But local detractors are starting to line up, and parties on both sides of the debate seem hell-bent on using the LRA for political means in an election year. Republicans want to know why Blanco's name is plastered all over the group's Road Home program, in advertisements and elsewhere, and the GOP legislative delegation recently tried to call a special session in part to conduct a thorough review of the LRA. Meanwhile, from an administrative side, questions about the authority's purpose and future are sprouting up, peppered with concerns that the multi-million dollar state agency is forming complex layers of bureaucracy. The LRA is slated to be dissolved in four years, but no one ' not even the top brass ' knows how long it will take to get the job done.
The Louisiana Legislature created the LRA last year with a nearly unanimous vote of both chambers. The authority was charged with bridging gaps between state, local and federal governments; drafting highly controversial recovery plans and coordinating all state agencies.
Dr. Kirby Goidel, director of the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University, says that formula is ripe for election year antics. In coming months, the LRA will become even more of a political tool for the administration and opposing factions, and the average voter will become more aware of the rhetoric. "Blanco's political future resides in the success or failure of the LRA, to a great extent," he says. "It's certainly one of those things that Republicans will be addressing and watching closely. Even though I'd like to think the progress of our recovery will be judged on an even scale, the main factors will probably be political."
In many ways, the games have already started. Rep. Peppi Bruneau, a New Orleans Republican, says he has asked the attorney general to issue a ruling on whether the governor can label the Road Home program, which is responsible for distributing federal rebuilding money, as her own. "You have no doubt seen it on television and everywhere else," Bruneau says. "What exactly is the propriety of that?"
Republicans want an in-depth review of the LRA, which hasn't happened yet. A hearing was scheduled last week in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight, and Bruneau promises the issue will not die on the vine.
Republicans contend the LRA has grown to mammoth proportions. Furthermore, the LRA is doing a job the state could have handled on its own, Bruneau says. "I don't want this to be on a partisan basis, but this is a critical thing," he adds. "I just don't see why we can't do something that's simple. My opinion is we don't need them. We ought to be in the check-writing business and that's it. It's intrusive and obnoxious. It's well on the way to becoming a bureaucratic nightmare."
Andy Kopplin, the LRA's executive director, says the authority was created with a bipartisan board that has donated time, credibility and, in some cases, money. Only $771,000 of the LRA's total $3.8 million budget comes from the state general fund. Additionally, when a regional planning commission needed to be created, Kopplin says the board privately raised $8 million to form a nonprofit, all outside the realm of normal government function.
Additionally, the heavy lifting is being done by departments like Louisiana Economic Development and the Labor Department that were created long before Katrina and Rita ever hit south Louisiana. "The key thing is, while the LRA is a new organization, and it plays an advanced policy-making role, the programs are being implemented by the very same agencies that have been in existence for a long time," he says.
Kopplin maintains those agencies couldn't continue operating on their own without a massive oversight authority, saying there was a "clarion call" from state and federal officials. The Manhattan Development Commission, which was created in the wake of 9/11, was used as a model, he says, and the fact that Mississippi didn't do the same shouldn't raise a red flag. "Our recovery is 964 square miles, two storms and a bigger level of development," Kopplin says. "We have different challenges."
According to the law that created the LRA, the authority will be dissolved on July 1, 2010, unless re-created by the Legislature. But no one seems to know how long it will take for the LRA to accomplish its mission. "It's way too early to tell," Kopplin says. He's also unsure if the authority's 30-member staff will need to be expanded in the future and says more federal money will likely be needed in coming years to assist with a variety of studies.
Even from within its own ranks, there are concerns that the LRA and its related programs could be perceived as a burgeoning bureaucracy. Simone B. Champagne, the chief administrative officer of Iberia Parish Government and a recently-appointed board member of the Road Home Corp., says the various layers of operation are complex, but the right kind of leadership is in place to make sure things don't get out of control. "I think we can work through those kinds of problems," she says.
They certainly could work faster; the payment process has been excruciatingly slow. According to interviews granted by LRA officials in recent months, only 11 people had received checks as of the end of September, with more checks on hold until the end of December or later. And only 250 people have been notified that they'll be receiving money in the future, even though the LRA has roughly $10 billion at its disposal. Some political pundits have observed that Blanco might benefit from sitting on the money and releasing it just prior to the 2007 election.
Barry Erwin, president of a Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonprofit that monitors the activities of state government, supports the original mission of the LRA, but says a comprehensive review is needed to soon to check on progress. How programs are being administered, how money is being spent and how decisions are being made are all legitimate questions.
"No matter who would have been selected to manage this recovery, there would have been problems and complaints," he says. "It's such a huge undertaking, and only time will tell how successful this strategy was."
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, April 23, 2014:
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop says he’s concerned with the quality of Capitol Lake, but when it comes to Louisiana’s coastline, this Lafayette Republican doesn't seem to give a damn.
Democrats sweating this year's elections may be hoping that the Obama administration's latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.
Louisiana lawmakers are entering the second half of their three-month regular legislative session, which must end by June 2. Where some of the major issues stand:
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.