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."
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.