conservatism in the formation of public policy, which until the 21st century was all but absent among Louisiana policy-makers.
The group (minus the “Legislative” in the name”) early in the year filed paperwork under the Internal Revenue Code section 527 to organize in order to “provide continuity in the adoption of conservative legislation in the State of Louisiana and to promote the economic and cultural advancement of Louisiana through the bipartisan, conservative principles of limited government, free enterprise, individual liberties, and strong traditional families, at all times consistent with the progress of our State and with the well being of the people of Louisiana.” Thirteen Republicans have acknowledged affiliation with the group, with state Rep. Alan Seabaugh being its president.
In remarks about the group, Seabaugh indicated its formation came as a result of ideological confusion among Republicans. A lazy mythology has developed that because majorities in both legislative chambers are from the GOP, that conservative ideas always triumph in legislative action.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 08:55
Tonight the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present its Academy Awards to the filmmaking industry for 2013, giving Louisianans another chance to cogitate on whether the hundreds of millions of dollars the state forgoes annually in motion picture tax credits really is worthwhile.
Two years ago, the state got honored with a product from its own studios – funded in part by these state incentives which in most common form kicks back 30 percent in credits to investors (different kinds of payments for other related activities allow a different percentage to be received) – with an “Oscar,” but this year, even if no homegrown product made any shortlists, the state’s connection in dollar terms will be more substantial. Two nominated films are in line to receive the credits, which could be worth as much as $8 million.
In practical terms, that means that these credits, some of which may be used by the producers but the majority of which typically are sold at a discount to Louisiana persons with relatively high state tax burdens, will vacuum that much out of revenues that could go to the state. This means fewer services get rendered by the state and/or taxes must rise to fund otherwise furloughed services, while subsidizing the making of movies that allows many wealthy interests to profit and gets funneled to jobs that average over $10,000 than the overall average for jobs in the state.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:10
The entrance of Garrett Graves likely rounds out the field of competitive GOP candidates for the Sixth Congressional District contest, probably does the same for Democrats, alters the campaign tactics of some other candidates, and may introduce politics into the state’s process of grappling with coastal restoration
Graves, who will run as a Republican and who until recently was the head of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, brings a skill set to the campaign unmatched by any other candidate. As part of that previous gig, he was based in Baton Rouge but had plenty of opportunity to interact with the coastal areas of the district (it doesn’t stretch all the way to the water, but it gets close). With most of the district within 25 miles of the Mississippi, coast, or other major waterway, given the relationship that flooding has with coastal issues, he knows a number of area officials. Plus, his work many years ago for former Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin in what was then that district can’t hurt. In a geographical sense, no other candidate can match his contacts.
The same goes for potential volunteers, endorsers, and donors. His appointment by Gov. Bobby Jindal and good working relationship with him for six years ensures that Jindal supporters will review his candidacy favorably. Yet his work on Capitol Hill for Tauzin and Democrat former Sen. John Breaux not only will bring him some support from out of state as well as in it, but it also means he can make inroads among non-Republicans. As a bonus, reactions about his tenure at the CPRA from the environmentalist community on the whole were good, even from some of the most extremist organizations involved.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:30
Once again, special interests are seeking privilege through litigation, using the courts to compensate for inability to persuade and for the lack of fact and logic in their losing arguments to trump the democratic process, in this instance to benefit those who practice homosexuality.
The suit wishes to force the state to recognize legal same-sex marriages by way of conferring other kinds of preferential treatment onto such pairs, such as in child custody, medical decision-making, and tax benefits, by challenging propriety of parental names on birth certificates and tax filing status recognition. In a replay of a failed case brought by two men declared married in another state who insisted the state put both their names on the birth certificate of a child from Louisiana they adopted in that other state – and who they used as a cat’s paw for their political agenda – it uses the same specious argumentation.
And, as it turns out, also includes a contorting of the U.S. v. Windsor decision from last summer to try to avoid that error. In the federal case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the winning side got the Court to void the federal Defense of Marriage Act insofar as that law overrode state jurisprudence in the area of whether states could confer federal benefits onto same-sex individuals with a marriage license for that union. It said if a state acted in its constitutional authority to define marriage, then federal law could not override that decision because in doing so it sent a signal that it “imposes a disability” on that status, an imposition announced from “federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity” (emphasis mine).
