It's an unprecedented bonanza that follows an unparalleled disaster. Perhaps because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it's easy to forget that we've been in this position before. Oil and gas revenues represented 41 percent of the state's cash flow in 1981 and 1982, when the fabled boom yielded a $1.6 billion surplus. Those were heady days, epitomized by a freewheeling style of politics that put little emphasis on fiscal accountability. Of course, the boom quickly turned to bust and the money vanished, having been frittered away when there was plenty of it to go around. Among the few legacies remaining from those days are bitter memories of an opportunity lost, a piece of history we may be doomed to repeat.
The December special session was as desperate as it was telling. Gov. Kathleen Blanco called it hastily, almost as soon as she realized the extra dollars were there, and without much advance planning with her key legislative allies. A transparent wish list in the form of an official agenda was thrown together and politics trumped public discussion as Blanco apparently looked ahead to her re-election campaign. It didn't take long for her top allies to desert her. In the time allotted to the session ' a mere 10 days ' what else could she have expected? The result was foreseeable yet unacceptable.
As the year turns anew, the communications breakdown doesn't appear to be getting any better.
If the billions in new money are so important, where is the appeal for public input? When and where are the town hall meetings? Why aren't state legislators using their taxpayer-funded office expense accounts to reach out to residents through mailers or other means? Thus far, the only direction has come from the same old sources ' press releases from a few elected officials, special interests and think tanks. And they don't all agree. Something has got to give; an intense public debate needs to be held statewide before the Legislature meets again in late April.
The Public Affairs Research Council, a Baton Rouge-based nonprofit that monitors the activities of state government and issues policy papers, describes the December effort as a "waste" that "failed to allow for sufficient planning." The best outcome identified by PAR is that the session may act as a catalyst for further debate. Oddly enough, the group also tagged $239 million in tax credits passed during the session for insurance surcharge reimbursements as "unnecessary." They will cost an estimated $56 million to $82 million annually, PAR argues, and there is no long-term benefit to the credits. PAR also claims the credits will do nothing to solve the crisis of insurance affordability.
C.B. Forgotston, a Hammond attorney and political activist who has an immense following online, pounced on PAR in one of his opinion columns. The tax credit does nothing to exacerbate the current insurance crisis, he says. It simply makes private insurance purchased by homeowners and businesses slightly more affordable. "PAR has belittled the amount that each policyholder would receive from the credit as not much money," Forgotston says. "It may be a surprise to PAR, but the amount of money involved means a lot to middle class families and small businesses." Largely, however, Forgotston slammed the nonprofit for not offering any solutions to the problem.
That divide underscores a larger dilemma, which Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, an influential statewide lobby, refers to as the "us factor." During the recent carnival of riches, those in seats of power forgot those for whom they spend the state's money. "Remember us?" Juneau asks. "We are the folks who go to work every day and add value to life in Louisiana. We run small businesses, work shifts, raise our kids, dote on our grandchildren, and pay the sales taxes, income taxes, property taxes, and fees that have fed the huge growth in the state budget during the last decade."
The only statewide survey showing how real people might feel about spending priorities can be found in the 2006 Louisiana Survey, conducted by LSU's Manship School of Mass Communications. Conducted over the course of 20 days in October, the survey interviewed more than 1,000 Louisiana adults. Compared to 2005, the preferences didn't change much. Residents express support for spending across a range of government services, as long as they're not taxed to achieve it. They are particularly supportive of spending on education, public health, roads and infrastructure. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming 81 percent believe the state should increase spending on recovery. The biggest leap was a 10-point spike in support of efforts to battle coastal restoration; 74 percent favor pouring more money into such efforts.
While that survey offers a few general guidelines, Louisiana needs something more to make the critical choices it now faces. The public should not be ignored. If voters aren't given a chance to say how the money should be spent between now and April, they'll surely get a chance to chime in next fall, when the elected decision-makers ' from the governor to the Legislature ' will be seeking re-election.
At that point, in contrast to an old adage, forgiveness may not be easier to get than permission.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Women sue over sperm mix-up; Romney on campaign trail; Ebola patient was released from hospital and more national and international news for Thursday, October 02, 2014.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, surprised few in the Hub City Wednesday afternoon when he made (semi) official what most of us have known for months: He is running to replace Joey Durel as city-parish president.
Louisiana's first black Republican state senator since Reconstruction — who was a Republican before he was a Democrat before he was a Republican again — is accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of using the black community for votes and providing nothing in return.
LSU's governing board has backed new hospital privatization contracts that give hospital managers greater ease to leave the deal and fewer restrictions about must-have services.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is courting young voters in several appearances across Louisiana this week, talking about her support for legislation that could lower students' college costs.
Stage 4 vet takes on cancer and reminds us all what it really means to get involved.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
There was a time when United Ballot had a political stranglehold so tight on Lafayette’s black community it was nearly unbreakable, but that grip might be loosening.
The race for Lafayette city marshal may not be the most exciting of this year’s local political contests, but it could prove the most historic.
With the DA’s race too close to call and negative media coverage of Mike Harson on the ebb, will challenger Keith Stutes take the gloves off?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.