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."
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.