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:15
It was inevitable, as Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell exhibited more and more electoral vulnerability, that he would draw a serious challenger. Whether former Rep. Jeff Landry, who announced his entrance into the contest nearly two years away, can knock him off is another matter.
Caldwell is the most recent convert of the entire statewide elected executive officers to the Republican Party who didn’t start their elective careers with that label, but throughout his career in office continues to act in ways that make GOP voters and conservatives suspicious. He favored, contrary to state law, contingency contracts for outside counsel (unless they reduce the power he has over a case), refused to defend the state against federal overreach, ducked on enforcing state law regarding subsidiary governments committing themselves to expensive contracts, and chose poorly in pursuing jackpot justice that lost the state the opportunity to gain a realistic settlement. Landry criticized him on some of these matters and his political profile certainly suggests he might find fault with all of these Caldwell actions and the general perception that Caldwell is too eager to go after deep-pocketed entities in order to enrich allies and trial lawyers, which serves to discourage economic activity and to encourage activist government.
While Landry certainly has the conservative credentials, burnished with his one term in Congress, to assure voters that as attorney general he would intervene in civil matters judiciously (little of the office’s purview concerns criminal law) and in a balanced way that does not favor litigators nor acts punitively, it’s the non-ideological aspects of his candidacy that make his chances for victory less certain. It’s been many decades since an attorney (one with experience is a required qualification) without some connection to criminal prosecution held the office, although likely only a small number of voters would find this reason enough not to vote for Landry.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:40
For the third year running, Gov. Bobby Jindal proposes taking money out of the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority, with this year’s edition posing the same dilemmas and similar opportunities to allow policy-makers to fail to make the necessary corrections to make budget policy-making simpler and more accountable.
This is a state special district that oversees the Morial Convention Center and related lands and properties. It’s funded from a variety of sources, including from state taxing authority, city taxing authority (that expires at completion of its most recent capital projects), surcharges on Regional Transit Authority tickets, a state grant based on hotel occupancy, and its own fees for service.
All of which have been very good for its bottom line. Through 2012, it sat on $636 million in asset value, of which was $171 million in unrestricted current assets while for that year it cleared $44 million in cash, while having only $161 million in debt tied to supporting $226 million in capital assets with another $169 million paid for – meaning it could pay off at any time all debt related to its facilities by writing a check. This is why that year it easily could afford to have $20 million transferred to the state in 2012, of which $10 million came back in capital contribution and the remainder due last year.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:55
Oddly relegated to background status in the developing argument among supporters and opponents of the Common Core State Standards is that both viewpoints claim to want a system that spurs better educational quality, so thus this should become the metric by which the evaluate it and bring the sides together.
Louisiana adopted the framework, joining 45 other states in whole or part (for now), in July, 2010 that featured almost no discussion by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and attracted no real notice then. Prompted by governors and put together by representatives of superintendents, teachers, and parents, and including others’ input such as academicians, the initiative involves creating benchmark concepts that should be achieved at various grade levels, with curricula to be determined by states (and Louisiana is one of the few that devolved that to the district level), and in a way where comparative testing across states could be achieved. Opponents argue that the common testing regime creates risk in revealing sensitive personal data and without consent, too little input came from parents and teachers and got crowded out by alleged corporate concerns, despite no federal government input into curriculum the federal government theoretically can find ways to affect curricula through regulation and funding decisions, and that the curricular guidelines impose too little rigor, if not regress on this account.
Several Louisiana legislators have filed bills to address the matter, ranging from minor modification to outright abandonment of the effort. Of them, the ones that focus on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the testing regime, seem to have the most valid underpinnings in terms of ability to ensure maintenance of the privacy of data. Even here, among those who see the nascent PARCC in need of change, debating aligns between those who think this can be done and those who don’t and thereby advocate withdrawal (joining a few states that have or that never signed up in the first place) from it – ironic particularly for Louisiana since the testing model was built largely upon that conducted presently in the state.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 13:10