Whoever the next mayor of Shreveport will be, that person will have to face and will need to solve a capital projects crunch that shows no signs of abating, because of sins of the past.
This spring a report by the city pointed out the dire straits in which the city finds itself in this election year. It highlighted what it claimed were $1.5 billion in needed improvements, but naturally not all of these items are of genuine high priority and necessary. For example, an intelligent traffic system certainly would ease congestion, but it’s not a life or death matter, especially when it could cost as much as $60 million.
But clean water with a federal mandate is another matter. The most pressing concern on the list was the estimated $342 million needed to be spent over the next dozen years to rehabilitate a city water system that has been crumbling for years as it spent precious dollars on things like a convention center, hotel, and sludge pits, the effects of this disrepair drawing the ire of the Environmental Protection Agency. A consent decree between it and the city that was hammered out late last year means the city must start spending about $34 million a year on this beginning in 2015.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:15
As the federal government moves towards completion of a ratings system for higher education, Louisiana State University System President and Baton Rouge campus Chancellor F. King Alexander has become one of the louder advocates in favor of such a plan, last week penning an opinion piece praising the concept and often quoted on the matter. Past a certain point it’s a good idea, but up to that point and no farther it becomes an exercise in self-interest for academia.
Early in his second term Pres. Barack Obama shook up the insular world of higher education by proposing that federal aid to students be tied to some performance measures, in some ways like the system that states like Louisiana operate in terms of funding directly their state colleges. Since then the overall reaction within higher education has been negative, but pockets favorable at least to some changes have emerged, falling along two particular fault lines: whether the institution is for-profit and whether the institution is public, with for profit schools the least supportive and public schools the most, relatively speaking. This is because, as Alexander has implied, for-profit schools with disproportionately higher consumption of federal aid dollars – these for institutions and students now eclipsing federal discretionary spending on housing and community affairs, international affairs, energy and the environment, and transportation combined – but lower completion rates makes them “bad actors” that cast a negative view over all of higher education.
Even so, public schools have given lukewarm at best acquiescence to the idea, mainly because they are torn in the purposes that the ratings could perform. There seems consensus among them that they could live with tying simple metrics such as completion rates and proportions of graduates employed being reported and used for accountability purposes, even as some also want greater complexity added to any such index created, such as a measure of “readiness” where scores are adjusted favorably for a school the higher is the proportion of presumably less prepared students they admit.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:00
A tag-team campaign stunt by state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell might cause some bureaucratic headaches and burn up some taxpayer dollars, but in the end will make no difference to coming changes for health care benefits for state employees, retirees, and some school district employees – and may even hurt their 2015 electoral ambitions.
This week, Caldwell’s office issued an opinion stating that changes being made to the benefit packages had to have gone through the Administrative Procedure Act, upon the request by Edwards. The changes in most cases likely would have the overall effect of increasing payments made by clients, due to changes in deductibles, co-payments, and services covered. Using this process for this matter has not been done in the past, and no one ever had complained about it.
The Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, with good reason, disputes the idea that the APA should apply to these kinds of decisions, but a creative reading of the law possibly could shoehorn in decisions made about services disbursed to a class of active and former government agents distinct from the public, especially in the case of the retirees. It’s a reach and if Caldwell had not wanted it to succeed, there was ample basis on which to reject that line of reasoning. But by issuing it under his imprimatur, the controversy could continue that could benefit certain parties politically.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:15
While some attention has come to the extra burdens to Louisiana that the policy of Pres. Barack Obama regarding unaccompanied illegal alien minors has spawned, little has surfaced about the costs imposed by the abuse of the asylum system that his administration and its supporters have encouraged.
Under international convention to which it is a signatory America must entertain requests for asylum based upon persecution or fear of persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, either by a foreign government or private entities that the government too carelessly allows to persecute people on these bases. A procedure must be followed to ensure the claim is entertained and adjudicated.
The U.S. famously has had very welcoming standards for such individuals, including a standard known as “credible fear” that means that upon application – which is as simple as turning up at a border and announcing a request for asylum – the seeker will be allowed into the U.S. and is supposed to be under some form of detention until adjudication to determine whether the “well-founded fear” of persecution test necessary under the law to grant asylum can be determined. In the past, it was not unusual for such determinations to be made within weeks of the request being made, with many seekers housed in detention facilities.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:35
Besides the mayor’s race in Shreveport, some other interesting matchups loom for city voters on Nov. 4.
As usual on the judicial side, there’s a good degree of somnambulism involved. Of the 21 judicial contests on the ballot across the parish from Supreme Court down to city court, only three had any competition (almost entirely incumbents skating through unopposed) and two of the contested ones were open seats. But there’s one potential barn-burner challenger vs. incumbent, where City Court Judge Sheva Sims drew a challenge from former prosecutor Terrell Myles, both Democrats.
Sims made headlines last year with a bizarre freeing, apparently over displeasure at city prosecutors, of over a dozen defendants all prepared to plead guilty. This provoked, and perhaps other events (such petitions are confidential) as well, a complaint to the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, which has the authority to recommend disciplining judges. While it has yet to forward a recommendation to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which could impose any penalty, it seems enough dissension about her short tenure on the bench has spawned a movement to sanction her through the ballot box.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:40
Maybe they’re feeling the heat, so look for an effort by the single most sybaritic special interest in Louisiana to attempt to buttress the hundreds of millions of dollars annually it lifts from taxpayers prior to the next session of the Legislature.
