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.
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.