The Louisiana Film Entertainment Association has announced plans to commission a study on the economic impact of the state’s motion picture investor tax credit. Since its inception in 2002, the program has seen over $1 billion dollars go out the door in lost collected tax revenues as a result, which comes as a result either of exercising these credits or, as what occurs with the vast majority of dollars involved because the awardees of them almost always are from out-of-state and owe little Louisiana tax liability as a result of making a movie, selling them to Louisianans with high state tax burdens (including state elected officials).
Through 2012, the state had only gotten back about $120 million, in terms of additional tax revenues recouped, of the $800 million that had been then paid out, or just 15 cents on the dollar. That meant that each direct job created by the program cost the state $36,000, which is hardly cost effective. In other words, from the start the program has served as nothing more as a conduit of the people’s money to a handful of individuals – many of them nonresidents – to pay them to do what they want to do, not for investing in what was most efficient for the maximal economic development of Louisiana.
There’s a lot of timing involved in politics, as illustrated in the decision by backers of creating a municipality in east and south East Baton Rouge Parish on when to launch a referendum to determine whether it will be born.
Organizers to found the city, St. George, assert they have already enough signatures as qualified under law to call such an election. As there is no time limit to gathering these, except that if the verification process, that could take as long as a month, finds them short then they have 60 days to try to hit the mark of one-quarter of registered voters in the area, there is discretion as to when to have the election, subject to the parameters of calling special elections.
As the goal is to assume that around one out of every eight signatures is not valid, the organizers wish to have at least 20,000 signatures on hand to turn in and start the verification process. Given their announced total is about 1,500 short, there’s no opportunity for the election to occur this year. The next available opportunity at present appears to be the first Saturday in April, Apr. 4, which is set aside for local elections. That would mean that, given the couple of weeks prior to that date the Secretary of State is to have a certified petition to put on a ballot, signatures would have to be turned in to the East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters in the last week of February. To be very assured that the verification can get done, the end of January might be the optimal time.
With little fanfare, earlier this month Louisiana released its plan to have health care insurance provided to all citizens. With even less fanfare, the state’s media ignored it because it did not fit their preferred narrative of bigger, more redistributive government.
The report only got mentioned as an aside this week in the New Orleans Times-Picayune – which until then never even acknowledged the existence of the law or the bill that became it despite its potential far-reaching impact because editorially the newspaper supports the alternative of Medicaid expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) – in an article that in part continues that outlet’s campaign to expand Medicaid. The law required the Department of Health and Hospitals to issue a report about what policies had to be enacted at all levels of government in order to expand insurance to all citizens using market-based rather than government- and politically-based principles.
DHH already has issued two reports explicating why Medicaid expansion is inferior and undesirable policy. Rigorous methodology showed that, under four different scenarios with differing assumptions, within a decade the state would be paying hundreds of millions of dollars more annually for care under expansion than under the current uncompensated care system. In addition, but not covered by these reports, are the results from academic research known as the “Oregon Experiment” that demonstrated people eligible for Medicaid but without health insurance have no worse and even better health outcomes than those utilizing Medicaid, and follow-ups that noted even when the previously uninsured begin using Medicaid they continued to utilize emergency room services for their primary care at significantly higher rates than the population – disproving a key Obamacare selling point that primary care would be more efficiently delivered if more of the uninsured were insured by Medicaid or other form of provision.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:05
Perhaps the only reason some observers cling to the notion that Sen. Mary Landrieu has at least a toss-up chance of retaining her seat, despite polling numbers to her disadvantage, is that she has a reputation, by winning past close elections, of being a good campaigner. One must question that narrative given the way she has handled the burgeoning scandal of her using taxpayer dollars for campaign travel activities.
After the first questionable use of these funds, where a trip that qualifies under Senate rules as requiring at least partial campaign funding she paid for entirely out of taxpayer funding, came to light, she tried to fob it off as a billing error by the vendor, which as it turns out was not possible. When the second publicized incident broke, she then proclaimed a thorough investigation would be done of all past travel.
That’s the recommended strategy if you feel reasonably confident that these are few and far between, because then you know that independent, outside forces will find few, if any. Indeed, even the state Republican Party, politically motivated to scour public records as much as possibly available to find damaging incidents, could find fewer than double-digits worth. Instead, Landrieu and her staff entirely misdiagnosed – whether from sheer ignorance or that she had become so comfortable in violating regulations that any thought in her conscience that she was in the wrong – her level of risk on this, in finding 43 such events.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:40
We now discover just how deep was Sen. Mary Landrieu’s hand into the cookie jar by her self-revelation that over two-fifths of all her air charter travel since 2002 had some portion illegally charged to taxpayers. What’s not new is the inadequacies in her trying to explain it away.
At the very end of the week’s news cycle, four days after Landrieu had said the information would be made public, lawyers contracted by her admitted 43 such erroneous billings had occurred. In each instance, regardless of whether any campaign-related activity had occurred, the entire amount had been billed to taxpayers, as if the staff had no idea of the operative Federal Election Commission and Senate rules. Landrieu shrugged off the incident by saying her campaign account had reimbursed the federal government some $33,000 for this, that it was only “sloppy bookkeeping,” and that procedures were to be changed to prevent this from happening in the future.
Left unaddressed were several embarrassing questions for her:
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:35